A London youth club hailed for saving young people from knife crime is facing potential closure amid calls from local residents who want to see it turned into a coffee shop.
A petition has been launched for the Bollo Brook youth centre in South Acton to be moved and the space it currently occupies to be turned into a coffee shop or other community facility such as a library or laundry facility, the Guardian reports.
But users of the club, which has already been moved once into a smaller space, say the club has literally saved lives and that closing it down will only spark issues elsewhere.
Ayanna, 18, told the Guardian: “They should be ashamed that they haven’t tried to find the underlying reasons of what they are complaining about... They think closing this centre is going to help them. It’s going to make it 10 times worse.”
The youth centre is a longstanding part of the area but was moved earlier this year into a space half its former size as part of a £800m regeneration project that has seen the council estate rebranded as “Acton Gardens”.
According to the Guardian, nearby residents have complained the centre – which still serves the same number of people despite its smaller space – attracts gangs, fighting and drug use, and they want to see it moved and the space used for something else.
The club’s website describes it as “a place for you to hang out with friends, take part in fun activities, including music production, arts and crafts, sports, cooking and gardening, and get support and advice”, and lists music studio projects, education and unemployment support, art projects and vocal coaching among what it offers.
The debate has raised concerns over the so-called “gentrification” of deprived areas of London, along with the link between cuts to youth services and knife crime.
Acton, one of the most deprived areas in England, has seen several incidents of youths being stabbed in the past few months.
One user of the centre, Leon, 18, told the Guardian: “We didn’t want to move here in the first place. We had our little space and we got hoodwinked.”
An Ealing Council spokesperson said: “We are aware that some local residents have concerns about the Bollo Youth Centre. Youth service provision has been in place in this locality of Acton for many years and the council remains committed to providing youth services, with three full-time youth centres, including Bollo.
“Our youth centres play an important role in keeping our young people safe, reducing youth offending and helping them into training and employment. As well as offer a range of programmes and activities for young people including sport, life skills, music and much more. In addition to the centres we also do a range of outreach work on estates across the borough.
“We, and the young people who get so much from attending Bollo, would welcome the opportunity to engage with local residents to help address and allay any concerns they may have.”