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Tales of Covid – Young Hammersmith and Fulham Foundation

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The borough of Hammersmith and Fulham has been much affected by road-building: the Westway constructed in the north in the 1960s freed up much of Shepherds Bush for eventual retail construction around Westway, while the the completion of the Hammersmith Flyover bringing the A4 into London cut the centre of Hammersmith in two in ways from which it has perhaps never recovered.

As is so often the case with inner London boroughs, the high-rises and inelegant shopping streets in some parts of Hammersmith and Fulham sit beside highly valuable individual residential properties, while more recent developments such as the demolition of Earls Court exhibition centre have created new residential opportunities. It is a dynamic borough at the very heart of London with a typically mixed social profile and shifting political leadership.

Young Hammersmith and Fulham Foundation

Gareth Dixon, CEO of Young Hammersmith and Fulham Foundation has been part of the charity for five years. The organisation is a member of the national Young People Foundation (www.ypftrust.org.uk), of which Layla Hall is Head of Development. The purpose of both the umbrella organisation and the Hammersmith and Fulham branch is to support children and young people by creating positive opportunities for them across a wide range of areas.

The background more specifically to the formation of YHFF is the gradual reduction in funding to this sector in the borough over recent years, resulting in a loss of expertise due to job losses and the disappearance of more and more dedicated youth spaces. As Gareth reported, the primary experience felt by YHFF workers during the pandemic was one of being constantly overstretched: they experienced little or no support from the primary city authority, the GLA, but had positive support from Hammersmith and Fulham Council, despite the lack in general funding.

Pandemic struggles

Funding during this period came from the John Lyons Trust via the Council and from the City Bridge Foundation directly. The sense of being overstretched came from the combination of needing to set up rigorous safeguarding measures to allow YHFF staff to continue to meet up with young people in outdoor spaces; the fatigue which many young people swiftly began to experience with online sessions, the sense they were feeling that YHFF and other organisations were effectively invading their digital space; the struggle to make sense of the constantly changing rules coming out of the Cabinet Office, sometimes on a daily basis; the sheer lack of numbers in their organisation following on from years of cuts.

In terms of positive support, the National Youth Agency proved to be strong, helping the team to understand the changing rules and to provide guidance on how to implement them.  Also, the young people themselves in many areas provided positive inputs, particularly in the area of research: as Layla Hall commented, the pandemic created an opportunity for more young people to carry out research into their own situations and feed that data into the centre.

Layla and her team also used the opportunity to bring as many local authorities together in strategic ways with smaller local groups, and at the time of writing had over 1,000 membership agencies. Both Gareth and Layla commented on the sense of disappointment in the way that issues were presented in the media.

Young Hammersmith and Fulham Foundation – frustrations continue

YHFF has been waiting for two years to hear the outcome of funding applications that will be crucial to its ability to continue supporting young people in the borough, and so it was doubly frustrating to see media reports of funds being promised for new building projects in relation to young people: what is the point of putting up new buildings when the funds to employ staff inside them have not been approved? Lockdown and the pandemic tested the services that organisations like YHFF could provide. The dedication and professionalism of the staff ensured that services continued to run despite all the drawbacks, but there remains a strong sense of frustration that core funding issues for London’s young are simply being avoided.

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Thank you for reading. Check out the full Tales of Covid report for more stories.

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