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Supporting communities, preventing social exclusion and tackling need

Supporting communities, preventing social exclusion and tackling need: a report to Hammersmith United Charities on four low income estates in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham by LSE Housing

Laura Lane and Anne Power, LSE Housing

June 2009

9. Overview of the groups and actions identified by residents needing more support

There was a fairly clear consensus across the estates about where the greatest needs lay and what would help most.

The key actions that residents prioritised as targets can be summarised under two kinds of intervention. Residents wanted those responsible for community well-being to do more in the following areas:

  • Better security and more police
  • Integration of different communities
  • Helping young mothers
  • More repair
  • Helping elderly people

They were anxious for there to be more provision for children, youth and the community at large, believing that the following facilities would help:

  • Facilities for young people
  • Play space for children
  • Community cafes / gardens / spaces

Why focus on security, young people and common spaces?

A crucial lesson to draw from this priority list is that security, open space, activities and facilities for children and young people all go together. People want and value a sense of community. This is undermined by feelings of insecurity, rapid community change, and the gathering of under-occupied young people in open spaces. We conclude that a combination of preventive and supportive action to help families, children and young people, linked to better open spaces and more support for communities will make a transformational difference to social conditions and to people’s lives.

Findings from area studies that support this conclusion

There are deeper reasons behind the concern of residents for security, young people and families with children, identified in longer and more detailed studies we have been involved in. Over 10 years, from 1998 to 2008, we followed the lives of 200 low-income families in four highly disadvantaged urban areas, two in East London, and two in Northern England. We interviewed these families every year, learning about their concerns and problems about bringing up children in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Their greatest concerns were the neighbourhood environment and insecurity due to over-rapid changes in population; the lack of activity for young people and safe play spaces for children. Their biggest need, apart from money, was for a sense of community, organised activities and community spaces to help bring people of different ethnic backgrounds and ages together (Power, 2007). This much wider evidence, based on the analysis of over 40,000 responses to repeated rounds of interviews, closely echoes what a much smaller sample of residents in Hammersmith and Fulham told us in single interviews.

In crowded, large cities, of which London is an extreme example, the environment of lower-income areas often feels insecure and threatening. This is the result of higher than average incidents of vandalism and anti-social behaviour, neglect of communal areas, and generally poorer facilities. Crucially, it reflects a lack of adequate supervision of communal areas and visible street policing.

Supervision is critically important because of the high turnover of residents in rented housing and the sheer volume of new migrants into cities like London, including West London. The residents we interviewed in three estates put security as their number one concern and need for these reasons.

Young people, particularly young men and boys, are a primary concern in low income areas because they are highly vulnerable to peer pressure and they have very restricted opportunities for learning, gaining positive experience or building a secure future. This is particularly true in the current economic climate, when unemployment among youth is twice the level for the population as a whole and the lack of accessible training or higher education deprives many young school leavers of opportunities for work, training or higher education. The proportion of young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs) is the same now as it was twenty-five years ago (Hills et al, 2009).

Young people, aged 16-20, in poorer areas and particularly council estates, are the most disadvantaged and most excluded section of the population based on this evidence (Hills, 2007).

Older people (over 60) have become relatively more secure and better off over the last ten years (Hills et al, 2009), although this does not mean they do not have special needs.
The second reason why young people are a prime concern on estates is that they “hang around”. They have too much youthful energy to be contained by their families within small flats; they are too old, once they reach around 14 years old, to attend standard youth clubs, programmes and facilities, geared to much younger groups; they need the scope to transition into more adult, more responsible roles, without any clear sense of direction, orientation, know-how or adult role models.

That is why it becomes a top priority for residents of all ages, including older people to help young people, in areas where they can see young people simply hanging around common areas, looking for something interesting to do, and often going astray.

We conclude based on the evidence we collected during our visits and interviews and on wider evidence that young people are a top priority, not only because of their obvious need for activity, but also because of the fear and insecurity that their “hanging around” in open spaces causes.

Older people often feel threatened by the presence of groups of noisy, boisterous teenagers, even when they are doing nothing directly wrong. On this basis, inter- generational barriers can grow, community relations can break down and behaviour can deteriorate. The converse is true where positive action is taken and a “helping hand” is offered in the right way.

Provision for young people de facto helps other age groups too. Any indoor or outdoor facilities that cater for children and young people must encompass their families too. The most positive forms of youth work help bridge the generation gap with older people and build bridges across community divides.

Family-friendly spaces, places and communities will of themselves be friendly, supportive, welcoming places for all ages and races. For children and families are the litmus paper of whether communities are working. They are our future and caring for them implies that we care for everyone.

A charity such as HUC has resources it can deploy to contribute to filling these needs, across generations, ethnic groups and families.

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