Church backing for youth project
IN A CONCRETE bay under a motorway flyover in West London, 10 young black people are building a workshop where they eventually hope to train in woodwork and electronics. Together with Mr Roddy Kentish, the project co-ordinator, they form the core of the Community Action Workshop Project, a project designed to give young black people the chance to learn a trade and gain the necessary educational qualifications to back up their skills.
Building began last September, although Mr Kentish has been planning and trying to raise money for the .project for more than 10 years. At present the trainees, who all live in Kensington, or the neighbouring boroughs of Brent and Hammersmith, divide their time between laying drains and concrete foundations and taking maths and English lessons.
When the workshop is complete, professional instructors will be brought in to teach carpentry, electrical wiring and related skills up to the level of City and Guild examinations. A second workshop, under the direction of the Teamwork Training Trust, is planned for the adjoining motorway bay. This will provide training in welding and motor mechanics. Together the two projects will provide job and training opportunities for up to 60 people. For many of the trainees the project is their first regular employment since leaving school at 15. Most are now in their late teens. The project, however, is not just a Job, it is more than just an interesting way of learning a trade.
For young men on the receiving end of discrimination, who have been unemployed for periods of up to three years and who experience constant difficulties with the police, it is an assertion of their dignity as human beings and their right and willingness to work in trades which provide some hope of a better future.
The workshop project is officially sponsored by the Catholic Commission for Racial Justice.
Grants towards running and capital costs have been raised from voluntary bodies such as the Gulbenkian Foundation and government agencies such as the job creation programme. Practical assistance has been received from several companies, and the Society of Friends has sponsored a part-time English teacher to work with the trainees.
The British Council of Churches has given £1,500 to the project, and more recently the diocese of Westminster has promised £700. But £25,000 is still needed to complete the building. Mr Kentish and the trainees stress, however, that they are not interested in charity. They are not looking for donations from people who simply want to salve their consciences and feel that they are doing something for the black community while leaving the root problems untouched.
They are looking for involvement and commitment, and above all a recognition that the unemployment among young black people is the responsibility of the whole community and not just of those living in inner city areas like Notting Hill.
All the trainees are fiercely loyal to the project. While in many respects they Just want to be left alone to get on with their work, they recognise that they are pioneers. If they can succeed in Notting Hill there is no reason why similar projects should not be established in other parts of the country.
The workshop is a self-help project in the best sense of the word because it is not only concerned with work but with the whole welfare of those involved. Since the project began, two of the trainees have been evicted from their flat and two others have needed help with accommodation, and it is expected that such problems will recur. On the educational side, too, there is not only the formal training in English and maths but a desire to extend their knowledge of black culture and international affairs. The trainees are now asking those who want to help the project to contribute book tokens so that they can build up their own library.
Nii, aged 20 6 I went to school but it was too big, there were about 2,200 people there. Most of the time you had to concentrate more on keeping out of trouble than on lessons. You just had to keep cool and worry about lessons after.
I lived in various children's homes from the age of two until I was 15. My brother and I were in a home near Epsom and we were the only black people living there. Sometimes men, and especially old ladies would come up and touch you on the head. When you asked them why they said it was for luck.
Those people never really see black people and suddenly they see these black children and it's a big kick for them. What else can you expect? They arc just ignorant really.
When 1 left the home, I went to live with my mother and got a job selling shoes in Oxford Street. I was there two years. At first I liked the job. It was my first job and the first time l had earned money. Then it got to be a drag, because even when I was doing a simple thing like taking a message from the shop round the corner to another shop in Regent Street, I knew that a policeman would stop
He would say that he had seen me stealing a woman's purse. Then I would say no, I work over the road. He would take me back to the shop to check. It happened so many times that it got embarrassing.
Around that time my brother got put in jail on a charge of suspected persons. I didn't want that to happen to me and the ob wasn't going anywhere so I left.
Then I went to work in a big West End hotel. I worked in the kitchen. All the black people worked there and just watching those old men, it was degrading. You felt that washing dishes and operating the rubbish machine, that was their life.
All the men in charge were white and if they told a man to do something, he would jump. If they made a black man a foreman, he would treat the other black men as if they were rubbish. He didn't treat them the same as when he was working with them.
Since then I've worked in a record factory, another shoe shop, a food store and a tyre shop. None of these jobs were taking me anywhere so I just stopped work.
Most of the people working on the project are pretty smart. Most people would like a chance to work especially on a job like that but a lot of people just don't get the chance.
I was always looking for something constructive to do. Everything we do on the project is a positive move. We are always thinking forward, thinking of the next move. It's not just a job. We are not just building a workshop: we are building our whole future.'
Lloyd, aged 18
61 went to Isaac Newton School. 1 learned the basic things that you are supposed to learn in school. I enjoyed it while it lasted but I left at 14.
When I left school I was out of work because I was too young to work officially. Then I got a job making chandeliers, the real ones that cost thousands of pounds and hang in all those posh houses.
At that time I was easily led astray. I didn't get the sack, I left the job. When you go out with a group of people and you arc the only one working, they tell you all the things that they did during the day and you wish sometimes you didn't have to work.
After that I was out of work for about two years. I had to hustle for money. I had to survive. I didn't sign on the social security because the people there think you come to beg.
I didn't steal. You might call me a thief but I wouldn't class myself as a thief. I wouldn't go out and mug anybody or snatch an old lady's handbag but if I can talk to you and persuade you to put your hand in your pocket and give me £50, I would take it. That's a battle of minds.
I wouldn't consider going back to that now because you can't live your life that way. I've stopped now because I'm going to get a trade. I know that if I had stopped when I was 14, 1 would be better off now and I might already have a trade. This job is better than those I've done before because everybody is on the same level and we all know what we are there for, to learn a trade. If we don't build the building, nobody is going to build it for us.
I think the police are villains. If I were a policeman, I wouldn't do the things they do.
I have nothing against white people. I don't know if they care what is going on down
they care or not, because 1 know that somewhere in life I must reach what I'm looking for. I want to have a good life with nobody taking liberties with me, that's all. Nothing more.,
Melvyn, aged 18
I left school when I was 15 and it was then I had problems. I couldn't find work. I did work as an upholsterer for six months. I learnt the trade really quickly, but my employers didn't really want to pay me: they were just looking for cheap labour. I started on II2 and . never got a rise.
Since then, and for about three years now, I have been out of work. I've tried for jobs obviously, I went and looked for work and went for appointments, but it seemed to me
I was wasting even the little money I had.
I wasn't signing on the social security. I was just lucky to survive. Now this trade has come up and it's the first real job I've had and I'm satisfied and I'm happier. This is just a great chance and I didn't think that it would even happen to me.
I've been through most of the natural harassments that people round here face. When you are not working you have late nights and hang around. I'm no innocent but don't think I have deserved to be harassed so much.
Right now I've got three offences. On two of them I was charged and found guilty of something I didn't do. Once I was charged with being a suspected person equipped for burglary because I had a key ring with a little penknife on it in my pocket. Now I feel it's best just to keep as quiet as you can. This project is the break I'm looking for. Since I have been living at home and working, things have cooled off a lot. I intend to see this project through to the end. I started it and I'm going to finish it.
I hope that the project succeeds. I don't think there is any job where you could get as much unity among the workers. To me it can't go wrong. The only way it could fail would be if material supplies dry up. I hope other boys will be as lucky as me. I've had a lucky break and I've just got to thank God for that.,