This morning I stood in a field in Wormwood Scrubs and watched 22 11 year old boys kick a ball around for an hour. It rained and I got pretty cold and wet. Did I mind? Not at all. My boys team won, which sort of makes it all worth while. On the way home I gave four of the boys and a couple of parents a lift back to Burnt Oak. I've got a people carrier, so it is no big deal. Watching your kids play football is a simple pleasure. The boys who play in teams train and also make friends. Football is not the cure to all the worlds evil, but keeping boys busy and active is, I believe, a fundamental part of a civilised soceity.
What really worries me is that childrens services is one area that Barnet Council looks set to chop fairly dramatically in the budget cuts. I must confess, I've no idea what the childrens service really does, but anything which results in less activities for young people can only be a bad thing. Whilst my boys team is not a council run venture, they play in Cressingham Park, Burnt Oak. This is owned and maintained by Barnet Council. Barnet has sold off many playing fields over the last 30 years. I've no idea what percentage of playing fields have been lost, but I could name half a dozen that we've lost off the top of my head.
This week, we saw a young man of 17, Marvin Henry, murdered in Mill Hill. I don't know him, I don't know who he associated with and I don't know what the circumstances in which he died really were. What I do know is that 12 people were arrested and at least one of them had a lethal weapon. This gives some indication that the incident wasn't completely random. My boys football club, Watling FC, used to be one of Londons top boxing clubs as well. Many young kids from the Watling Estate would try their luck at boxing, football and other sports. Young guys who excelled at boxing achieved a degree of kudos and respect amongst their peers. They also had to train like devils to ensure that they weren't soundly beaten in the ring. If you've ever trained as a boxer, you soon learn that you are too knackered after to do anything, let alone make trouble.
As traditional boxing clubs in working class areas declined, it is no coincidence that boys seek other ways to gaing kudos, earn a reputation and get "respect". Nothing could be clearer to me than the fact that we need to provide ample opportunity for boys and young men to burn off excess energy and find channels for any aggression. Whether this is boxing, football, rugby, music or chess is down to them.
What is patently obvious is that every single one of these activities that is chopped in the budget cuts puts another group of young men onto street corners, where they stand the chance of becoming part of gang culture. Youth services are expensive. Destroying them comes at a far higher cost. I have two things to say
1) If you are a parent, support your local youth activities financially and with help
2) If you are a parent of a group threatened by Barnet Council cuts, campaign like a screaming dervish to retain it.
One death like Marvin Henry is one too many.