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LONDON CREATIVE: DARREN WAY

Darren Way is the Founder of multi award winning young-adult intervention charity Streets of Growth based in East London. He has worked in this field as an interventionist for over two decades and grew up on the very council estates he and his elite team support young communities to transform today. His wider specialisms include; gang prevention and intervention, re-engaging NEET young people (not engaged in education, employment or Training), and developing programmes that reconnect young people into the regeneration of their neighbourhoods.

1. I UNDERSTAND STREETS OF GROWTH FOCUSES ON CONNECTING YOUTH INTERVENTION WITH REGENERATION. HOW DOES THIS WORK? WHAT INTERVENTION WORK DO YOU DO WITH YOUNG PEOPLE?

Our name is our aim where we support young adult communities to grow the streets and neighbourhoods in which they live. Reality is, like any borough going through rapid change where the poverty and wealth divide is ever increasing, young adults who get stuck can find themselves getting caught up in drugs, criminality, exploitation and postcode gangs. Streets of Growth design and deliver interventions to help tackle anti-social behaviour and equip young adults to be better able to reengage the regeneration opportunities taking place all around them. Our approach is called The Bridging Model ©, which is a strategic targeted approach for transforming the lives of young adults aged 15-25 years through Four intervention programmes namely: Lifestyle, Environment, Education and Careers. We don’t wait for young adults to walk through our door and nor do we solely rely on referrals.

We start where the young communities are at, which often means going out onto the estates day and night where they hangout or drop out, are caught up in peer/gang postcodes, may be ‘home bound’ where they are afraid to go out and make friends, had challenging experiences of secondary school and are therefore fearful of further education etc.

Our intervention workers build the programmes and projects around the unique need of our young adults. This is not a ‘quick fix.’ We work with each young adult for between 1-3 years depending upon their unique needs to ensure they can self-maintain their changes.

2. CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHY IT IS SO IMPORTANT TO INVOLVE YOUNG PEOPLE IN REGENERATION AND GIVE US SOME EXAMPLES OF IMPACTS STREETS OF GROWTH HAS MADE IN ACHIEVING THIS?

Young adults often tell us that they feel ‘designed out’ of the physical and economic changes going on in their neighbourhoods. They feel they are not included in any consultations or decision making. They see buildings knocked down to make way for apartments they believe they will never be able to afford. They have lost recreational areas. When young communities lose a sense of belonging, they can lose a sense of generosity when they don’t see a future where they live. They can often find themselves creating their own subculture for surviving on the estates and getting by, even if that means harmful activities and friendships. As one gang member said to me last week ‘We are not living like this to thrive, we are living like this to survive. If we don’t feel we are part of the change, then we won’t become the adults and elders who will look after it.’ As a local person myself, this really alarms me – hence why I committed half of my life to try and change it.

The way Streets of Growth work is not rocket science. But doing what needs to be done to really empower young people who are stuck has become an uncommon sense. In a nutshell, our team build relationships with harder to reach young adults regardless of a funded project or not. We engage within and beyond the 9-5 and don’t rely on programmes to achieve change. This stage may take many months before a young participant begins to trust us. We then prepare them for the most appropriate development and create introductory projects and mentoring packages to build their confidence and motivation.

At the same time, we are supporting them on the very council estates with peer pressures that may block their transition. Not every young adult requires the same interventions, which is why we offer up to four contexts of support within our Bridging Model ©. One example of linking youth to regeneration was where we teamed up with a local housing association, Met Police, and Architects. We trained young adults in understanding anti-social behaviour from a wider community perspective, recreational space re-design, and how to lead their own project initiatives once the space was transformed. Over a decade on and that space has witnessed no vandalism nor gang problems. Many of the young adults originally involved have gone on to secure great careers in community development. That’s legacy where the ownership lay with the very people who live there rather than creating a non sustainable dependency upon organisations fixing people and their spaces.

3. HOW DO YOU ENSURE THAT A YOUNG PERSON STAYS POSITIVELY ENGAGED IN THE CHANGES YOU HAVE SUPPORTED THEM IN?

Within our intervention model we have additional interventions built in to deal with any set-backs or what we call ‘relapses.’ Change is often non-linear, so we help young adults in how to address slip backs and the tensions that come with changes that may take time and patience. We deliver these coaching mechanisms until a young adult begins to reap the reward from shifting their behaviours and habits that may be holding them back from realising their full potential.

4. WHAT DREW YOU TOWARDS HELPING YOUNG PEOPLE ESCAPE POVERTY, GANGS, DRUGS AND VIOLENCE? (CAN YOU TALK US THROUGH YOUR EVIDENCE-BASED MODEL THAT HAS MADE A PROFOUND IMPACT ON DISADVANTAGED YOUNG ADULTS?)

After leaving school with disastrous school grades myself, I went into the construction industry. In 1995 I was offered a role to do some part time youth work at a local centre near my council estate. However, I soon realised that projects that simply got young adults communities off the street and even into a job, were not enough to support them or their peers in how to tackle the growing knife, gun, drug and criminal activity blighting their lives and their futures.

Wanting to take youth intervention work to another level in my neighbourhood and indeed, this country, I visited countries including Holland, Australia, and America to share what I was doing in the east London, drawing inspiration from what practitioners were developing in their countries in order to offer local young people a more effective experience of community development. Don’t get me wrong, neither of these countries have ‘the answer’ but then again, neither does the UK. However, amazing things can come out of such collaborations such as our Evidenced Impacts Model for proving our impacts and goes way beyond the counting of how many young people we got on programmes or into a job. And yet, despite our success with our young clients and awards won at local, national and international level, we still struggle to secure the appropriate funding to run this entire charity for less than what it costs to put a young adult in prison for one year – and that shows our commitment and selfless dedication to the cause! I still keep in touch with global professionals where they learn from Streets of Growth and we learn from them, which I wish we experienced more of in Tower Hamlets.

5) I HEAR YOU ARE CURRENTLY IN THE PROCESS OF WRITING THE FINAL CHAPTERS OF A CONTROVERSIAL BOOK ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCES OF BEING A RESIDENT GROWING A CHARITY TO HELP TACKLE YOUTH DISAFFECTION IN YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD? WHO DO YOU THINK WILL BENEFIT FROM READING THIS?

I am indeed in the process of writing the final chapters of a book, and hope it will benefit anyone who has the curiosity to read it. I reveal my experiences of growing up on a council estate, getting involved in youth intervention and regeneration, and the challenges faced when starting a charity in the borough I grew up in with both professionals and indeed other local residents, which may surprise the reader. I’ve not set out for the book to be controversial, but I have no doubt it will be, which isn’t a bad thing if what I write is to inform change.

6) WHAT WOULD YOUR PERFECT LAZY SUNDAY IN EAST LONDON LOOK LIKE?

Taking a stroll along the canal up until ‘Vicky Park’ and then sitting in the Beigel Shop with a cup of tea and salt beef or egg mayo beigel. Then sitting in the park and losing myself in a good book.

If you would like to get in touch with Darren Way and Streets of Growth you can do so at mail@streetsofgrowth.org or visit www.streetsofgrowth.org

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