Chapeltown Youth Development Centre CEO warns gang links 'growing across Leeds' as it puts young people at heart of solutions

The work at the Chapeltown Youth Development Centre (CFYDC) hasn't stopped over the last 14 months.

By Abbey Maclure
Saturday, 15th May 2021, 6:00 am

As Leeds shut down during lockdowns, key workers at the organisation have continued to support young people with online sports activities, conflict resolution over Zoom and one-to-one coaching with the most vulnerable individuals.

The club's CEO, Lutel James, has warned that gang affiliation has grown across the city - meaning diversionary activities and youth development programmes are vital as coronavirus restrictions ease.

It comes as the Yorkshire Evening Post's Saving Lives After Lockdown campaign is highlighting the devastating impact of knife crime on communities across Leeds, looking at ways to prevent an upsurge in incidents post-lockdown.

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Lutel James, CEO of the Chapeltown Youth Development Centre, which works to keep young people away from gangs and criminality

“Young people are not used to being locked down,” Lutel told the YEP.

“Our work never stopped, it’s just adapted. There’s a lot of adults that are struggling with the whole process, but for young people it’s 10 times the challenge.

“We've still had to deal with challenging behaviour - young people engaging in anti-social behaviour, some going way off track, some with mental health issues like depression.

“If you don’t find young people something to do, they’ll find something you don’t want them to do. We’ve had to adapt to meet young people’s needs in face of the challenges.”

The charity takes a child-centred approach to its network of support, engaging young people through activities such as music, holiday camps and sports clubs

The CFYDC, founded in 2002, takes a child-centred approach to its network of support, engaging young people through activities such as music, holiday camps and sports clubs.

Once the young people - more than 1,000 a week - are through the doors, the team can then have difficult conversations about issues such as serious violence.

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Lutel said: “If we’re being realistic, gang affiliation has grown across the city - probably by about 150 per cent.

"It’s about working with young people to come up with solutions", Lutel said

"People’s eyes are opened to it when it has an impact on them or their families. They then realise that all the activities we’re doing are not just for the sake of it.

"If you’ve got that level of engagement, then you can have difficult conversations and work with young people to make more positive choices, or bring families together to resolve feuds.

“We deal with conflict resolution between groups of young people that have got issues and rivalries with each other, whether that’s down to postcodes or socially and economically.

“There’s also a massive amount of young people who have aspirations to do positive stuff, who don’t get involved in anything negative.

"We make sure the young people who actually behave aren’t forgotten either.”

The pandemic has exacerbated social and economic inequality in Leeds, Lutel warns, meaning that providing positive opportunities for young people is more vital than ever.

“Our youth development activities cover all aspects around developing young people into more rounded individuals," he added.

"We have activities around jobs and employability, so as they come out of lockdown they’re in the position to take the next step in a positive way.”

Knife crime and serious violence are complex issues driven by a whole host of factors.

This is reflected in the multi-dimensional approach of the charity, which is in the process of building a music studio, acquiring land to create a 3D sports pitch and has launched a food bank last year.

“It’s not about us saying, ‘this is the solution’," Lutel said.

"It’s about working with young people to come up with solutions where they and their families feel part of the process.

“Socially and economically, those who already have challenges have now got astronomical challenges because of the climate we’re in.

“It's up to us to come up with new initiatives - taking a child-centred approach in everything we do.”

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