We need to work together to help young people

Colin Lee-Own, founder of 21K Digital Media Hub in Edmonton Green, on how to reduce youth crime and unemployment

Colin Lee-Own inside the 21K Digital Media Hub at Edmonton Green Shopping Centre
Colin Lee-Own is the founder of 21K Digital Media Hub in Edmonton

The pandemic exposed stark disparities in health, employment, and housing for black and Caribbean residents. Despite their significant contributions, there is a noticeable absence of acknowledgement and strategies from Enfield Council to address these pressing issues.

Enfield has grappled with severe youth violence, resulting in the tragic loss of lives to knife and gun crime, predominantly among black and ethnic minority communities. This issue is particularly troubling in Edmonton and Enfield North constituencies, where high deprivation and persistently elevated youth unemployment rates persist.

According to figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) last month, there are 12,825 residents in Enfield claiming Universal Credit, with 1,895 being young people aged 18 to 24 in the borough. Notably, these figures do not encompass unemployed residents who do not claim benefits from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), underscoring the need for a cohesive and proactive strategy to address this critical concern.

Drawing from personal experience of unemployment after completing military service in 1980 and serving in Northern Ireland during tumultuous times, I understand the stress and despair associated with long-term unemployment. There is an inherent link between elevated levels of youth unemployment, the surge in knife crime, and historical exploitation experienced by communities pivotal to Enfield’s economic growth.

Last year’s rate of teen killings in London surpassed those in 2022, with areas of high youth unemployment, such as Croydon, facing a notable correlation with a surge in knife-related crimes, indicating an urgent need for targeted intervention.

Research by the Learning and Work Institute for Youth Futures reveals that young people from ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to face low-paid or insecure employment, zero-hours contracts, and barriers such as discrimination and limited opportunities for development and progression.

Addressing this crisis and historical injustice demands a united effort and collaborative initiatives involving local authorities, educational institutions, community organisations, and businesses. I advocate for the establishment of robust support networks, mentorship programmes, job creation initiatives, and accessible education pathways tailored to the needs of the young and historically marginalised population.

Unfortunately, there is a lack of a joint approach to tackle high unemployment in the borough, especially between Enfield Council and black community organisations that are at the forefront of addressing the inequality their community is experiencing.

To address this, I am collaborating with Enfield Local Motion and Enfield Climate Action Forum (EnCaf) to tackle high unemployment in Edmonton and Enfield North by establishing an employment hub. This initiative aims to provide individuals in Edmonton and North Enfield with access to digital and employability skills, addressing the opportunities arising in the digital and creative industries.

I am the founder of 21K Digital Media Hub, based in Edmonton Green. Since 2019, we have enabled approximately 230 young people to gain digital and media skills through boot camps. We also provide work placements for unemployed young people to gain an understanding of the world of work. The initiative is designed to tackle high unemployment in Edmonton by offering local residents the opportunity to gain skills, with a specific emphasis on digital inclusion—a crucial skill required by all employers.

Investing in tangible opportunities for employment, skills development, and educational advancement can empower the youth and marginalised communities, instil a sense of purpose, and curb the allure of criminal behaviour. This isn’t merely an economic imperative; it’s a crucial step towards fostering a safer, more inclusive community for all.

The time to act is now. I urge unity in dismantling the barriers hindering young people and historically marginalised communities from accessing opportunities and realising their full potential. Addressing youth unemployment, historical injustices, and disparities faced by black and Caribbean communities isn’t just about statistics; it’s about safeguarding lives, rectifying past wrongs, and creating a brighter future for the Enfield community.

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