GoFundMe launched following cuts to youth service funding in Westminster

A non-profit is fundraising for young people in Westminster amid cuts to youth service funding in the borough.

The RISE Collective, founded in 2016, creates opportunities for 16-25-year-olds experiencing discrimination, inequality or marginalisation to thrive personally, creatively and professionally.

It is currently fundraising for its annual AcKnowledge project at City of Westminster College (CWC).

This project empowers young people to explore spoken word poetry and performance as a form of activism and self-expression.

International slam champion and activist Miss Yankey, and rapper and activist Kemastry, will deliver the project this year.

RISE Collective co-founder Helen Wadge said: “AcKnowledge is about sparking that creative energy that brings people to life.

“When young people come in on day one, they might be quite under confident or anxious, and not sure whether to give their opinion.

“But very, very quickly, they start to express really insightful views on the world, and they start to show incredible amounts of creativity in terms of how they put those opinions into pieces of spoken word poetry.”

This campaign comes amid severe cuts to local authority funding for youth services across England.

A report published by the YMCA – the largest provider of youth services in England and Wales – examined local authority expenditure on youth services over the last decade.

Local authorities in England spent £1.48bn in 2010/11, but this fell to £379m in 2020/21, a decline of 74%.

Westminster is one of seven local authorities in England to have not reported any expenditure on youth services last year.

This represents a 100% decline from its £2m budget in 2010.

Wadge said: “Over the last 10 years, there’s been national cuts to all youth services, including education, youth clubs, organisations working with young people experiencing mental health problems, drug and alcohol services, pregnancy services, youth justice services – they’ve all been completely cut, and that was even before the pandemic.

“So then you add on two years of pandemic, two years where many young people have been shut at home, where you’ve seen a rise in domestic violence, young people experiencing problems with mental health, youth unemployment.

“The list goes on and on and on in terms of the difficulties that young people are facing, and the impact of these funding cuts on young people are kind of immeasurable – it’s effectively sacrificing the next generation.”

However, Westminster Councillor Timothy Barnes argued that the YMCA report was misleading.

He claimed that they reported their several million pound spend to the Department for Education under a different category.

He said: “Westminster spent £5.9million on youth services in the past year.

“This included £500,000 of council grants given to voluntary sector organisations in support of the delivery of youth services across the city and our exceptional City Lions initiative, a programme set up to create opportunities for young people in the creative and arts sector.

“Youth services play a vital role in protecting and improving the lives of children and young people and this will always be a top priority.

“We are ranked as one of the top youth service providers in the country by Ofsted.”

Indeed, 15 local authorities across the country reported spending more than £100 per young person aged 5-17 last year.

Nevertheless, there is a pattern of cuts to youth service expenditure across the decade.

A decade ago, money spent per 5-to-17-year-old in Wales (£72) was half of that spent in England at the time (£148), whereas today, the spend per-head in Wales (£48) is 30% higher than in England (£37).

The YMCA report also branded the availability of youth services a “postcode lottery”.

Statistics highlighted that differences in expenditure could be substantial even within neighbouring local authorities.

For instance, Wandsworth reported spending £108.25 per 5-to-17-year-old last year, while in neighbouring Merton this was only £29.77.

YMCA Chief Executive Densie Hatton said: “All young people deserve access to the services capable of empowering them to achieve a bright future. We cannot let location dictate these opportunities.

“Crucial and proportional investment is needed now.”

In the wake of cuts to youth service funding, the RISE Collective is raising money for their AcKnowledge project, which will support students at CWC through what can be described as the biggest educational disruption in modern history.

A CWC lecturer said: “Through participating in the AcKnowledge enrichment programme, so many students developed the confidence, ambition and creative skills to thrive academically as well as in their personal development and employability skills.

“The AcKnowledge project was a starting point, a foundation and an inspiration.”

More information on The RISE Collective’s projects can be found on their website and Instagram account, and donations can be made to their GoFundMe here.

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