A guiding light for the lost generation


SW Londoner reporter Hardeep Matharu looks at how Wandsworth is setting an example for tackling the problem of youth unemployment.


By Hardeep Matharu

A lost generation. Betrayal of the young.  Youth at risk of depression and self-loathing. Doors slammed shut in the face of opportunity.

These were the soundbites around last month’s revelation that youth unemployment has now reached over 1.02million.                 

The milestone was branded a wake-up call for the government to help our youth – the worst-hit victims of the recession. 

But with untapped pools of both talent and opportunities, is a ‘lost generation’ really inevitable?

Wandsworth is one area which shows all is not lost.

6.2% of its 18-24-year-olds are currently claiming Job Seekers’ Allowance for more than six months, compared with 8% in Britain as a whole.  So what is Wandsworth doing right?

South Thames College is an education and training provider in the area, which Deputy Principal Janet Smith says works well at both ends of the spectrum – helping individuals into education, as well as boosting the employability of those with skills-based talents. 

Marrying the two, it offers vocational degrees, the first two years of which can be completed at the College.

“Providing vocational options alongside the traditional is something the sector does very well and it’s going to be even more important going forward,” Janet says. 

“The one million figure shows a horrendous amount of potential being wasted.”

The value of both academic and vocational options should be encouraged, but an effective dialogue with young people is also needed.

The Wandsworth Youth Enterprise Centre (WYEC) says more money should be invested into successful local organisations which have a personalised approach and a lack of ‘one size fits all’ mentality.

The WYEC runs a free two-year programme for those wanting to start a business.  85% of start-ups are still trading two years later.

Chief Executive Colin Sambrook said: “The starting point is engagement.  Young people have ideas and want somebody to help make them happen.”

Business counsellors at the Centre are also trained professionals who individuals can talk to about personal issues.

He added: “One criticism of government schemes like the Enterprise Allowance is they’re very business and resource focused.  There are many big organisations out there, but we have a model which works. 

“We’re the best-kept secret in South London.”    

Fundraising Manager Victoria Patacchiola agreed: “It’s frustrating because it feels like the government is sometimes trying to reinvent the wheel. 

“Helping organisations like us to grow, knowing they get results, would save money.”

The government’s Youth Contract – a new £1billion package to incentivise businesses to recruit young people – is commendable, but only part of the answer.  A grassroots approach, which starts with its focus on young people themselves, is also necessary.

Virginia Wall, Head of the Wandsworth Youth Work Service, said: “People don’t necessarily know what they want until they know what’s out there.  It’s about listening, and encouraging young people to explore so we can learn more to direct them.”

One thing is certain – growing up in today’s society is more character-building and character-defining than ever.

“It’s inspirational,” said Colin. “The young people we meet have such energy and those with businesses now have been far more creative than I ever have in my working life because they’ve actually gone out and done it.”  

Today’s zeitgeist may be one of gloom and doom, but this ‘lost generation’ can make its mark because of this, not in spite of it.

As Franklin D Roosevelt said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”

Case study: Camille Johnson

Working with the WYEC, Camille set up Pink Ribbon Lingerie in 2009, a company selling attractive and affordable underwear for women who have had breast cancer surgery, following her mum’s frustration at not being able to find such items.

It recently won its first award and Camille is now herself a business mentor to young entrepreneurs.

She says: “Being your own boss is hard work, but very rewarding. 

“Someone once told me ‘you won’t work a day in your life if you enjoy what you do’.  I totally agree.  Finding something you are passionate about is key – it helps overcome hurdles and motivates you.

“Think outside the box and don’t give up.  Good is good enough – things don’t have to be perfect.”


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