May 26 2013 Latest news:
John Phillips , Senior Reporter
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
A Dagenham charity is launching an outreach project to boost sports participation and reduce offending among deprived teenagers.
Here, the Post talks to the martial art expert behind the scheme who has fought to improve the lives of young people for more than a decade.
Taekwondo black belt John Wainaina watched the Olympics with glee as athletes won an unprecedented number of gold medals this month, thereby putting Britain in third place in the world table behind China and the US.
The keen sportsman emigrated from Kenya with a vision to reach young people who had difficulties integrating in their communities in Barking and Dagenham.
The father-of-two launched a charity, the African Youth League, which has helped hundreds of young people since its launch in 2002.
Ten years on the charity, renamed Youth League UK in 2009, is continuing its battle for the betterment of youngsters with a new play scheme set to become part of the legacy being left by the Olympic Games.
John and his team will seek to reach teenagers in some of the most deprived wards in Barking and Dagenham by involving them with sports like jogging and cycling and other activities including den building, arts and crafts, drama and dance.
Nearly 4,000 young people are set to benefit from the play scheme with activities to boost self-esteem and reduce obesity over the next four years.
The project, named Rainbow Play Rangers, will target young teenagers, in particular those aged 13 to 16, and has been made possible thanks to a Lottery grant of nearly £300,000.
Mr Wainaina said: “Barking and Dagenham have some extremely deprived areas and there are not enough activities for that target group of young people because of cuts in government funding and things like that, so the Big Lottery Fund grant will go a long, long way.
“This is also an important element of the Olympics legacy for London.”
The project will target the Gascoigne Estate and Thames View in Barking and areas near Dagenham East Tube, which are in some of the most deprived wards in the borough.
Rainbow Play Rangers will not only benefit disadvantaged teenagers but also young volunteers under the age of 25 who will be trained by the charity to run the project.
The Youth League applied for Lottery funding after research revealed that demand for its play activities had seen a dramatic increase since the start of the recession in 2008.
The Harold Hill resident believes the surge is partly linked to austerity cutbacks and the fact their activities are free.
He added: “Right know we need to encourage young people to take up sport for physical and emotional reasons and to uplift the country.
“Young people are the future of the country. Once you start at grassroot level, you realise there is a lot of untapped talent. These are disadvantaged areas. These youngsters are not given the same opportunities. Free play is very important.
“Everybody is talking about the Olympic legacy. That’s our contribution to it. It’s important we work with young people, so they reach their potential.”
The Big Lottery Fund announced that Youth League UK would receive a four-year, £298,000 grant on August 14.
A Lottery spokesman said: “These outreach sessions will reduce the financial barriers preventing children and young people in deprived wards from accessing leisure activities and improve their health, self-esteem and well-being.
“The Youth League will seek to address these issues affecting predominantly boys, including health inequalities, lack of motivation and mental health issues such as depression.”
The Youth League is based at the Mall shopping centre in Heathway, Dagenham. Its community centre on the second floor is open for drop-in advice from 10am to 5pm and runs activities in the evenings from 5pm to 9pm. For more information, log on to youthleagueuk.org.