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A magic bus helping East London

Words by Smiley Team

It might look like an average single decker, but this bus is vital to the community in Waltham Forest, east London.

Instead of the usual seats and spaces for buggies, inside it’s kitted out with an XBox, a PlayStation, comfy pink seating and even a mini kitchen.

And rather than picking up passengers, this bus - owned and operated by the charity Worth Unlimited - has been transformed into a mobile youth club where teenagers aged 11 to 19 can relax, make friends, build a sense of community and even get help with their homework.

For Helen Perry, the charity’s branch leader, the bus is unique as a youth club venue as it can be driven into the heart of residential estates, providing a safe space where young people can ‘just be’ on their doorstep.

She said: “We’ve been operating the bus for almost 12 years now and we have seen it make a massive difference to many young people’s lives.

“There are a lot of issues facing the young people we meet. It could be family problems, bullying, issues at school or the risk of making bad choices in your friendship group.

“We provide an informal space to chat and make new friends. We have internet access and we put on games, cooking lessons and quizzes. Teachers and social workers change quite frequently, but our youth workers and volunteers become someone a young person can confide in and rely on.”

And there has never been a greater need for young people living in the capital to have that safe space. Statistics released by the Home Office in July show that London had almost double the level of knife crime in 2018-19 than any other area of the country, and that young black and minority ethnic teenage boys were disproportionately affected, as both victims and perpetrators.

Helen said: “I don’t know what might have happened to some of your young people had we not been there. We have supported them when things were really difficult at home and with friendship issues.

“We also make sure we really listen to what they want to talk about. We try to use a theme for our activities based on what is happening in the area and what the young people want to know more about, be that Pride week, their rights around stop and search or black history month.

“We also help with GCSE exam stress and show them how to write a CV and prepare for a job interview once they leave school.

“Several of our young people have come back as volunteers themselves. One told me that we had been everything to him, another said we were like family.”

Waltham Forest Council cut funding to the bus and they are now in the final year of a National Lottery grant. Helen is keen for any volunteers or could help with fundraising or events to get in touch in order to ensure its survival, and also anyone with carpentry skills who could help with a new furniture upcycling project the charity is launching to raise more income.

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By Jenna Sloan

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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