Windrush descendants say teens are turning to crime as community services are cut in Luton

  • ITV News Anglia reporter Rebecca Haworth speaks to members of the African Caribbean community about cutbacks to their services

Children of the Windrush generation in Luton told us how years of cutbacks to community services have left them feeling let down and ‘invisible.’

This week marks 75 years since the first ship carrying migrant workers from the Caribbean docked at Tilbury in Essex.

HMT Empire Windrush brought 500 passengers over, and for more than two decades, many thousands more arrived to help fill post-War labour jobs in the UK.

They helped build modern Britain, but living in the UK was a big culture shock for many, like Lynnis Abbey from Luton.

Lynnis Abbey, 66. Credit: ITV Anglia

Lynnis was 10 years old when she first came over to England from Saint Kitts with her parents in 1967.

Lynnis described what it was like arriving in the UK: “For me, it was traumatising, because I had like a sleeveless dress on, and it was cold, I was holding onto the aeroplane, I wanted to go back home to my Grandmother.

"Because I was so cold, and the snow was outside, there was steam coming out your mouth, for me as a child I was nearly 11, and for me, it was really traumatising.”

Lynnis was subjected to a lot of racial abuse as she grew up, from her school days through to adulthood, where she missed out on job opportunities due to her skin colour.

Bernie Abbey, 67. Credit: ITV Anglia

Many others went through a similar experience, like Lynnis’ husband Bernie Abbey.

Bernie came over with his family from Saint Vincent in 1967. He said he finds there is still prejudice towards him now.

Bernie Abbey: “Sometimes I will walk on the street and a white lady will see me coming and they will cross the other side, it’s like that."

Bernie and Lynnis both became youth workers in Luton, and helped run a successful club called Starlight which was based in the town centre.

It was set up specifically to accommodate people from the African Caribbean community.

However around 14 years ago, it was shut down due to council cutbacks which the authority said was brought on by austerity, as were many other youth clubs at the time.

Replacements were set up, like the UK Centre for Carnival Arts, but some within the Afro Caribbean community felt they weren’t appropriate.

Bernie said as there’s no specific youth provision for his community, many young people are now turning to gangs and crime.

Bernie said: "You need a central base especially for minorities, even in Bedford they've got a West Indian Club.

"We have nowhere in Luton and it's sort of escalated, now even trying to get some young people here, they're scared to go into another postcode, they're scared who might see them and what the repercussions might be and it's really bad."

ITV Anglia spoke to a young mentor for troubled children, who wished to remain anonymous Credit: ITV News Anglia

A young mentor for troubled children, who we are keeping anonymous and referring to as 'James', has been speaking to us about the issues young people are facing in the town.

He told us how he feels let down by the lack of provision for young people in Luton, and that it means many young people are now turning to gangs and crime.

He said: "There is quite a bit of gang crime and gang war, where certain people from certain areas can't go to certain areas because of the fear of being beaten up, being stabbed or even worse really. I feel like we're being let down because if it (youth clubs) was there for us, there wouldn't be as much crime really or just violence going on."

Lord Michael Harris Credit: ITV News Anglia

Lord Michael Harris runs his own business in Luton providing free activities for disadvantaged children.

He used to go to youth clubs in the town centre when he was younger.

Lord Michael Harris said: "There's nothing for them to do, that's the main thing, it bugs me because when at my age, we had youth clubs, we had things to do, like these kids haven't got no youth clubs, they've got no safe play areas, it's leading them to violence."

Charles Morgan has his own recording studio in the town and helps troubled young people by teaching them how to make music.

He learnt his trade at a youth club that's now shut down.

Charles Morgan saud: "This is one of the things that drove me to kind of try to do things, because I can see that there's nothing anymore. The young people they need that space to kind of express themselves outside of school and there isn't."

Luton Borough Council has said it "rejects that idea that it is not committed to supporting all communities".

It said cuts forced upon councils have affected groups "from every background".

It continued: "Nevertheless, we have continued to provide services through schools as well as adapting our services to be flexible so they can be provided and connect with young people when and where they are needed."

The council said it has a number of ongoing projects to help young people.

It stressed that Luton was one of a few councils that passed a Black Lives Matter action plan, which includes unconscious bias training for staff and increasing the proportion of council employees and managers from minority ethnic backgrounds.

The council says it is holding a planned meeting with its Black African Caribbean network over the coming week.

And, it has match-funded seven fund applications from African Caribbean groups.

It said that out of £270,000 it is spending on events through the Luton Rising Community Engagement Programme, it has spent £110,000 on events that celebrate black culture - such as Carnival, Afrofest and Windrush.

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