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How can we ensure young Londoners benefit from the Olympic legacy?

It is only about a 15 minute walk from Leyton High Road to the north entrance of the Queen Elizabeth Park – the fantastic patchwork of open space, culture and sporting facilities on which the Olympics were held four years ago.

But even in that short walk, the contrast between the park and Leyton is obvious. Pound-a-bowl all night shops, brightly painted takeaways, vibrant hairdressers and nail bars, and a humble but passionately followed football team give way to shiny glass and steel buildings, and world class arenas in just a matter of minutes.

In the first week of August, two contrasting sporting milestones took place in the park. West Ham United played its first competitive game in front of a sold-out crowd at the Olympic  Stadium (now known as the London Stadium).

A day earlier, around 200 young people from local community-based youth organisations came together to use the facilities of the Lee Valley hockey and tennis centre, for a day of coaching, playing and having fun with Tennis Foundation coaches, as part of London Youth’s summer of sporting activities for young Londoners.

 ‘It was clear from young people’s questions

that there is a mix of excitement, but caution’

We work with around 60 community-based youth organisations in the boroughs surrounding the Olympic Park, many supported by volunteers. For all the glamour of Premier League football, the real test of whether the park has met its legacy objectives will be the extent to which local young people have the chance to enjoy and benefit from what is on offer.

West Ham’s arrival is just the start of the next phase for the park. If you haven’t yet seen them, check out the plans which they unveiled last month for the future developments, which were unveiled at a conference hosted by the Centre for London at the end of July.

Some of London’s world class cultural institutions are also heading from west to east, among them the Victoria and Albert Museum and Sadlers Wells. And University College London and UAL’s London College of Fashion will be creating outposts alongside Loughborough University, whose London campus is already in the Here East complex.

There’s much to celebrate in this. Listening to the leaders of the institutions involved, it is clear that they see ‘coming east’ as an opportunity to do things differently: to absorb the diversity, the more free-flowing innovation and creativity that anyone living in east London will be familiar with.

For young people in particular this is an important time. I live in Waltham Forest and was a governor in a Leyton school for seven years, so share the passion for the area’s success. Local youth workers are familiar with the challenges young people in East London face – and hear first hand of their many impressive aspirations and hopes.

At the Centre for London event, it was heartening that after each set of speakers – covering London’s economy, its creative development and other aspects of its future – young people were invited to ask the opening questions. It was clear from these that there is a mix of excitement, but caution. One young delegate asked about the division between ‘old’ and ‘new’ Stratford. That is a real concern: it doesn’t take long to see signs of poverty, poor housing and the challenges of London life, even in the shadow of Westfield and the newly opened Orbit slide. Another asked pertinently about how young people would be involved in setting the agenda for the developments.

I share her hope that the institutions coming east do genuinely open their doors – and their minds – to local young people, so that their creativity and innovation can flourish. And I hope that the investment being made in Stratford is not only used to sustain and support genuinely world class culture – but also to stimulate and nurture what’s already out there. Money is always tight for communities and it is often services for young people that get squeezed.

We must all help the organisations which exist to support and challenge young people to be sustainable and secure so that they in turn can help young people take advantage of the great opportunities that are emerging. To play tennis; learn dance; try mountain biking; fencing; watch great performances; or just feel they have a stake in something genuinely positive and exciting.

So it was good to hear Andrea Stark, the new director of Future London, who will be responsible for generating much of that investment, lay down a challenge to herself and her partner organisations, to genuinely collaborate, together and with others, to ensure that the benefits really do give east London’s young people the opportunities they need. That message needs to be constant and reinforced as plans develop. I’m hopeful; but at London Youth we’ll be working hard with our partners and members to ensure that young people’s voices continue to be heard.

Photo by Smabs Sputzer

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