Shining a light on Newham's Youth Zones

Elijah Bertram

Elijah Bertram is a volunteer at Forest Gate Youth Zone. - Credit: Newham Council

Newham’s Youth Zones represent the single biggest investment into youth services by a council in recent years.

Meet Elijah Bertram and Zahra Maalow from Forest Gate Youth Zone as they interview each other.

Elijah, 20, is a Newham Youth Movement Member and a volunteer at the youth zone.

Zahra’s career in youth and community work spans 18 years including eight years with Forest Gate Youth Zone. Migrating to the UK fleeing two civil wars, Zahra describes her career choice as her dream to give back.

Zahra asks Elijah

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Covid-19 has been a tough time – what’s top of your list when lockdown is lifted?

It is going to be like a restaurant crawl, where I go from restaurant to restaurant. It will be great having that experience, and of course having friends round – that pretty much sums it up.

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What are the other ways you’ve stayed connected through the youth zones?

To be honest, it’s been a safe space for me to meet people, chat with friends but also get support from the staff via Zoom with job applications. I have also helped out like researching some of the quiz questions and even hosting the quiz sessions – that’s been fun. Tonight I’m supporting the non-contact boxing session – I help run the warm up and cool down sessions.

What positive changes have you made through social action and volunteering?

I’ve seen so many young people improve their mental and physical well-being through the boxing sessions but also through a project I was involved with at Forest Gate called New You. It was all about branding yourself, forgetting about stigmas or negative things people might say about you and inspired young people ‘to be yourself for yourself’- that was positive change.

The young people have said they really loved the project and I’ve like helping ‘voice it out’ for them and suggesting avenues for young people to create positive changes for themselves.

Given all your experience at Newham Youth Zones, where are you heading Elijah?

My career path won’t be in youth work but I will use a lot of the stuff I have learned working with other young people, not just seeing them but listening to them. I want to set up my own firm building homes and schools that involves young people – from what young people want to giving them jobs. 

Elijah asks Zarah

What was the moment when you decided to become a youth worker?

Well, there were two moments. The first was memories from living through a civil war and witnessing how communities can damage each because of race, discrimination, cultural prejudice and gender-based violence. This made me understand the importance of communities that work well.

Secondly, after witnessing a youth crime when I was in Year 11, I was motivated to create change by working with young people, to mentor and guide them so they would make better decision for themselves and this would make a positive impact on their community.

What’s top of your list as the greatest difference you’ve made in youth work?

My greatest achievement by far is seeing some of the young people I’ve supported set up their own charity to help other young people.

A youth charity that comes to mind is Aspire to Inspire that started from a youth services social action campaign called Can You Hear Us. The young people involved felt they wanted to be better heard in their community and have worked together to bring about their vision.

Has Covid-19 challenged and motivated you OR challenged and made you more chilled?

Definitely challenged and motivated me. It challenged me by forcing me to be more creative in terms of supporting young people via online platforms and by running Zoom sessions from home, bearing in mind that youth work has always been about face-to-face work with young people.

Covid has motivated me because I have had to develop new skills to create interesting workshops that engage young people, as well as find new digital ways to help those young people who have felt down or are going through hard times. I found all sorts of things to do from virtual: cooking, drama, movie nights and music-making.

What’s next in store for Forest Gate's Youth Zone?

I am so excited to share that we are upgrading our centre and soon we will have some fantastic new equipment in our music and film rooms.

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