Young, gifted – and finally working
Northumberland Park means different things to different people. To some it’s the home of the hallowed Tottenham Hotspur football club. To others a melting pot of cultures, to which they have a fierce loyalty and affection. For 21 year old Aaron Blake, this place is tied to his personal journey and Northumberland Park now represents success
For a long time Aaron was just one of the 24% of young unemployed in Northumberland Park, the area where he has lived for the last 12 years.
‘I was very antisocial before,’ he says. ‘I never saw any hope in the environment I was in. All I used to do was party with friends, smoke and drink from when I was 13. I lived with my grandmother but we weren’t close.’
But he has recently started paid work as a Detached Youth Worker with Project 2020, a new scheme which first helped him gain his Chartered Institute of Housing Level 2 Certificate.
Aaron talks about the change Project 2020 has made to his life: ’I was always ambitious in my own way – I would think outside the box but not push myself to do things.
‘Now things are different – everyone around me inspires me to do better and I want to do things that inspire other people.”
Aaron is one of around 50 young people who have decided to use the employment and education centre to step out from their current social situation – to get rid of that label, NEET, that’s been given them .
But, as he says, it didn’t happen overnight.
“We all had our doubts and didn’t see Project 2020 as an opportunity – there’s been such a lack of opportunity that it takes a while to build the confidence to try and go forward.
‘But so far a lot of people know about the project and are showing interest in it – I’m getting a lot of good feedback about it. People are saying they want it to last longer instead of being like the other projects that start and are only around for a certain amount of time.”
The ‘Off Road’ centre is at the foot of one of a series of tower blocks on the North Tottenham estate. Young people can go to it and hang out, play pool and table tennis, surf the internet and record music in the studio. To help them move forward they also receive career mentoring, vocational training, life skills and advice on how to access benefits, grants and funding, or write a CV.
Aaron’s journey went from hanging out, to obtaining his qualification, to volunteering to be an informal community ambassador and an advocate of Project 2020.
He was given a Rewarding Resident Volunteers award from Homes for Haringey in May for all the hours of unpaid work, which eventually led him to his job.
Aaron understands first hand what it means to be young, gifted and out of work in Tottenham.
“Before I was a Neighbourhood Worker I did a lot of job hunting. I kept applying to a major apprenticeship scheme but was never accepted. I even went there at 6am to queue up for when it opened at 8am but I was rejected because I didn’t have a CSCS (construction worker) card. Project 2020 helps young people with things like this. You get training and advice on what you need to do the things you want to do.”
When asked about his aspirations for young people in the area, Aaron said:
“Everyone’s different with different goals but I want to see people succeed which is why I bring so many to the centre. It’s a good place with constructive people.
‘If you’re around constructive people there’s no way you can stay in the same place – you will have ambition, you will go forward.”