Tucked away on a leafy residential street in Forest Hill, lies the HQ of one of Lewisham’s most unique, fascinating, hands-on and un-sung youth charities you’ve probably never heard of
One of many murals created with young people at the YLP
The Young Lewisham Project is a local-run community youth project that provides young people in the borough who may not be reaching their full potential in mainstream education with a range of supportive, alternative, vocational programmes, instilling in those it reaches a sense of community, agency, capability and belonging.
They offer an inclusive space specifically for children aged 11 to 21 where they’re taught practical life skills as well as specialist knowledge.
“Through enrichment, alternative educational courses and team recreational activities we aim to re-engage young people, increase their confidence and well-being along with improving their skills and self-esteem.”
The range of courses provided include motorcycle and bicycle mechanics, cooking, carpentry and woodwork, textiles and fitness sessions.
Activities can extend to furniture restoration and upcycling, both on weekends and during term time.
Many of these become vocational pursuits and lead young people into work placements or further education that they may not have otherwise seen as an option.
35mm photography fun before lunch
The programme and its team are all based in Lewisham and surrounding areas; it is specific to and embedded in the locale.
In the 70s, spurred by increasing reports of antisocial behaviour and bike theft from often unsupervised or unoccupied young people, local residents worked together and turned an area of their estate carpark into a workshop.
Motorcycle workshop at the YLP
The programme is a registered charity which no longer receives statutory government funding. Generally, they rely on grant, foundation and donation funding, or look towards fundraising efforts off their own backs. They also utilise volunteering alongside paid work to keep things running.
Chaz Barnes, project tutor, inspects tools in the workshop
George Smith, the operations manager who will be many people’s first contact when getting involved in the project, is a born and raised second generation Lewisham resident.
George Smith, operations manager, speaks with a young person ahead of an evening fitness session
His father ran a specialist, independent motorcycle shop on Rushey Green, selling, maintaining and repairing Cossacks - Russian flat-twin motorcycles. If you’ve lived in Catford for longer than a certain amount of time, you’ve probably seen the brownish / redish / greenish motorcycle with the sidecar at some point …
The skills the staff have gained in life are now applied in these community projects and passed on to the next generation. Simple skills like cooking and mechanics are lifelong.
Ultimately there are few better ways to build confidence, self-respect and team spirit.
Their work is invaluable to many young people and their families and guardians in Lewisham.