Prince Harry dishes up a hot lunch for children as he warns closure of ‘vital’ youth clubs leave them socially isolated
The Duke of Sussex has warned that the closure of youth clubs is leading to the “social isolation” of modern children who are already on their phones all day. The Duke, visiting a Fit and Fed youth club in Streatham, said adults had underestimated how “vital” community hubs were to young people, calling them the “one place” many could have “a normal conversation”. As he met children aged seven to 16, the Duke asked children attending the club about what it has brought to their lives, as he donned rubber gloves to dish up pasta and salad for their lunch. The Fit and Fed programme, at Streatham Youth and Community Trust’s John Corfield Centre in Streatham, caters for youngsters during the school holidays, making sure they have a hot meal and sports clubs to keep them occupied. The Duke attended a morning sessions, watching trampolining and jiu-jitsu before being presented with a large teddy bear named Ted to take home. He spent time quizzing teenagers about what they would be doing if they were not at the club, miming playing on their phones and computer games. “I bet it’s given you a whole load of confidence to fulfil your potential,” he said. “It’s so easy to sit and play games or be on your phone.
“Can you do this anywhere else?” The Duke watched a group of youngsters play games on a trampoline, asking girls how long they had been going to the club and what they liked best about it. At the jiu-jitsu class, he talked to sports coaches about the importance of both the sports and the food, saying: “For some families, it’s a real problem to put food on the table.” Speaking to Tiana Baptiste, 19, the Duke listened to her share memories about attending the youth club as she grew up, adding: “Those experiences you’ve had, especially the negative ones, you know you can turn them around, right? “By talking to other people here? That’s the really nice thing. This place that has helped you, and now you can help others.
“There’s this whole cycle of citizens. I love that.” He then put rubber catering gloves on to serve food through a hatch, offering cucumber, and tomato to go alongside pasta and garlic bread. Summoning them with a cheerful “It’s getting cold!”, he told children: “You need good food guys, you’re growing.” Invited to join a meeting of adults to discuss the scheme, the Duke said he hoped people were “becoming more and more aware” of the difficulties faced by families in providing full meals during the school holidays. As he heard about the challenges facing the modern generation, he added: “We’re adding to social isolation, whether it’s the nine-year-old on the phone, or on computer games or whatever it is, for young people nowadays to be caught up in a world like this, we are adding to a whole list of issues that already existed. “And then by closing places like this down – the one place which they really have to come and have a normal conversation, be it about mental health, their lifestyle, issues at home, whatever it is. “We all understand it, we all get it, but these places are literally a community hub, and I don’t think people over the years have actually understood or realised how vital this is to the younger generation.”
Fit and Fed is a campaign led by StreetGames which aims to tackle the holiday gap of hunger, inactivity and isolation. The project offers activity sessions and a nutritious meal every day for local children and the duke has visited a number of the projects in recent years. Chuka Umunna, the local MP, said the youth centre was providing a vital service to young people in his community and added: “We have amongst the highest rates of child poverty in the country. “We are the eighth most deprived local authority in London, we’re in the top 30 most deprived in England, and around 35-36 per cent of our young people are children living in poverty. “So this particular programme here is absolutely vital and makes a real difference.” The Duke’s visit, he said, would “shine a light on all the good work that’s being done, in order to attract funding”.