The Foundation Ra 1979 to 1987
BYL was established on 12th August 1979 against the backdrop of mobilising young people against the serious racial violence’s of the late seventies and early eighties. A group of enthusiastic and committed young people in their late teens and early 20’s was not able to sit around and witness such injustices and the failure by administration to deal with the issues. They were determined to challenge the status quos and ensure justice for the most vulnerable people in society. BYL was totally led by volunteers who, through their contributions of time and personal finance, began the journey along the road to success, a tradition still a core to its infrastructure.
The BYL was the first black youth organisation to be established in the Home Counties. The challenges faced by BYL involved raising awareness of the statuary authorities of the needs and issues of the emerging new generation of young people of Bangladeshi origin. The organisation campaigned for social justice for ethnic minority young social in general and Bangladeshi young people in particular.
Being the only black youth organization at the time BYL found itself at the forefront of being approached by other ethnic minority young people for help and support. The BYL has been an inspiration behind the development of the other ethnic minority voluntary youth groups in Luton and elsewhere in the country.
The BYL started with 54 members on books. That has now transformed to providing services to well over 5,500 people a year who come from all sections of the community.
The first official address was 55 Leagrave road, Luton, the house of the then General Secretary, Ansar Ullah; coincidently this is opposite the organisations’ current address.
On 3rd january1980 BYL first affiliated with the local education authority of Bedfordshire County Council and since then the affiliation statuary youth service has been maintained on an annual basis. This enabled BYL access some limited resources from the Youth Service, including 3 hours of youth work time week.
The BYL opened its first bank account with Sonali Bank on 11th January 1980.
The first youth club was opened on 17th February 1980 at the 61 Club (currently known as Starlight). The entrance fee at the door was 10 pence for members and 20 pence for non-members. The club organised a range of leisure and informal activities including a range of competitions for young people.
The BYL representatives Abdul Latif and Abdullah Khan had their first meeting with Graham Bright, Member of Parliament for Luton South on 6th June 1980. They discussed a range of community issues in bury park including increasing foot patrols by police in response to racial incidents at the time, encouraging Asian young people to join the police force and to move the football ground from the area.
During the period of 1979 to 1987 BYL entered into various tournaments and competitions in the region. The BYL team won the 3rd prize in the Public Speech Competition organised by Bedfordshire County Council in 1980, the runner up prize in the Council Table Tennis League in 1981 and also won a number of prizes for participating in Luton Carnival.
The New Era from 1987
In 987 BYL went through its most challenging period, due to the departure of Abdullah Khan, who started his own business in Hampshire. He was an experienced and founding member of BYL who had used his talents for the benefits of the organisation. The Executive Committee of 1987 became defunct as there was no one to take direct responsibility for continuing the activities and the organisation was in disarray.
Irak Chowdhury then a young leader who was not part of the Executive Committee of 1987 recruited few keen and interested young people to re-establish the organization over the next two years, these included Mashkoor Shah, Shahin Miah, Luthfar Miah, Shamsuz Zaman, Abdul Halim, Abdul Haque, Tahir Khan, Abdul Hamid, Habibur Rahman, Shahed Miah and few others. His intervention was timely for rescuing the organisation from dissolution. An Executive Committee was elected in 1988 to take the organisation forward. Also in 1988 BYL was successful in obtaining their first substantial grant to date from Luton borough council.
As members were increasing at Starlight, BYL was looking for new premises with recreational facilities to meet the demands of its users. Initially the organisation found it very difficult to acquire accommodation. After much campaigning and lobbying it was able to gain regular access to Luton Youth House in November 1988 for a Sunday session between 1pm to 5pm.
Having gone through a low attendance in membership for a period prior to 1988 the organisation rapidly increased its popularity amongst the Bangladeshi youth of Luton. This was the result of dedication and commitment from its new young EC members who were able to offer and deliver an exciting range of youth programmes. As a result the number of young people significantly increased from 6 to 80 per week. This was managed with only one paid youth worker and substantial contributions of time from volunteers.
From the success of the youth club, BYL made its presence felt again amongst young people. Its activities were further enhanced by actively participating in wide variety of sports programmes such as table tennis, badminton, carrom, and five a side league. In particular, BYL developed a strong football team supported and managed by Abdul Halim and Abdul Hamid.
In 1989 having found its renewed life, the BYL opened its first youth office at 1st floor,182 Dunstable Road, Luton and office base for the organisation that was used to pioneer many initiatives. This was funded through a grant from Luton Borough Council and additional youth work hours of 17.5 hours week and Tahir Khan was the first coordinator of the project. The accommodation was shared with the Pakistan Kashmir Youth Forum. The accommodation was used as an advice and information point for young people and Luton Youth House was used once a week to deliver youth club activities. The youth work was and is now delivered through a robust partnership with Luton Youth Service.
The organisation realised that there was a gap in provision for young women of Bangladeshi origin. In 1990 it worked with a group of young women who included Rumi Chowdhury, Rima Khanom and Rina Begum to develop the Bengali women’s Project to pioneer activities for young women. This approach ensured development of an organisation for women by the women of BYL continued to be a key partner.
There was an immense gap in provision for young people in Bury Park are during the school holiday period, particularly the long summer holiday. BYL pioneered an idea to develop provision during the summer holiday. In 1990 the first summer activities initiated and co-ordinated by Tahir Khan and Irak Chowdhury. This was possible with the guidance from Azad Chowdhury, project co-ordinator of BYL London, (currently with Newham Bengali Trust). Over the years many other members took a leading role at different times to ensure continuous improvement and foster new ideas. These members included, Sohol Choudhury, Rafique Ali, Abdul Halim, Jakarea Islam, Shamsuz Zaman, Abdur Choudhury, Shahed Koyes, Sujel Miah, Rumi Chowdhury and Caroline Islam. BYL retained the involvement, in an advisory capacity, of almost all predecessors. This ensured continuity and sustained from the Past. The summer activities are now branded as Crescent Summer School Project (CSSP). CSSP has an independent management body which comprises of previous participants of the project and has gained strength over the year through active involvement of young people at all stages. Needless to say that it is genuinely ‘by the young people, for the young people’. The project engages around 500 young people from different racial backgrounds and abilities for 4 weeks every summer. CSSP is well recognised as an exceptionally successful initiative and has won a number of awards including the Philips Lawrence Award, the John Chatterley Award by the Luton Bedfordshire Youth Association, the Times Educational Supplement recommendation and the High Sheriff’s Award. The volunteers have been invited to Buckingham Palace in recognition of their contribution.
In 1990 BYL worked with one of its key partners, PKYF, to engage with local authorities in ensuring that adequate and appropriate facilities are available for the Bangladeshi and Pakistani Kashmiri community young people in particular to redress the balance of deprivation. This was done in a regular and persistent dialogue with members and chief officers of both Bedfordshire County and Luton Borough Council. BYL is continuously involved in such campaigns with authorities both directly and indirectly, this resulted in some key achievements:
Impacting on the overall attitude of councils in their perception and policies to ensure that the services delivered are appropriate and specific to the needs of a particular ethnic minority.
Securing specific posts namely, a Bangladeshi outreach youth worker and a Pakistani Kashmiri outreach youth worker.
Establishing of Bury Park Community Centre and later what is now Bury Park Community Resource Centre.
Founding of Bury Park Street Festival.
Convincing the council to use positive action to improve recruitment and retention of ethnic minority staff.
From 1990 to 1999 BYL was working with the Home Office Community Support Unit and different consultants in delivering a race relation training programme for police officers at national levels.
In 1991 BYL took its youth and community development to an international arena by developing a youth exchange programme with Bangladesh. This provided an opportunity to expose young people to a cultural environment that has different social and economic challenges, to share personal experiences and for the organisation to share good practice. Subsequently BYL organised four youth exchange programmes with Bangladesh and official youth programme for a delegation comprising officers from the Local Authority, including Head of Community Development of Luton Borough Council and the Community Liaison officer of Bedfordshire Police. In 1996 Jakarea Islam, then General Secretary, delivered a workshop for BYL on ‘volunteering’ as part of the international volunteer week in Cape Town South Africa.
In 1992 BYL was successful in obtaining 3 years funding from the Home Office through a section 11 grant deliver specific programmes to Bangladeshi young people aimed at raising their achievements in schools.
BYL through its commitment and success found its self unravelling a huge gap in service provision in the bury park area. In order to respond to the demands and needs of the community organisation found itself in the forefront on taking on new challenges that required, in 1993, to move to bigger premises. A group of five trustees, (Tahir Khan, Irak Choudhury, Shamsuz Zaman, Rumi Choudhury and Jakarea Islam) were appointed by the Executive Committee for legal purposes, to take on a lease on a building at 13 Hazelbury Crescent, Luton. The members agreed to name the project ‘Crescent’ House ensuring the facilities were accessible to everyone irrespective of their race and not just the Bangladeshi community, an ethos considered to have been a key contributor to the success of the organisation.
In 1993 BYL, in partnership with Dunstable College was successful obtaining ESF funding to deliver industrial sewing courses for women.
BYL has always been proactive in promoting equal opportunities. This was deservedly recognised and the organisation won the 1994 Bedfordshire TEC Equal Opportunities Award whilst the former Chairperson of BYL, Irak Choudhury, won the Bedfordshire TEC Individual Contributions Award.
The 1995 was on of the first most successful years in BYL’s history. The Crescent Summer School Project was awarded 1995 John Chatterley Award and achieved TES Recommended Project status. The General Secretary of the organisation Jakarea Islam became the overall winner of Whitbread National Volunteer Action Award. Realising the aspiration and potential of BYL, the National Lottery Charities Board (Now Big Lottery) awarded the first major grant to BYL.
The grant from the National Lottery Charities Board (NLCB) enabled BYL to purchase a derelict industrial site, 94-106 Leagrave road, and transform it into an innovative multipurpose community resource centre that is known as the Centre For Youth and Development (CYCD) in 1996. Previous to its industrial usage the site was used by the military during the 2nd world war and subsequently the site adjacent to CYCD to the east was used as a skating rink in the mid 20th century.