Stormzy opens community centre as No 10 criticised for failing youth services

Award-winning rapper Stormzy is “gassed” to be opening a community centre in London that is geared towards helping young people.

#MerkyFC HQ, a joint endeavour with sportswear giant Adidas, will host football pitches, a state-of-the-art recording studio and a sports gaming hub.

 (adidas/Merky FC)
(adidas/Merky FC)

“I’m gassed that we can finally open the doors to #MerkyFC HQ,” Stormzy, 30, said.

“I’ve wanted to do this for a long, long time and now there’s a community space that everyone in the area will be able to use and benefit from.

“When I was growing up there was nothing like this around for young people, so it means a lot that we now have a facility like this in Croydon. Proper homegrown!”

Around 390,000 people live in Croydon and the borough has the largest population of under-18s in London, according to official data.

This announcement comes as the government has been urged to pump more money into the country’s youth services.

Funding cuts have seen youth services in England lose some £1.1 billion between 2010-11 and 2020-21, according to Department for Education figures on council spending.

Meanwhile, thousands of young people have missed out on opportunities to build confidence and skills because of cuts to provisions for their development, the YMCA recently warned.

#MerkyFC HQ (adidas/Merky FC)
#MerkyFC HQ (adidas/Merky FC)

The number of local authority-run youth centres fell by 53 per cent in England and 62 per cent in Wales over the past decade, based on research from the YMCA combined with data gathered by the public services union Unison.

Campaigners have long linked youth services cuts with the scourge of serious youth violence that’s sweeping the capital at a 20 per cent higher rate in the last year alone.

Last year, Croydon recorded the most teenage murders of any London borough prompting a council-led review into the issue, so Stormzy’s widely-lauded announcement has inspired hope that this initiative may affect positive change in the area.

Still, questions persist around what the government will do to further invest in opportunities for young people.

“It’s wonderful that Stormzy is doing this but it shows just how much national and local government is failing that a rapper and a huge corporation are stepping in to do their job for them,” one Londoner wrote online in response to the news.

#MerkyFC HQ has been built on the existing football site known as Selhurst Sports Arena, a space managed by Communities First Foundation, which aims to empower communities across London through access to sport, training and employment support.

Ewemade Orobator, Deputy Director of Operations, Community First said: “#MerkyFC HQ will offer endless possibilities in a much-needed community space. It is hugely exciting to be working alongside adidas and Stormzy to deliver a range of impactful programmes that will empower and inspire Croydon residents and beyond”

Adidas’ financial backing will enable the charity to operate the space and enhance facilities that were previously available to residents, and local groups.

Steve Marks at adidas said: “The centre is a space for everyone including those who enjoy taking part in football, but also for the discovery of other creative passions such as music and esports”

Inside #MerkyFC HQ (adidas/Merky FC)
Inside #MerkyFC HQ (adidas/Merky FC)

#Merky FC is a partnership between adidas and Stormzy to enhance and protect diverse representation in football.

The grime artist has also funded the Stormzy Scholarship for Black UK Students at the University of Cambridge, which covers tuition costs for two students and maintenance grants for up to four years.

In 2018, he launched the Merky Books publishing imprint with Penguin Random House to encourage diversity in publishing.

A government spokesperson said: “We have some of the toughest knife crime laws in the world and this year we brought in new laws to ban zombie-style knives and machetes. This builds on action we have already taken to keep our communities safe with 138,000 knives taken off our streets since 2019 and hospital admissions for stabbings down 25 per cent.

“We have additionally provided significant funding for youth services, including over £1.1 billion for the youth sector in England between 2015 and 2021. In 2022 we announced our National Youth Guarantee, so that every young person will have access to regular clubs and activities, adventures away from home and opportunities to volunteer by 2025, backed by investment of over £500 million.

“As part of this, 45,000 more young people a year are to be supported through the Youth Investment Fund, which is building or redeveloping up to 300 youth centres across the country.”