Gym'll fix it for the alienated;FE Focus

8th January 1999 at 00:00
Two different schemes are helping young people from ethnic minorities into training and employment.Asian youth and a new Government forum are working for change. Martin Whittaker reports

Rashid Patel is a keen bodybuilder and he likes to keep in shape. He says the sight of him lifting weights on a bench press helps win over young fellow Muslims. It also gives him a certain respect, helping him to hold his own among the local drug pushers.

Rashid is known as Ros to his friends, and he is called Uncle Ros by many in his own community. He is co-ordinator of a project tackling drugs problems among Gloucester's 4,500 Asians. At the same time the project aims to encourage users and others indirectly affected by drugs back into education and training.

It all happens in a gym, sited in an old warehouse on an inner-city industrial estate.

On a Friday evening the gym is full, the air warm and heavy with the clanking of weights as youths chat and work out. Here Rashid and fellow workers get alongside youngsters with drug-related problems, win them over and mentor them - whether it's helping them out of bed in the morning, writing a CV, or encouraging them in the direction of college and that computer course they're interested in.

The gym has become an important centre for youngsters in a community which otherwise has nowhere for them to go. Rashid says: "Because we haven't got a youth club or community centre, a lot of lads will hang around with non-Muslims in certain places where their parents would say they shouldn't be.

"The sad thing is there's many lads out there, and girls, who are intelligent. They have done well at school. Then you see them a couple of years later - we know because we get to hear things. This lad was going to go to university. Then in that three-year period the lad gets mixed up with drugs."

Two years ago Asian leaders acknowledged that there was a growing drugs problem and that the community needed help. A subsequent report by the Gloucestershire Drugs Project confirmed this and identified a need for a drugs worker from that community.

The Asian gym was an ideal base, with a self-help culture already in place. The education and training side has now been boosted with funding by Gloucestershire County Council's adult education team and European Social Fund grants.

Rashid says: "A lot of the clients are users or ex-users. We are trying to get them back into schooling, or work, or even voluntary work in the community. It's just to give them something.

"There's a big interest in computer courses. Unless you have got some computer qualifications, you are never going to get a job. But we are restricted on what we can offer. In a way it depends on whether the client is capable of doing it."

"There's no point in having a client who due to his mental state isn't capable of sitting down for four hours in a classroom. So we try and do other things. I've got a computer at home, so I'll take them home and show them odds and ends."

Mahmoud Patel, a social worker who helps at the gym in his spare time, says many young Asians find the door to education and job opportunities closed through racism. He says the Asian community feels that if it doesn't help them, nobody else will.

"Those Asian kids who have some idea of where they're going will go and make it on their own. They're groomed at school and teachers see their potential and they go on.

"It's the low achievers - people who are just on the margins of success and failure. When they don't get the push from home or from school, then they drop out. And then they are basically looking for menial jobs. And they're looking for someone to take them in hand. Why don't you do this? How many jobs have you applied for?

"It's just offering that reassurance. Those of us who have worked in the local authority and other places, we can say we have had that problem, and this is how we overcame it."

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