On a cold winter’s day, late in the afternoon, I am trying to persuade Asad to come along to emotional resilience training, called ‘Face Up’. The training is taking place in the Wealdstone Resource Centre, a community hub hosting a youth centre, medical centre and library. The centre is a few metres from where we are standing, but persuading Asad to take the few steps needed to reach the centre is proving difficult.
What does emotional resilience mean for a young man of Harrow? How useful a concept is it for those young people that are, at the very least, just on the right side of the law.
As I mentioned, it is cold and I know that Asad has been standing on this street corner since the morning. He is here a lot of the time, to make money (I don’t ask how at this stage), to meet friends and to spend time. As the cold gets the better of me, I wonder who is the more resilient of the two of us.
Like a number of his friends, Asad is a new migrant. His family are from Somalia and he, alongside his family, emigrated to the UK in recent years. Similarly, his peers are from other new migrant communities – Iraq and Eastern Europe. It is apparent that war and conflict has touched a number of their young lives.
Harrow is home now though. Asad is very much part of the environment I meet him in. The familiarity of shop keepers, police officers – all known on a first name basis – and his peers. This is his community. His life is played out within quite defined boundaries – along the high street between the betting shop, the barbers and the chicken shop.
He has a court appearance some time next week and he is currently on a tag. He talks of avoiding police officers, court dates and tags with much humour and little anxiety. Even stabbings and violence are brushed aside without much evident concern. When I ask him if he is worried or scared, he shakes his head.
But it is obvious he is anxious. His eyes never settle on one object for long and are watchful of everything that is happening around him, a characteristic that all his peers have.
Much work has been done to tailor the emotional resilience programme to the needs of the young men. Talking to Harrow local agencies, observations on the street and conversations with the young people themselves have contributed to our work in making ‘Face Up’, a programme that responds to the needs of the young people.
In talking to a film maker, who was helping us with the project, many of the young men were rehearsed in the choices they had made. Their answers focus on what they see as the obvious logic of their choices: Everyone needs to make money, this is one way of doing it, the world rewards the strong and the opportunist, and this is their way of seeking such rewards.
In trying to persuade the young man to come along to an emotional resilience course, there was offer of food (a big draw), film making and music production. In addressing the question of emotional resilience, we emphasised that this was a project designed for them, young men of Harrow, those that had found themselves in trouble with the law, or found home life or life in general difficult. The emotional resilience course would help them to face up to issues that they were experiencing and this was an opportunity to reflect on their life.
But ultimately, we were relying on some recognition that they wanted to change. In talking about their future, one young man aspired to have children, a wife and a house. Modest aspirations, but aspirations that the emotional resilience training sought to tap into.
The training provided a space for the young men to step out of their roles and do something different. To reflect on how it is important to have a ‘real you’ and a ‘borrowed you’ – a self that conforms to the group as well as a private self, but to continue to recognize the private self. To have resilience by taking the poor hand you may have been dealt and to make it strong in order to achieve your aspirations, however modest.