Tough kids find it's cooler to be on TV than carry a knife

From the street where headmaster Lawrence died David Leitch reports on a channel run by children

Everyone at Youth Cable TV is aware that just across the road headmaster Philip Lawrence was stabbed to death by a 15-year-old boy.

Nothing could have so clearly highlighted the way in which young people can be lured by a culture of casual violence and the shoddy glamour of bandana-wearing gangs than the story that unfolded last week at the trial of Learco Chindamo, convicted of stabbing to death the head of St George's Roman Catholic school, Maida Vale, last December.

At Youth Cable TV, though, there is a cool alternative to street life. It is due to some astute fund-raising by its founder, Sabrina Guinness, who charmed, persuaded and bullied her friends, the Beautiful People of the media, to contribute something to help young people.

Youth Cable TV is a children's TV station based on the Harrow Road, north- west London, which has given more than 200 local children aged 11 to 16 a chance to get involved in television. But it is anything but a toy. In two years its backers have raised pounds 537,000, with another pounds 100,000 promised, which has paid for a 5,000 sq ft live studio, editing suites, make-up, dressing rooms, wardrobe and storage space. The sound system is louder than anything even on nearby Ladbroke Grove, the spotlights brighter than Notting Hill neon.

YCTV works because its organisers have understood something fundamental about young people. Nowadays, they dream TV. In a century in which poor boys have dreamt variously of being engine-drivers, test pilots, or boxing champs, they now aspire to being Chris Evans.

Last week Ms Guinness's chums joined her to celebrate the second birthday of the TV station. The list of guests and sponsors would have warmed any accountant's heart: Rothschilds, a Cavendish, Vivien Duffield and Anjelica Huston, Maria and Philip Niarchos, Robert Stigwood, Sir Mark Weinberg and the Woo Foundation. Jerry Hall and Mick Jagger were absent with other things on their mind, but Guinness's sister Miranda, who works with Jagger, pitched in for most of the day getting things just right. Guests were impressed with what they heard of the achievements of the past two years, but there were also reminders of just how tough an area the channel is based in.

Jessica Connell, 22, YCTV's production co-ordinator, recounts that she recently had three ribs fractured trying to ban a boy who had sexually assaulted a girl on the premises.

Luke Hyams, 16, is already presenting YCTV films on Videotron, the local cable network. He sits making a video for the Big Birthday Party, enthralled by the vision of himself, mike in hand, interviewing a racing driver with all the aplomb of Murray Walker button-holing Damon Hill. Luke is more natural, more himself, on screen than off. His school career was a history of truancy and suspensions. "No one ever asked me for my opinion on anything until I came here," he says.

Like many of the YCTV wannabees, Luke suffered from something approaching a school allergy. Of five friends who attended a local community school he is the only one to survive to 16 intact. One is in jail, another has an unwanted pregnancy, another a drug habit. His world is one where children wear bandanas and "tax" dinner money from others on the pretext of being members of Chinese mafia gangs.

Jessica Connell foresees a time "when we'll need proper security". A sign saying "If at any time you are asked to leave, please do. Arguing will not solve anything..." is no longer sufficient in an area where carrying a knife is commonplace.

Luke is one of 200-plus children whose experience at YCTV has taught self-esteem as well as skills. YCTV kids give the impression of having been born with the box switched on.

Sabrina Guinness, meanwhile, at her party, declines calls for a speech from Pearson TV chief Greg Dyke and Michael Figgis, who made Leaving Las Vegas. She prefers to circulate "one-to-one" among the glamorous guests doing what she is best at. There is a pounds 100,000 budget shortfall and she is looking for more industry support.

Among the work which the children have been involved in is making magazine programmes for Videotron which give vent to local issues. They have also made in-flight material for British Airways and broadcast to Bosnia through the War Child charity.

Those still at school might abhor homework. But they think it's great to turn up for two hours after school and provide feedback on street culture after watching future episodes of Grange Hill. The kids insist that the protrayal of police turning up after noise complaints at a party is tame compared to the real thing. The party has too many lights - "Black people never have strobes like that. All you see are dark figures moving very slowly in the shadows..." Some will get a chance to draft Grange Hill scripts, even act in episodes.Even the youngest, like Leyton, 11, and Ricky, 12, have acquired screen credits.

Meanwhile, Luke's mother, Missy Hyams, is concerned about his friends still "on the streets - or nowhere".

She says: "One boy with a great talent for drawing has let it all go already. He needs a YCTV for young artists."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They make daily deliveries to most foodservice...

Recruitment Genius: Transport Planner

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They make daily deliveries to most foodservice...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - C#, ASP.Net, MVC, jQuery

£42000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is looking for a C# ...

Recruitment Genius: General Driver - Automotive

£15500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading Motor Re...

Day In a Page

Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

Latest on the Labour leadership contest
Froome seals second Tour de France victory

Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

The uses of sarcasm

'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

No vanity, but lots of flair

A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

In praise of foraging

How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food