Newham, London: The Campaign to Save Stardust Asian Youth Club

A man and a woman stand outside a green door. They putting pizza boxes in a suspended bucket ready to winch up.
  Imran Khan, Chair of Stardust Management Committee and Carolyn Sikorski, send up pizzas in a bucket. Courtesy of Ilona Aronovsky
A green pin badge bearing the words, ‘I’m a Stardust Supporter’

When

November 1985

Where

Stardust Asian Youth Club, High Street North, Newham, London

Stardust was a busy youth club, running four sessions a week in the Newham North East Labour Party rooms. Set up in 1976 by community workers Carolyn Sikorski and Satnam Singh, Stardust was a place where young Asian people could share the issues they faced in the community. It was a safe place where racism and police harassment could be discussed.

It was through no choice, they’re going to shut the youth centre down, we’re not going to have nowhere to go, everyone’s going to go their own way and we’re going to split up… we did not realise how much publicity we were attracting…

Abdul Karim, Stardust member

The Labour Party wanted to sell the building and Stardust hoped to buy it with help from the Urban Aid Programme. Despite the fact that Stardust thought they had first refusal, other buyers had been approached. Club members decided to occupy the building in protest, and on Sunday 24th November, 30 young people broke in, marking the start of a two day occupation.

We had sleeping bags. There was electricity. No one turned that off. We used to winch down a bucket and somebody would buy us Kentucky, or they’d bring us some chapattis or something, and winch it back up.

Abdul Karim, Stardust member

The occupation divided the local Labour Party, with the executive or leadership threatening to call in the police to remove the young people. Heated debate amongst Party members prevented that happening, and instead Council Leader Fred Jones visited the protesters.

Fred did actually take the time out to come down and see us and ask for our list of demands. We was talking to him through the window.

Abdul Karim
Three men read a note passed from protesters in a window above them. Above the men’s heads are protest banners.
Fred Jones and other Labour Party members read a note from the occupiers.
Courtesy of Ilona Aronovsky

Fred Jones was a leader with whom we had established a relationship. He appeared to be supportive to us, on the same wavelength. They [the protesters] were passing notes down by bucket and he wrote a note to them saying ‘You’ve got to come to the town hall for us to have a discussion about this.’

Satnam Singh, Newham teacher and Stardust youth worker

The occupiers took Fred up on his offer and a delegation met with him at the Town Hall to discuss their demands. An agreement was reached that Stardust could use the hall and would be given some funding for a part-time youth worker to continue the club’s work.

Stardust was saved. Direct youth-led action with the help of community workers had galvanised support from parents and activists in the ruling Labour party.

It needed that direct action. It was the right time and the right place. But it needed all those components to come together.

Abdul Karim

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