Prince Harry has spoken out about “a lack of strong leadership” in the nation suggesting more needs to be done to support youth centres helping disadvantaged young people.
Harry highlighted the issue when he visited a youth centre in a London borough with a notorious reputation for gang trouble, that is providing a safe space for teenagers.
His visit to the Roundwood centre in Harlesden was staged to support the national Fit and Fed Campaign – which provides children with sporting activities and a nutritional meal – and is being run locally by the charity Sport at the Heart.
Nary Wijeratne, founder of Sport at the Heart, said after hosting Harry’s visit to the London borough of Brent: “I feel like he understood, he got it, he got what communities need these days and he said ‘there’s a lack of strong leadership in this country’.”
Although his remarks appeared to be a complaint about a lack of resources for young people rather than a political attack on the Government, she added: “He said that we have ‘not a strong government’.”
A Kensington Palace spokesman later clarified the prince’s comments: “Prince Harry was not talking about the government. These remarks were made in the context of community projects rather than central government.”
The spokesman added: “He had a very enjoyable visit.”
The prince’s concern is that a lot of groups have closed in the face of high overheads, and he would like to see more done to empower and support small organisations.
A source said: “It is about what the charity sector can do as a whole to be smarter about how they use their resources.”
Harry’s visit also saw him chat to youngsters as they took part in sporting sessions and he even tried his hand at being a dinner lady.
Ms Wijeratne said about her discussions with the prince: “He also said that buildings like this are very important in the community, because they’re places that children, young people and adults … can come together. And what’s happened recently is that there has been sweeping closures to these types of buildings.
“For example in Brent this is the last youth club there is, for a whole borough there is one youth club.”
During the visit when Harry was told by staff from the Roundwood centre their young people were local and from further afield he asked “no conflict?”, in an apparent reference to the gang trouble, and was told it was a space of “mutual respect”.
When it came to meal time Harry took his place behind a counter to serve youngsters helpings of pasta.
“How much do they get?” he asked chef Kerin Parris as he grappled with the issue of portion control, and he quizzed each child as they came up, cajoling some to try the pasta when they said no.
Jane Ashworth, chief executive of StreetGames, the charity which runs the Fit and Fed campaign, watched the food being served.
She said one of the lessons they had learnt about running such projects was “always to get a school helper – a dinner lady – to give you a hand because they are much better than anybody else”.
Asked if it was acceptable to call Harry a dinner lady, she joked: “We don’t want to be sexist, do we?” but agreed he could be called a “dinner man”
On an outside court Harry joined a group of young children playing hockey and being put through their dribbling paces.
He shouted encouragement to the youngsters before having a go – tapping the ball around small bollards as he raced against a coach and then laughing as his effort on goal hit the post.
Ms Ashworth said the Fit and Fed campaign aimed to tackle the “holiday gap” of hunger, inactivity and isolation.
She added: “It’s about being active, when you’re not walking to school, having PE or running around the playground, there’s a risk you’re going to sit in front of your Xbox. And there’s a risk if both parents are working, or one is, and there’s not much money around, it’s pretty difficult to have all your set meals as you would have done when you’re at school.”
According to StreetGames 73% of the poorest families cannot always afford to feed their children during the school holidays, a gap which is estimated to affect 3 million children and young people across the UK, and 700,000 in London.
Ms Ashworth said the campaign worked with 150 local organisations last year and hoped to double that this year. They expected to serve a total of 150,000 meals, with food provided by the charity FairShare and local food banks, and help around 20,000 children.