CATCH (Community Action To Change Harehills) is a registered charity established in 2011 and works closely with a range of statutory and voluntary partners which include West Yorkshire Police and Leeds City Council.

Official Government figures have listed Harehills in the top 5% most deprived areas of England. Cheaper housing has made it attractive to immigrants, with around 35% of the community not British born. It is therefore a very diverse community and has suffered from unrest over the years, as well as issues related to poverty.

PC Asad (Ash) Razzaq developed a youth centre to help address some of the causes of anti-social behaviour and crime in the area, which he says are due to young people having little to do, lack of guidance or support, feeling anxious and frustrated, and not having the right guidance for respecting others.

“Young people around here don’t always have the best role models, or their parents are constantly at work to make ends meet. Without those role models to guide them, they are vulnerable to being misinformed, getting involved with anti-social behaviour, drugs, theft, violent crime, or associating with people who would steer them in the wrong direction,” he said.

The youth club, aimed at the 8-17 age group, meets every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday attracting over 100 youngsters each week. They can play football, rounders, pool, table tennis and computer games, as well as make new friends and take part in activities. There are also computers available for young people to access the internet and use them to complete homework or search for jobs. There is also a Youth Café which operates on a pay-as-you-feel basis whilst the youth sessions are running.

Ash said the club was initially started to help get young people off the streets, but as time went on, he observed that many of the young people had fantastic leadership skills, but simply didn’t know it. He began to encourage them by giving them responsibilities to plan, create and manage their own youth activities.

“The young people are at the forefront of everything we do here, they created it, own it and look after it. The adults are the support system and ensure regulations and policies are met,” said Ash.

The Near Neighbours grant has funded a development programme to help Ash and his colleagues at CATCH to further develop young people’s leadership skills, paying for a youth leader, an activity worker and the necessary supplies leading to a sustainable young volunteer programme.

Czech-born Petr, (17), has been going to the youth club since he was 12. He said: “When I first came I was asked to do some volunteering. I watched what the others were doing and thought I could do that. I now help with all the IT and room bookings.”

Petr admitted that if he hadn’t got involved with CATCH, he would most likely still be on the streets without much hope of a future.Petr admitted that if he hadn’t got involved with CATCH, he would most likely still be on the streets without much hope of a future. He’s now studying for ‘A’ Levels and aspires to join the police or public services.

Sami, who’s now 18 and came to England from Pakistan 12 years ago, said Ash had guided him through primary and secondary school years. “I used to be an angry kid but Ash helped me to get that under control. I got involved in CATCH and picked up some new skills – I do all kinds of things, whatever needs doing. I’ve run a football session, done First Aid training, cleaning, watched over the younger kids. I wouldn’t have done all this without CATCH and I’m grateful for it. I want to do something in youth leadership now, or maybe Sport Education. I have to return the favour,” he said. 

Vojtech, (17), is Slovakian and has been in the UK since he was four. As well as being expelled from school due to lack of attendance, he had been in trouble with the police on a number of occasions, which is when he met Ash.

“Ash kept inviting me to CATCH and I kept refusing, but one day I did go. I got involved and started doing things like setting up rooms for activities and even ran a football tournament. The volunteering helped me get some work at a conference place that Ash organised. I’m not sure what I want to do yet but I’ve got more courses to do and will carry on helping at CATCH.” 

British-born Kamil, (17), was raised in care and has only been involved with CATCH for seven months. He said: “I came along and started volunteering straight away. I’ve done lots of courses and helped out in loads of different ways. Before I came here I didn’t really feel I belonged anywhere but at CATCH I know I’m always welcome. The people here aren’t really friends - they’re family.

“It’s changed my mind about a few things, like the police. Before coming here, I hated the police. Now I’m thinking I could do something in the police as a career. And I used to think negative things about Eastern Europeans, but I work with Petr now and it’s changed everything I used to think. Faith or background doesn’t matter. What matters is how you treat people.”

Ash said it was purposeful that CATCH was based in a building that was not linked to any one faith, making it totally neutral. Named ARK, the building is a collection of former police training modular buildings where coincidentally Ash was trained himself. It was donated to CATCH by the Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire, Mark Burns-Williamson. Once on site in Harehills, it was assembled into a two storey building, and with the help of all the youngsters and lots of volunteers and organisations from around the community, it was transformed into a colourful, multifunctional community centre.

“We received tremendous support from people who gave their skills and time to get the ARK building to required standards, connected to water, gas and electricity. Without their generosity, the project could not have been possible. Gary and Jonathan Collins from Enviro Building Solutions based in Halifax have been especially supportive, they did a huge amount for nothing and have continued to support us,” said Ash. 

The building now accommodates services during the day which include women's groups, English language classes, advocacy services, support for refugees and asylum seekers, NHS Services, baby clinics, ‘Play & Stay’ sessions, one to one parent advice, West Yorkshire Police drop-in sessions and computer classes.

Young people manage the booking system for all of these activities and make sure the building is open, clean, tidy and ready for certain sessions. The young people are learning essential work and life skills whilst doing all this and completely understand the vision for CATCH and how to make ARK a sustainable community building.

Chair of the West Yorkshire Police Independent Advisory Group, Imran Shah, said it was no surprise that in 2016, Ash had been awarded an MBE by HM the Queen for his services to young people and the community.

He said: “The award is wonderful and well-deserved, but Ash doesn’t do this work for his ego, he does it to empower young people, and along with a fantastic team, they persevere, day in, day out, to make a difference. And what a difference! It is impossible to quantify what disorder, incidents, crime and human suffering have been averted through CATCH. It’s a place of hope in Harehills.”