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Prince Harry receives special royal baby gifts as he opens new youth facility in east London

The Duke opened the Future Youth Zone on Thursday

Emily Nash

He is about to become a father but the Duke of Sussex is showing no signs of nerves, according to an old family friend. Harry, 34, is “just so excited” about the impending birth of his first child and “will make the most wonderful father,” said Lady Jayne Woodward, wife of former England rugby coach Sir Clive.

The couple met the Duke as he visited a £6.15m new youth centre in east London and took the opportunity to hand over a present for his baby, presented in a Paddington Bear gift bag. Lady Jayne would not reveal what the gift was, but asked whether Harry seemed anxious about the life-changing event ahead, she said: “Not at all, I think he’s just so excited. He will make the most wonderful father. We’ve known him since he was about 13 and he’s a great chap.”

Prince Harry received a silver birth certificate holder from Georgina Hart

Harry couldn’t resist joining in a quick game of touch rugby along with Sir Clive in the sports hall of the Future Youth Zone, which he officially opened on Thursday in Barking and Dagenham. As he left, he joked to Lady Jayne about he husband, “He’s so involved!” before thanking her again for the gift and hugging her. Harry also appeared emotional as he received another baby gift from 18-year-old Georgina Hart, who told him his Invictus Games had inspired her to aim for the Paralympics.

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Georgina, who has cerebral palsy, presented the Duke with a beautifully-wrapped silver birth certificate holder. She said afterwards: “When we found out Prince Harry was coming me and my mum were like ‘we have got to get something for the baby. It’s our way to say thank you for everything he has done – he’s actually my favourite royal. I was telling him the Invictus Games inspired me to try club throwing for the Paralympics.”

Harry arrived to a rock star welcome at the Future Youth Zone – the first of three centres being opened by the national charity OnSide Youth Zones in London this year. It offers a safe environment for young people to enjoy themselves and improve their skills, aspirations and confidence at a time when issues such as knife crime have become a key concern for their generation.

During his visit he joined members of Barking and Dagenham (BAD) Youth Forum, Youth Zone members and representatives from the Box Up Crime project to hear their views on and experiences of knife crime and to discuss potential solutions. The Duke again raised his concerns about violent video games, after asking what they thought were the reasons for the recent surge in the problem.

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Told the influence of Drill music was partly to blame, he then asked about Fortnite and Grand Theft Auto. BAD Youth Forum member Donnovan Augustin, 18, who chaired the discussion, said afterwards: “We told him that younger kids are susceptible to going out and doing things they hear about in Drill lyrics. We were saying that instead of talking about stabbing people in the lyrics, why can’t they talk about something positive? He was asking us, who could we target to do that. A lot of people said Stormzy, a lot of people said Diplo. If someone like Stormzy started doing songs against knife crime, maybe that would reduce it.

“He asked us if we really thought it was just Drill causing the issues and we said, no it’s not just Drill, it’s everything around – like violent games like Grand Theft Auto and Fortnite. He was saying it’s really addictive but about killing people.” The group also discussed the forum’s Fearlessness Initiative, which aims to help overcome young people’s fears about reporting crime. Harry asked them: “Would any of you be able to step in and tell the police or tell and adult or tell the person themselves that they shouldn’t be carrying a knife?”

Harry toured the new centre's facilities, including a climbing wall

He also asked: “Why are people carrying knives anyway? What’ the consensus? Because everyone else is carrying them?” He was told that for some it was out of concern for their personal safety, while others were too deeply involved in the lifestyle to stop.

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The forum, set up in 2001 by Barking and Dagenham Council, is made up of 13 to 19 year olds elected by their peers in school and youth groups and has a say in issues affecting their lives in the borough. Harry toured the huge new complex, which took 15 months to build, stopping to talk to many of the 250 young people taking part in activities there. He popped into the sensory room to meet Bola Busari, who has been involved with the development of Future over the past four years. Bola helped design hoardings for the centre, inspired by his younger brother Ola, who has autism, to show how it is accessible to young people with additional needs too.

Next he chatted to teenagers Angel Chizea and Louise Bell, both 16, and Kayla Pitter-Aryeetey, 17, who are preparing to become volunteers at another Youth Zone in Croydon when it opens in October. They told him they hoped to become role models for younger children, having missed out on having mentors themselves when they were younger. Harry said: “You are going to give them what you didn’t have. That’s quite cool.”

Asking about the impact of places like Future, which are now filling the gap left by traditional youth clubs and societies, he said: “Do you think the younger generation has been forgotten about? Do you think it’s getting better with places like this?” He added: “It’s amazing how it’s almost (come) full circle. This kind of place didn’t exist – they all got shut down because there wasn’t enough space or numerous other reasons – and now everything that worked all those years ago still works.” Gesturing to Youth Zone users in the main hall, he said: “Young people out there are so excited. Doesn’t it feel great to add value? Look at the smiles on your faces!”

Outside, he watched youngsters enjoying the skate park and playing five-a-side football on the astroturf after chatting to others using the indoor climbing wall and starting a race between two young climbers. In the music room, Harry listened as youngsters performed a song and then Paula Rodrigues, from Barnet, gave a spoken word performance of her poem “Hear This London”.

Harry was presented with a framed copy of Paula Rodrigues' poem

The Duke led the applause and hugged the teenager after she presented him with a framed copy of the poem to take home. And he laughed as two of Paula’s friends peppered him with requests to return with his baby. Zuzana Fernandes, 17, and Hannah McKeating, 18, both from Colindale, north London giggled as he replied: “Definitely. Give it time, right? One thing at a time!”

Harry also had fun at the expense of OnSide Youth Zones co founder Bill Holroyd and chairman John Roberts, challenging them to do some karaoke in front of the cameras. As the two men gamely stepped up, one dropped the microphone, prompting Harry to joke: “A mic drop before you’ve even started!” But it was time to move on and they managed to avoid singing in public. As he left the room, the Duke told the budding young musicians: “Be a shining example for everyone half your size.”

Kathryn Morley, chief executive of OnSide Youth Zones, said of the royal visit: “One of the most famous men in the world has come to see us and shine a light on the work we do. It’s huge, not only for Barking and Dagenham, but for the whole of London and nationally. We’re really keen to open Youth Zones in every town and city and the Duke shining a light in our work - it’s something that’s almost unbelievable for us, we’re so excited.”

Harry was in high spirits at the engagement

Among those attending today’s opening were OnSide Youth Zone’s founder and chairman of the trustee board Bill Holroyd, who along with founding chief executive Jeremy Glover, modelled the charity’s centres on the hugely successful Bolton Lads & Girls Club, where Mr Glover was chief executive for 32 years.

Philanthropist Sir Jack Petchey, 93, whose charitable foundation is among supporters of the Future centre, was also among guests. More than 40,000 young people currently have access to a network of 10 Youth Zones across the country, with centres in Bolton, Manchester and Wolverhampton among others. Along with the Barking and Dagenham site, the new London Youth Zones in Barnet and Croydon will boost the charity’s reach to a further 12,000 young people across the capital.

They offer more than 20 activities every evening, seven days a week, to provide young people with something to do and somewhere to go. Facilities at each centre include an indoor climbing wall, 3G kick pitch, dance and drama studio, music room with recording studio, gym, arts and crafts room and an "enterprise and employability" suite.

In January Harry and wife Meghan visited the Hive Wirral site and in 2016 he visited the Wigan Youth Zone. Earlier this year the Duke warned that the closure of youth clubs is a factor in the “social isolation” of young people. On a visit to the Fit and Fed programme in Streatham in February, he said: “These places are literally a community hub, and I don't think people over the years have actually understood or realised how vital this is to the younger generation." And in December he joined forces with his father the Prince of Wales to highlight the issue of youth violence at a round table discussion at Clarence House.

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