I understand the value of youth work, both professionally and personally.
I started out as a young person at Youth Moves, after meeting a youth worker called Paul at my local primary school in Knowle West. He told me that there was this club that I can go to, and they could help me get back into education.
I spent years with the project, and they helped me enormously get my life on track after experiencing a few issues along the way. Then one day I started volunteering as an older teenager because I wanted to give back to the community. I went to college, and after finishing a media course, Youth Moves offered me a chance to be a sports apprentice. I am now aged 21, and have my first full time job as an assistant youth worker, working in the area I grew up in.
I love it. But there are some challenges we face in the south of the city. There can be some tensions between young people from Knowle West and Hartcliffe. I don’t really have a problem working in Knowle because obviously I grew up there and know a lot of people in the area, especially older siblings to most of the young people that we work with. So it’s pretty easy for me to work there. But it’s not so much when I go to Hartcliffe, as a lot of the young people at first don’t want work with someone from Knowle. That’s how entrenched some of this stuff can be.
We must build the relationship first and then sort of let them know where we’re from once they’re comfortable with us. For example, I had one group from Hartcliffe, who told me that had they known that me and another worker were from Knowle, they would’ve refused to work with us. Once they had worked with us for three or four months, we took them to our current base in The Park Centre in Knowle, and some of the young people mixed, they got on.
But this takes time. We even recently took groups from both areas to a residential alongside Hartcliffe Club for Young People.
This is where the team at Youth Moves is strong, as we have staff born and raised in Knowle like me, and those from Hartcliffe that have those trusting relationships. We also have staff from outside the area that can give a broader perspective and fresh eyes on things.
So, with the new £8 million Youth Zone coming, our plan is to try and bring both communities together. It may seem naïve, but we have already started the work, to break down barriers and build a bridge between groups of young people. A barrier that shouldn’t be there anyway in my opinion.
There was a big divide, especially when I was growing up, and I reckon the Youth Zone will be a big part of solving this, because it’s right in the middle and in a space where all young people feel safe. The problem with our current location at the minute is it can be hard for the young people from Hartcliffe to get to and to always feel comfortable in.
It’s also important for young people from other parts of South Bristol to come too of course. I think once it’s there and it’s been there for a little while, we’ll be able to get funding to be able to transport young people to and from different locations across South Bristol.
Now you may be wondering what a Youth Zone actually is, well it’s basically a giant youth club with loads of facilities that’s open most of the week. Last year I went to visit one in Manchester, and I thought it was amazing. Part of me only wished there was something like that about when I was younger.
Walking through the building I was impressed, there was a gym for people that like their sport, their exercise. A football court, a boxing room. There was dedicated spaces for arts and crafts, hair and beauty. So, you’ve got everything and that’s what you need in a place. There’s something for everyone to do, and that’s where you’ll get everyone mixing and joining in and building relationships between communities and young people themselves.
And I feel like it’s been a long time coming for South Bristol, we deserve something of this standard to give to the young people to keep them off the streets and keep them out of trouble. There was nothing like this when I was growing up. Bigger buildings like this are so much better because then it gives them a safe space to come to, and more things to do. And young people will probably trust us workers a bit more and open up about stuff they might have going on.
It’s important to say that Youth Zone isn’t really all about Youth Moves either, it’s about the area. In the next couple of years, we will be looking for local organisations that we can invite in to come in and run different areas of the building. Local clubs and stuff. It’s going to be bigger than us, we are just based there.We want to make it a whole community thing.
What I love about the Youth Zone concept is also the involvement of young people in it, something that’s key. It’s important that young people have a say, something that can often get lost in debates and conversations on their behalf.
We will be setting up a young person’s advisory group and are actively looking for young people to get involved now. This group will have a say in the naming of the Youth Zone, the design, what will be in there and the shaping of all of it really. The building is for them after all. It’s there for us to work in yes but it’s for them to come in, feel safe, and enjoy.
Young people need to have a say, otherwise it’s not going to be what they really want, doing this it means it’s for them. So, I’m so happy it’s coming and am very excited about working there and what the future holds for the young people of South Bristol.