The youth club at the heart of the community
Tucked away in the heart of Walthamstow is Village Youth Club, running twice-weekly at Waltham Forest Community Hub (WFCH) in Orford Road.
It was a once little-known youth provision, but over the last two years the Village Youth Club has built up a wonderful and much appreciated reputation of providing a free ‘safe space’ for teenagers aged between 13 and 19 years old.
The sessions run for two hours on Mondays and Fridays. Activities include badminton, pool, table tennis, indoor football, and arts and crafts. Alongside this there is also a structured programme of activities to help build independent living skills such as cooking and gardening. An upcoming series of confidence and self-esteem workshops are also aimed at developing young people’s life skills.
Trained staff and volunteers provide a dedicated mentoring service that members can access freely to support them with emotional, behavioural, social, educational and employment issues. Every year Village Youth Club hosts barbecues, trips to the cinema, bowling, and Goals, a football centre in Chingford, all for a small fee.
Last year the club organised a seaside trip to Clacton-onSea with local sheltered housing schemes, resulting in young people and elderly residents travelling and enjoying a day of seaside fun together. The teenagers even interviewed the older people about their lives and history, discovering in the process how life has changed in Waltham Forest over the years.
The success of the Clacton trip led to WFCH organising and delivering a scrumptious and entertaining Christmas lunch to almost 80 elderly local residents. Those who attended the event were waited upon by youth club members who served lunch to the enthusiastic elderly diners before sitting with them to eat, enjoy conversations – and pull Christmas crackers!
Sadly, big cuts in funding for youth services have had a huge impact on resources and as a result WFCH has had to find alternative ways to generate income to keep the Village Youth Club running.
This is a problem that many other youth providers are facing since Waltham Forest Council reduced funding last September. Village Youth Club used to get £10,000 each year from the council, but now gets nothing and relies solely on donations. Creative and sometimes adventurous ideas are pooled together between staff, volunteers and the young people themselves, to create fundraising opportunities to support the youth club.
Some of these fundraising ideas have led to huge community events such as the Walthamstow Village Festival, which has now taken place two years consecutively and with great success. Money raised from the festival enabled staff and volunteers to take eleven youth club members away on a weekend outdoor excursion, where they could enjoy camp fires, forest trekking, and learn important life skills such as team-building and personal development.
A couple of youth talent shows have also enabled some young people to increase their confidence in the spotlight and go on to perform in other community events.
In November, six youth club members and five staff took part in a sponsored dry fast – no food or drink – for ten hours. This involved a communal sleepover at WFCH, as well as volunteering in two local charities; Branches and Walthamstow Toy Library. The fast was then ended with a delicious homemade feast for all involved, cooked by the centre manager herself.
The young people who took part in the sponsored fast were able to learn about discipline and appreciation for the smaller and important things in life, and were also encouraged to openly express their thoughts and feelings about this during the highly rewarding experience. The participants far exceeded their target by raising a whopping £1,147. They were totally amazed by their achievement.
For some local young people Village Youth Club has become like a second home where they feel safe, listened to, respected and are able to make lasting friendships and connections over the years. Young people at risk of crime, homelessness, substance misuse or gang affiliation have all found some element of support when they have needed it most, from specially trained staff, volunteers, and even their own peers.
The service plays an integral role in community engagement and development, as local people are always encouraged to come and train to become volunteers. This has in the past led to paid employment thanks to employability skills developed as volunteers acquire references and valuable work experience for their CVs.
Now, as 2016 kicks in, all focus will be once again directed at raising much needed funds so that Village Youth Club can continue to make a difference in people’s lives. This year will hopefully see the introduction of a structured programme of personal development courses for young people aged 16 and over. The courses will enable young people to take away tangible rewards in certification/ qualification that can then help them to progress on to further education or employment.
The local community of Waltham Forest can expect many wonderful surprises along the way as the Village Youth Club continues to grow and develop. As always, this will involve fun, optimism, hard work and laughter from all involved; young and old alike!