OnSide’s 14 youth centres, or Youth Zones as we call them, built in the most disadvantaged areas of the country, provide a powerful antidote to entrenched inequality by helping thousands of young people unlock their potential and shine, regardless of the lottery of birth.
Anna had been to six different secondary schools before she found us, aged 15. A turbulent home life and subsequent mental health issues meant her behaviour had deteriorated and her trust in adults was non-existent.
When she walked into Legacy Youth Zone, Croydon, on the suggestion of a friend, she had missed a lot of learning through exclusion, but she had also lost interest in life. Anna says: “I couldn’t see the point in school because I didn’t want there to be a future for myself.”
OnSide youth workers worked with Anna to rebuild her self-esteem. She was assigned a mentor and two counsellors, and we connected her with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). As her trust in adults was slowly rebuilt, so was her self-confidence and ambition. Anna realised she wanted to become a mental health youth worker and would need qualifications.
Rose, a teacher by day and Legacy youth worker by night, worked with Anna on her English Language revision in the Youth Zone’s Library Club, in a small group that a school would have found it hard to provide. Legacy’s art youth worker helped Anna express herself through different media for an Art GCSE. She also took Maths.
For Anna the achievement wasn’t jumping in the air for a press photograph, waving nine A* GCSE certificates. Instead she says: “Just turning up for exams was the win. I couldn’t have imagined being mentally strong enough to do that without the help from Legacy.” She is now working with Legacy to pursue further education.
Anna is just one of 50,000 we see through the doors of our network of Youth Zones every year. Each is an inspirational, welcoming space, designed to be packed full of opportunity. Each helps level the playing field by offering mentoring, support, revision clubs, employability tips, leadership opportunities, skills development and more.
We believe children deserve the best environment in which to thrive. There are at least 20 activities in each Youth Zone every evening. A teenager might come in to dunk balls on the basketball court, but discover the enterprise club and a talent for business.
We are not alone, youth clubs across the country are driving a revolution in aspiration. We know this works. Evidence shows young people do better at school and attend more frequently because of the confidence and interests they develop with us.
Youth workers achieve incredible change every day. Having someone believe in you and tell you that you’re good at something is monumental and missing in many young people’s lives.
OnSide’s funding comes through local and central government but also from local businesses and philanthropists. Each Youth Zone is chaired by someone with a business background, bringing private sector expertise to the model. It’s a great example of communities reinvesting in their young people.
Children spend 85% of their time outside of school. Research by UK Youth found that investment in youth work saves society £3.2 billion annually. By investing in young people now, we’ll create a generation that’s willing and equipped to contribute to society – it is morally right, it is economically sensible and it gives children a future they deserve.
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