Karen has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday honours list in acknowledgement of her dedication to providing young people locally and nationally with one to one support through dedicated mentoring. Bolton Lads and Girls Club is the inspiration and model for OnSide North West’s Youth Zones across the region.
Commenting on the award, she said: “I am delighted and hugely honoured to be nominated for an OBE. The award is not only for me – it is recognition for the many young people who have been involved in the project, the kids who have committed themselves to changing their lives.
“It is also recognition of the club’s staff and volunteer mentors who work tirelessly for the benefit of young people. And it is also a marker for those outside the organisation of the work we do here at the club.”
In was in 1995, whilst working as a service manager in another sector that Karen realised she wanted a new challenge and ‘stumbled upon’ Bolton Lads and Girls’ Club: “I found it a real honour that as a volunteer young people would share their day with you over a coffee or a game of draughts. I soon realised that a few hours a week made a massive difference to young people and for me and it was a very rewarding experience.”
Three years later, in 1997, the Club realised that more and more young people were in need of one to one support to enable them to tackle specific problems and the mentoring project was born.
For Karen, it was to be a pivotal moment in her career: “For some young people it was obvious that they didn’t have a great relationship with adults in their lives and as such didn’t have a constant person who provided guidance, support and advice.”
It was the young people in need that were the inspiration for her to take a new direction in her career – she applied for the role of Mentoring Coordinator and got the job. The new role was a huge challenge, something she relished: “The role was mine to create – there was nothing in place and it was up to me to develop a strategy, recruit and train mentors, engage young people find suitable mentee/mentor matches, work with schools, social workers and other agencies.”
While developing the project, Karen also found time to mentor young people herself.
Fast forward 15 years, Karen is now Chief Executive at the Club and the mentoring project she founded has become one of the most respected projects on a local and national scale, helping thousands of young people.
Bolton Lads & Girls Club mentoring project was only one of eight projects to be awarded the Gold Star standard – a Home Office award acknowledging the Club as a centre of excellence and a centre where best practice is shared nationally.
“At the time of developing the Club’s mentoring project, some other mentoring projects were only scraping the surface – unresourced and unstructured –mentoring could be seen as the cheap option to problems in youth culture” commented Karen.
But in recognition of the real difference the Club’s mentoring service makes, the Club was awarded the Queens Award for Voluntary Service in 2011 – the MBE for the voluntary sector and the highest award that has been and can be bestowed upon the Club.
It isn’t just young people that Mrs. Edwards has mentored, it is also her staff. Nichola Howarth, mentoring coordinator, is one of the team that have benefited from Karen’s support and leadership: “I have worked with Karen at the Club since I first left school at 16; I am nearly 29 now. I first joined the Mentoring team as the office junior. Little did I know at that point Mentoring would become a big part of my life. I have always felt like Karen has believed in me and seen the potential in me when at times I haven’t seen it myself. She has been a positive role model to me and I have always felt proud working on her project.
“The mentoring project is a very special project that I have been part of and seen develop over the years. Every young person that participates in mentoring takes away something special with them.
“As a project we have worked with some of the most vulnerable young people in the town and at times we have been their only support network. We have dealt with scenarios you could never imagine and have met some amazing, inspiring young people along the way. Young people are more resilient than we think and by providing them with a positive role model and a positive relationship in their life; it gives them opportunities and has potential to turn their life around. I feel blessed to have met Karen and if I hadn’t have met her, I would not be doing what I am today. I am so proud to be part of a project that has such an impact on the young people of Bolton’s lives.”
Karen sums up her obvious love for the club, something that will never waver: “There are not many people who can say that they love their job – hand on heart I can say that I have the best job in the world, there is nothing like watching young people’s confidence soar.”
Karen will be invited to London in the coming weeks to receive her award. Visit Bolton Lads and Girls Club web site for more information about its work.