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Impact Stories

Supporter Spotlight – Nicola Brentnall, Ajaz.org

Nicola Brentnall works with Ajaz.org, a group of friends led by the philanthropist Ajaz Ahmed, working to help support organisations that provide immediate help to children and families in need. A long-time supporter and valued friend of OnSide, Nicola shares the profound impact youth workers had on her life.

“I have been lucky to visit many Youth Zones, from Carlisle to Birkenhead, Wolverhampton, and Croydon. Each has its special characteristics, and all of them deliver the great core offer of OnSide – giving young people something safe and inspirational to do in their leisure time.

Local investment and local love for the Youth Zones are very important – helping to ensure they are sustainable and secure long into the future. I believe in OnSide’s work because a youth worker played a fundamental role in my life.

Home life was tricky; I spent much time with a remarkably skilled youth worker in my local youth club. He understood young people and their need for a listening and understanding ear, access to opportunity, and the possibility of what one can do even when it feels like all doors are shut. His advice and belief in me gave me the confidence I needed to take the first vital steps in my personal development – steps that led me to where I am today.

We need to invest in our young people to give all of them the very best start in life – an investment that will carry them through into a more successful adult life, where they can act as informed role models for their children, too.

For children and young people whose lives and mental wellbeing have been so disrupted, this offer is more vital than ever. It’s tough being young, and too much youth provision has been shut down over the years, and the quality of provision that remains is patchy.

When OnSide was set up, its founders, Jerry Glover and Bill Holroyd believed in providing the very best support for young people – and their needs, hopes and dreams were put at the heart of what became the core OnSide offer that is thriving today across the ever-growing Network of Youth Zones.

This was so compelling, and the standards were so high; all based on Jerry’s daily ambition as CEO of Bolton Lads and Girls Club, that ‘Tonight will be better than last night’. Each child that walks through the doors of a Youth Zone is welcomed; they find something that appeals to them and feel understood and comfortable – this is very important.

Because of this, I started supporting OnSide when I was leading the grant-making of The Queen’s Trust. At that time, we committed just over £5m to help OnSide continue to open as many Youth Zones as it could and as quickly as possible.

Now, I work with Ajaz Ahmed, supporting charities in the UK that help children and families going through very difficult days. For OnSide, our grants help Youth Zones offer free meals and access to children whose parents and carers are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.

We supported OnSide because of the quality of the offer and the warmth of the welcome to children and young people. Parents can know with certainty that when their child is at the Youth Zone, they can get a hot meal, some exercise and fun, and are warm and safe. This is one weight lifted for them and I have heard snippets from parents saying how much they value having someone there for them. This is what it is all about.

As a funder, it’s important that a charity can show impact, effectiveness and warmth. OnSide helps local communities build, design, and run each centre. The network support, the learning and development opportunities offered through the Talent Academy, and the impact framework are all there for the Youth Zone leaders to take and learn from.

It’s a strength that each Youth Zone is a local charity with deep roots, created with local needs and personalities in mind, while working with the backup and support of the network.  OnSide, in the centre, respects and understands local difference and local colour and this partnership way of working makes the movement so strong and special.

It is easy to get a sense across the network and to see the excellence everyone strives for, rowing together for the best in the same direction for young people. If a Youth Zone CEO is struggling with something, they can draw from colleagues across the network who have experience of a range of opportunities and challenges and who are there to help. This is great – saving time, saving worries and driving forward for young people.

For readers thinking of getting involved, my advice would be to visit a Youth Zone and talk to the team and, most importantly, the members. They will show you all you need to know about why giving to OnSide will be the best decision you can make this year!

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