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Impact Stories

Alex’s story: “I noticed the smiles when I came through the door”

Alex joined Mahdlo, Oldham Youth Zone when he was 12 years old. A longstanding and active member of Mahdlo, and an OnSide Network Ambassador – Alex shares his story of eight years at the Youth Zone. 

“Someone from OnSide came to my primary school to promote Mahdlo, Oldham Youth Zone, which was being constructed at the time. I was so awe inspired by the place and the opportunities that were going to be on offer.  

I first entered the Youth Zone a few years later when I started secondary school. The way I was welcomed into the building when I signed up was so engaging. I’d never seen anything like it, the smiles were the first thing I noticed when I came through the door. That set the tone for my time as a member and started my experience in such a positive way.  

Where I used to live, there was a small community club run on Fridays, so I’d never experienced anything like a Youth Zone. Going somewhere as vast as Mahdlo was daunting and I was experiencing a lot of nerves at first, as it was something new. Credit to the Youth Zone team because they managed to spot this. They noticed I was struggling a bit and suggested some things I could get involved in. I got over my nerves very quickly, and I settled into my groove. I found there were a lot of people there that were like me and I started making friends very quickly, which I thought wasn’t even possible outside of school. 

The first thing I got involved in at Mahdlo was music, I walked past the room and it looked so enticing. On my third session I went in and picked up a guitar and started fake strumming. At that point I got the vibe as to what the whole building was about. You could go into any room, pick something up, and start having fun.  

I got involved in a lot of activities at the Youth Zone. Music was the start of it and as time went on I found the art room resonated with me, it was a really welcoming space. Sport was another interest I developed. I liked watching it but taking part wasn’t my strong point, but I found I enjoyed taking part and still today I go to the gym regularly and I do sports at college. The Youth Zone set me up for what I now do on a weekly basis.  

My involvement with the Youth Zone grew and I was invited to a patron’s dinner at Mahdlo. I saw a different side to what I’d experienced, and it was eye-opening. Before then I didn’t know that patrons existed. I saw the names on the wall, but didn’t understand their contributions and the difference they had made. These are established people in business, enterprise, and the local community. They have got to where they are today and they choose to support young people. It got me thinking that young people should also support other young people. It clicked in my head after that dinner. If these professional people can give their time to giving young people an opportunity to be themselves, why can’t I? 

I started looking for opportunities to follow that path of representing myself and my Youth Zone. I started through Junior Voice, where we planned events and trips and I had the opportunity to do and try so many things. After that I was introduced to OnSide and I became an OnSide Ambassador. It was remarkable and that set me on a path to understanding what goes into developing a Youth Zone and the impact they’ve made.  

It’s so remarkable that there’s a dedicated charity like OnSide who is committed to giving young people the best opportunity. The team is committed to ensuring young people are heard, respected and given the best slingshot into real life. They’re always thinking about new areas, they have the ambition to provide for everyone and everywhere.  You’ll always get the same quality Youth Zone.  

When I first joined the Youth Zone I was very secluded. If I was to speak to 13 year old me today he probably wouldn’t believe how much I’ve put myself out there. I think he’d also recognise that I had to do all those things to get to where I am today.  Without it I’d be in exactly the same place if not worse than I was before joining. I think younger me would be a little bit proud.”