On 2 July 2022, I was delighted to be part of the team officially opening Warrington Youth Zone to much fanfare, becoming the 14th to join the OnSide Network. Since then, we’ve had almost 12,500 visits and built a membership of over 5,000 young people. We are thrilled with these numbers, and even more pleased about the impact the Youth Zone and the fantastic team are having on the lives of children and young people. It’s clear already the great need for youth workers’ support in our community.
We’ve had quite a journey to get to where we are today. Warrington Youth Club was formed in 1930 as an afterschool club by a group of parents. Warrington Youth Club moved to its previous home at Warrington’s Peace Centre at the end of the 1990s. I joined the organisation in 2009, around the same time the late Nick ‘Hoppy’ Hopkinson became chair of the board. Nick and the Hopkinson family had been supporters of Bolton Lads and Girls Club for the previous 20 years. Nick was instrumental in our mission to become a Youth Zone, and 13 years later, it is an honour to see the doors open and our dream becoming a reality.
We know many of our members have significant concerns about returning to school or college. Our team of youth workers support young people by providing mentoring and drop-in sessions; however, these were limited due to our capacity at the time.
As an existing organisation and the first organisation to transition into a Youth Zone, we benefit from having deep knowledge of the needs of local children and young people. We will continue to provide many of the services and targeted programmes developed over the past decade, including our Mentoring Programme (based on the award-winning scheme devised by Bolton Lads and Girls Club), and Buddy Up, our befriending service which provides disabled children and young people with a peer befriender, or ‘ buddy’ who supports them to access social opportunities.
We now have the added benefit of a state-of-the-art space crammed with an array of facilities, enabling us to reach and support many more young people, with a broader offer seven days a week. Becoming a Youth Zone also gives us an incredible platform to support children and young people who are struggling to re-engage with school, by providing them with a Mentor or Buddy, as well as our Employability and Personal Development programmes, some of which are delivered in schools or colleges.
It’s a challenging time for young people and families right now. We’re helping where we can but know we can’t do it alone. Collaboration will be key to our success, so we’re really encouraged by the response from local organisations keen to work with us and who recognise the impact the Youth Zone will have on young people.
For the past decade, I have been working to engage with schools to offer them our services and programmes, often competing with many other providers. The opening of the Youth Zone has been a fantastic opportunity to update the local Head Teachers forum on the new Youth Zone and the services and facilities we provide.
We have been overwhelmed by the range of organisations across the statutory and voluntary sectors wanting to work with us. We’re building a great relationship with Cheshire Police who are keen to develop stronger connections between the Police and young people, and great local authority links with the Director of Education, Early Help, SEND, Community Safety and Resilience (Deputy DCS), joining our board.
We’ve more than doubled our staff team – our increased capacity means we can work with more partners, provide greater support to our young people and a broader range of programmes. Warrington Youth Club greatly impacted the young people of Warrington for over 80 years. I’m proud to be part of Warrington Youth Zone’s journey – here’s to the next 80 years and beyond.