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What’s happening at the Youth Zones – Opening doors to more young people

21st May 2021 by Kathryn Morley, Chief Executive OnSide

This week we take another step towards getting the Youth Zones back to full open access, as some of the necessary but restrictive Covid practices ease. The power of Youth Zones is the open door they provide for any young person to walk through, the trusted adults on hand who support and nurture their development, and the sense of empowerment young people experience by being able to determine what they want to do whilst there. Crossing the Youth Zone threshold allows their journey with us to begin, and we are looking forward to seeing many thousands more young people step into Youth Zones over the coming weeks and months.

After 14 months of constant change, with youth work taking place online, by phone and in small groups, particularly for those who are vulnerable, our doors are now back open to all, hopefully for good this time. We’re mindful that each Youth Zone is part of its own community with its own make up, so changes across the Network are reflecting local situations and are being taken with care. This is especially important with emerging Covid variants and the Government restrictions and guidance for youth services that remain in place. The dedicated Youth Zone teams are utilising their expansive buildings, and long opening hours to deliver multiple sessions to maximise the number of young people they can reach safely.

In London, Future Youth Zone in Barking & Dagenham is now back to its full pre-Covid offer for young people, with more attending each week to access the activities and support on offer. CEO Gavin witnesses young people coming into the Youth Zone with varying needs; from those members keen to be social and active, to those who are highly anxious about aspects of their life and need extra support. A broad range of young people are now back in the Youth Zone night after night, the place is buzzing, and the passionate team are doing the job they love, for young people and for the whole community.

At Blackburn Youth Zone, they are delivering 60 hours of face to face youth work sessions a week to enable more young people to benefit from their activities and services. Changing restrictions mean the team is now able to use the minibuses to collect young people identified by the local multi-agency team as most in need of being at the Youth Zone.

It’s clear that the pandemic has also created new and complex challenges for young people. Leon, the Head of Operations at Blackburn told me a particularly heart-breaking story about a member who, at just 16, has lost his mum to Covid and now finds himself homeless and sofa-surfing. He just doesn’t want to go into care. The Youth Zone is providing him with a space where he can focus on feeling ok, giving him much needed support and stability at a very difficult time. The team are also finding that a number of members are suffering with social anxiety and mental health challenges, and have responded by providing both in house support and external specialist services at the Youth Zone. By doing this they’re able to create seamless links between the Youth Zone and local services; giving young people the support they need at the time they need it.

In Wirral, Stuart, the CEO at The Hive Youth Zone told me how heart-warming it is to see young people reuniting with their friends at the Youth Zone after almost a year apart. He has seen an increase in the number of young people not in education, failing to return after the long period of ‘home schooling’. The youth workers play an important role in staying connected with those young people, actively supporting and encouraging them back to school.

I have had many conversations across the Network over the past week, and each of them while different have been encouraging and affirming, reinforcing to me that what Youth Zones provide communities and young people really does work. It’s been particularly emotional to hear the stories of young people, some of whom haven’t been accessing the Youth Zone during lockdown, arriving back into the fold to get the support they need and the activities they have been missing.

All of the Youth Zones have their sights firmly fixed on the ultimate goal of getting back to, or even exceeding, pre Covid levels of centre based activity (restrictions willing). It’s a time we all look forward to with anticipation; to see thousands of young people benefitting from the simple yet powerful impact of a safe space that’s buzzing with energy. A place full of incredible activities, dedicated youth workers who truly believe in them, and the chance to do what they chose, with friends that miss them when they aren’t there.