“It doesn’t feel like a youth centre, it feels like a house.”
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(Jamie Powis, Communications Manager at The Way, blogs for us on the importance of community.)
This is how one teenage lad summed up The Way Wolverhampton Youth Zone during our hotly-anticipated official opening back in January.
It was a statement which really struck a chord with me. It encapsulates in simplistic brilliance what we as an organisation are all about. We’re somewhere to go, something to do, someone to talk to.
For those of you who don’t know, The Way is a once-in-a-lifetime project supported by the private sector, the public sector and young people themselves. We live in a £5.5 million purpose built youth zone in the heart of the city (just between School Street, Worcester Street and Little Brickklin Lane). We’ve got over 20 activities for young people aged between 8 to 19-years-old (or 25 with disabilities). There’s so much going on from sport to art, to music to wellbeing and so far we’ve delivered more than 460 different activities to young people.
We’re so passionate about young people and ultimately our aim is to provide new opportunities and instil a sense of belonging and community in these talented youngsters. What we’re doing is providing an affordable and safe environment for thousands of young people to do something productive in their leisure time. But, rather like your home and my home, it’s an environment which doesn’t feel artificial or manufactured.
Despite being only a few weeks old, we’ve already got 1,500 members (that’s half our yearly target already) and that’s growing every single day. We’re already having a positive impact in our community. A quick glance at the latest government figures shows you that Wolverhampton has the fourth highest youth unemployment rate of all 326 English local authorities. Indeed, 50% of local areas within our city are ranked as amongst the most deprived in the country.
We want to help. And by taking young people off the street and giving them a fun place to learn, exercise and try new things, it benefits not only our young people but also the community outside of our four walls.
The Way is part of a bigger charity called OnSide. OnSide have built six youth zones across the country that have had a really beneficial impact in their own communities. Local police have reported a 50% drop in anti-social behaviour in Wigan since their local youth zone opened while police in Harpurhey attributed a 19% decrease in anti-social behaviour to The Factory Youth Zone. It is a formula which clearly works.
We wouldn’t be where we are today without the help of Bromford and our other supporters – our staff, volunteers and young people can’t thank them enough. In the first week of opening our incredible volunteers gave up over 650 hours of their time.
We’ve been so busy over the past few years getting this project off the ground; sometimes it’s nice to stop, take a minute, and reflect on the reasons behind our work. That inspiration often comes from the most unlikely of places so a big thank you to that young man.