Coronavirus fund grant will help youth workers connect with young people over summer
A CORONAVIRUS fund grant will enable youth workers to launch an outreach programme to connect with young people in Melksham over the summer holidays.
Young Melksham has been awarded £7,000 from the Wiltshire Community Foundation's Coronavirus Response Fund, with £5,000 donated by Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson through his £50,000 COVID-19 Response Fund.
The community foundation's fund, which has now raised almost £900,000 and distributed £560,000 to more than 150 groups, also awarded the group £2,000 in April.
Young Melksham chairman of trustees Jon Hubbard said the latest grant will be used to fund two youth workers to organise free activities in the evenings and afternoons to maintain contact with young people who can't attend the regular youth activities because the Canberra Centre, where Young Melksham is based, has been closed.
"We are planning to do five evenings and two afternoons a week of activities at the Canberra Centre, King George V Playing Fields and at Barrowhill, so not all in one place but out and about so young people across the community get an opportunity to be involved," said Mr Hubbard.
"We will also be doing some daytime activities for younger children from years 5 and 6 at the Canberra Centre because there will be some key workers who will be looking for someone to entertain their kids."
The activities, which will include non-contact games, will be targeted at different age groups on different days. They will be as much about developing a relationship with the young people and listening to their problems as occupying their free time.
"Youth work has always been about being a non-authority figure you can go to who is an independent ear. For them it's someone who kind of knows what they are talking about, whose opinion you can respect and trust, but they are not anybody who holds any power over you," said Mr Hubbard.
He was keen to launch the outreach after becoming concerned that many of the young people unable to attend the youth sessions could be distracted and drift into anti-social behaviour or crime. "If you don't entertain young people, they will entertain themselves, there is the risk of that," he said.
"But I think a real risk to young people is also reputation. There is a large element of society who, if they see a group of young people, will automatically assume they are up to mischief. And the risk is that we go backwards in terms of the community's attitude to young people. If we have got organised activities for them and people see that happening, they are much less likely to be picking up the phone and dialling 101."
Mr Hubbard is keen to contact new members as well as ones the group hasn't seen since lockdown. "I really want us to keep a connection with the young people we worked with previously," he said.
"When the Canberra closed after youth funding was cut it took us two-and-a-half years to build up a relationship with young people again and I don't want to go back to that position. We were working with 200 young people a week before the lockdown and we don't want to lose that relationship with them.
"We are also about reaching out and offering any young person the opportunity to become part of the family here and we will be delighted to work with new young people and I'm certain that we will."
He said the grant is vital to keeping youth work in the town going. "We are very grateful to the Commissioner and Wiltshire Community Foundation," he said. "We are already running online youth clubs and a telephone drop-in service supported by a Wiltshire Community Foundation grant.
"This new grant is what will make all the outreach happen. Without it, there is the will but not the means. The funding we have had has allowed all of our work to take place."
Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon, Angus Macpherson said: "Having a place for young people to go, opportunity for activity, and time to socialise with friends is really important, even more so at this time when everyday routines and school life are somewhat different.
"We need to protect those most vulnerable in our communities from the risk of crime in becoming a victim or harmer, so I'm pleased to be able to support Young Melksham in their work which will help relieve the pressures on parents and carers over the summer, and will most importantly offer young people a safe space to socialise and help advice and guidance when they need it."
Wiltshire Community Foundation interim co-chief executive Fiona Oliver said: "We have a long-established relationship with Young Melksham and know the difference its work makes to young people and their families, so we are delighted to work in partnership with the Commissioner to support this outreach work.
"It is vitally important young people find a listening ear and Young Melksham has a great track record in connecting with and inspiring them."
To find out where and when the activities are taking place go to youngmelksham.org.uk.