Awards Spotlight - Youth Connect
Introducing Youth Connect, Inspiring Youth Award Winner
How would you explain what you do to someone completely unfamiliar with your work? Youth Connect is one of the main providers of youth services in Walsall, working with hundreds of young people across the borough. We use centre based, detached sports sessions as well as specialised programmes and interventions to work with young people and their families. Youth Connect works primarily in central and south Walsall delivering multiple weekly sessions.
All of our sessions are free to young people. Working with the police, the local authority, community partners and education providers we target hot spot areas and co-develop interventions with young people and partners. Our projects are mainly aimed at working with young people between the ages of 8 to 19 (up to 23 in cases of LDD). We offer, and aim to target, all young people regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation or background and work with young people, for young people to ensure that their voices are enshrined in the projects we deliver.
What is your proudest moment from the work you’ve done in your community? I am enormously proud of our youth workers many of whom come from the local community – they know this area well, understand the needs and challenges of the young people and are role models in every sense. Some of them used to attend Youth Connect themselves and want to give back to the centre that has given them so much. Our 12 paid members of staff also volunteer their own time to help the young people we support. We also have volunteers who utilise their skills to support young people and the wider community.
Although the local knowledge and passion for the community is crucial, each member of our team has also completed Level 1, 2 and 3 Youth Work qualifications at Walsall College. Our senior team has worked closely with Walsall College to offer training that is much more thorough than generic youth work courses and equips our team to tackle issues that are specific to this community.
Youth Connect has a diverse team of workers and volunteers from former Walsall Council Youth workers, probation and education professionals to volunteers from the local community as well as former young people who were service users. From our experience this local delivery format has worked well for us, the knowledge and passion our team have in the areas they serve helps to achieve optimum results and engagement.
Youth Connect endeavour to recruit new volunteers from the community as this is integral to community empowerment and development. Youth Connect has a history of developing projects through this approach and, in the past, it has proved to be successful in long term project sustainability.
What floats your boat outside of work? I love football, playing and watching. I support Walsall FC (The Saddlers) but also have a place in my heart for Liverpool which is great as I have more opportunities to celebrate epic wins and championships.
What is your vision for Walsall in the next five years, especially within your sector? What would need to happen and what support would be needed to make it a reality?
Youth Connect’s vision for youth work in Walsall is having a vibrant localised offer for young people in all the areas we operate in. Improved and joined up working with partners and other youth service providers will be essential in order to compliment services and ensure a wider spread of service provision.
We want to enhance the voice of young people, not just young people within our own services but also across the borough. We believe that giving young people opportunities to engage in positive activities is a stepping stone in wider community engagement and a platform to have their views aired and voices heard.
What have you learnt from the last nine months that you will be applying in your area of work going forward?
COVID-19 has brought many unexpected challenges to Youth Connect as well as the wider youth sector. Youth Connect felt, from very early on, that it was vital to adapt our delivery model to meet the ever changing complexities in supporting the young people and families we work with.
We worked closely with partners to ensure that we could resume services, albeit in different forms, to ensure that the voices of young people were heard and we could respond positively to the needs of the communities we serve.
Youth Connect quickly adopted virtual and online based sessions to maintain contact with regular service users as well as increasing our detached offer as young people were still gathering in local parks and the community during the lockdown period and beyond.
Youth Connect developed and led a partnership with whg, Walsall for All and Walsall Council with volunteer support from Walsall FC, One Walsall and Walsall College to deliver 1500 youth activity and fruit packs to families who were stuck at home with a lack of resources to support and engage young people during the pandemic. We also developed a COVID-19 booklet in April and distributed over a 1000 physical copies with virtual copies also downloaded online through our website and social media channels.