Young people’s community lifeline backed by Bernicia Foundation

Ashington community YMCA benefitting from a Bernicia Foundation grant to keep vital services in place for teenagers

Staff from a local community venue who help young people stay safe, navigate personal challenges and provide a social space to meet, have spoken of the rising pressures they’re facing, and how donations have become a much-needed lifeline to keep supporting more than 400 local teenagers.

Youth leaders from YMCA Northumberland in Ashington are seeing a heightened need from young people aged 14 years plus, who coming out of lockdown are, for example, experiencing various mental health issues, need a place to go without prejudice, trying hard to avoid negative influences or risky behaviours such as drug and alcohol misuse, or are possibly overcoming forms of abuse and exploitation.

Having recently received a £10,000 donation from The Bernicia Foundation, YMCA Northumberland is now calling for better support generally from official funding bodies to help open their doors longer, employ more youth workers, provide new counselling-based activities and continue steering young people away from mistreatment or anti-social behaviour.

Rob Cox, CEO of YMCA Northumberland, explained: “This is a vicious cycle and one that cannot go far enough in terms of providing young people with the very best support at the time they need it most. The pressures that are on them generally as teenagers, whether it be at home, from peer groups or online, are immense, and whilst hard for all, the pandemic has only increased that ten-fold.

“These issues are happening now, not in two or three months’ time, and as a local grass-roots venue, our youth workers can make a huge difference to young people’s lives. Whether it be as someone positive and confidential to talk to, to help them become part of non-judgemental friendship groups or guiding them away from high-risk activities that have become a real danger to the local area, we must have access to continuous funds to do so.

“The Bernicia Foundation donation has been a huge blessing and has enabled us to open our doors over longer hours, especially on evenings and weekends when a lot of young people are vulnerable to risky behaviour or targeted in a negative way by others. This allowed us to offer them an alternative option and somewhere to go, as well as train our youth workers and give users access to more activities when possible.

“We’re currently seeing approximately 50 teenagers each week, and this is down from 120 pre-lockdown due to social distancing measures. However, this, by default, is also creating a dangerous abyss for those young people who no longer come here on a regular basis. Some have the potential to fall through a gap that is now emerging and this is a very real concern.”

One Ashington teenager that has regularly visited YMCA Northumberland over the last few years is Neve Stuart (15). She first visited the North View venue following a recommendation by her older sister to help reduce the boredom she felt in her spare time.

Three years on and as well as having ambitions to become a forensic scientist, Neve would also like to become an active YMCA volunteer short-term, assisting youth sessions and events at the Ashington site. She said: “The centre has always provided me with a safe place to go and meet friends, rather than doing nothing other than walking around the local area. It offered fun social activities and the youth workers became more like friends, so I was able to chat to them about any issues I had.

“It’s great for mental health as you’re able to get out and mix with others the same age that totally understand what you’re going through as a teenager. This really does help a lot. It feels like everything about young people now has become a stigma. We can be branded as troublemakers and attention seekers, but in truth, we’re like everyone else trying to learn and navigate through a time of their lives that can sometimes be complicated, confusing or messy.

“Some of us live with mental ill health at times and those added stigmas don’t help. Every young person should have access to youth workers and youth sessions as it really does help, so the work that Rob and the team do at the YMCA is amazing. I would definitely recommend it to others my age.”

Rob added, “There is so much potential in these young people and we must not disengage with them. Some are very focused, others need a little more guidance, but they’re our community’s next generation and creating an inclusive, safe social space for them to thrive, develop and be themselves freely, is a must. They’re all fantastic individuals, and having external support at a time when they need it most can go a very long way.”

The Bernicia Foundation has allocated more than £465,000 in funds over the last 18 months to charities, community projects and individuals across the North East including £10,000 to the YMCA Northumberland.

Kevin Haddrick of The Bernicia Foundation, commented: “Rob and the team have forged real positive relationships with many local teenagers, probably thousands over the years from South East Northumberland. They have, without doubt, an extremely positive influence on their lives in various different ways.

“The Bernicia Foundation’s donations are awarded to diverse projects up and down the region that are making a significant impact on local people, so we’d encourage other groups, charities or individuals to apply for funds if needed.”

Additionally, any local business, entrepreneur or fundraiser wishing to support YMCA Northumberland should contact Rob Cox, CEO, on 01670 857167 or rob.cox@ymcanorthumberland.org.uk