Having never experienced youth work prior to joining BLGC, I wanted to take the opportunity to learn more about the club and meet everyone involved with making sure the doors are open to all young people in the Bolton community.
My story begins on a cold frosty Monday morning where I was introduced to the Mentoring Team at BLGC. My first task involved meeting with Katherine Pendlebury who was the Mentor Coordinator for the Club. Katherine explained to me how she had started as a Volunteer Mentor, working with young people in the community and completely fell in love with the club. Katherine has now been involved with the Club for 8 years and says she “couldn’t imagine doing anything more rewarding”. Katherine spoke about the importance of the Mentoring Team and how they deal with young people who are referred to the team from various backgrounds and some who may have a reputation for crime, drugs and anti-social behavior. I sat and listened as she spoke and it was so obvious just how passionate the team are about the Mentoring service. I planned to go out with the team throughout the week to witness first-hand how the service is provided.
That evening, I made my way to one of the BLGC centers in Barlow Park where I was met by Outreach and Detached operations lead, Leon Crosby. Leon instantly came across as an extremely pleasant person who had a feeling of freshness all about him. Leon’s journey with BLGC started at the tender age of 11 and whilst many young people that age may have been up to mischief in a town with not much to do, Leon would attend the club to play basketball. Leon went on to become a young volunteer at the age of 15 to eventually become a paid member of staff at 16. Three years later, Leon was given responsibility to oversee the Holiday Club and the Junior Club at 20. Now at the age of 26, Leon is an integral part of the Club with his outreach work encouraging young people to attend the center and socialise. Barlow Park was a real eye opener for me and put everything in my life in to perspective. I witnessed just how much joy playing a game of cards could bring to a young person’s face. I have been guilty of taking what I own in life for granted, but I could see just how much the young people appreciated having the smaller things in life such as a pack of playing cards or the option of being able to play a video game or just sit and talk with someone. Barlow Park was a world away from what I expected, it wasn’t the most glamourous or the most modern building but it was exactly what was needed in that area. A place that young people could go to and feel safe, a place that didn’t judge and a place that welcomed everyone.
I woke up Tuesday morning feeling a bit nervous, the Mentoring Team had organised for me to go out with them as they went and met one of the mentees. Pippa McKee, part of Mentoring, would take me out for the day as she spent some time with her mentee and before setting off. Pippa assured me that everything would be okay. We arrived at the mentees house and went to a local McDonald’s where we could sit down and talk. I observed as Pippa and her mentee chatted and instantaneously I could see the bond they had built. They spoke about anything and everything and it was then that I realised that for this young person, having Pippa there was all the support they needed in their time of life. I had gained a whole new level of respect for Pippa and her team, to have the ability to listen to the troubles that a young person was going through and to provide reassurance into their life was amazing to see. I could see that Mentoring wasn’t just a job for Pippa, it was a passion and she takes great joy in being someone a young person can rely on.
I made my way to Westhoughton that evening to spend some time with the team where I was instantly welcomed with a radiant smile from Beth Maunder who was the Operational Lead at the center. Beth was eager to show me around the club and tell me all about the activities they had planned for that evening. Soon the club was starting to fill up with young people and they were soon in to their stride as games of table tennis, dance classes and some very competitive games of Fifa started taking place. It wasn’t long before I was asked to join in with a game of table tennis and being the competitive person I am, I was beating everyone that stood before me, well that was until Beth kindly reminded me that the kids were only 9 and I should take it easy on them. I left the young people to their game and went and chatted with Beth. As we walked around the center, Beth spoke with so much love, confidence and joy in her voice about the Club. She explained how she feels like she is making a difference to the lives of young people and that was proven when a regular attendee at the club, Poppy Butler, stopped us to say thank you to Beth. Poppy went on to explain to me how much she appreciated the club as it gave her somewhere to go and meet new friends. I could tell that for poppy, having the club meant it was a place for her to go and escape on a Tuesday evening, a place that allowed her to not worry about the stresses of school and most importantly a place that allowed her to socialise with new friends. I could see the pride in the face of Beth and she explained how Poppy’s brother, Josh, is also a Young Leader at the center and he won Young Leader of the Year award. Westhoughton was a different experience form Barlow Park and although both centers were set up differently it was clear to see that both had the same ethos and that was providing young people somewhere safe to go.
I was back with the mentoring team and I would spend the day with Nichola Howarth. Nichola had arranged for me to go on a visit with her to meet with her mentee that she had been working with for over 4 years. During our drive, Nichola’s personality had already started to come out. She had such an infectious smile and her laugh would make you feel like there wasn’t a worry in the world. After picking up her mentee, we headed over into town to find somewhere to sit down and talk. I could instantly see why they had been matched together! They were talking as if they had known each other a lifetime and it didn’t feel like a mentor and mentee meeting, it was more a case of two friends catching up over a coffee. Time seemed to fly by and before I knew it, it was time to head back and that’s where I witnessed something even more amazing when Nichola offered to drop her mentee off at home. I realised, for Nichola, this wasn’t just her job, it was her way of making sure her mentee arrived home safely.
That evening I was excited to be joining the team at BLGC headquarters. I was looking dapper in my BLGC blues and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. I would be paired with Nicola Rigby, Youth Service Lead at BLGC and it was Junior Club night. My first initial thoughts were, how hard can this be? I mean, it was only a group of kids and I was confident I could cope. Within 15 minutes of being at the club, I soon realised that I was not cut out to run around anymore and my age soon dawned on me. I was only asked to play a game of football but my legs just would not let me and so instead I thought I would make a good referee. I caught a moment with Nicola and I wanted to know more about her, Nicola had been with the club for 15 years and first started off as a volunteer for deaf children. Nicola spoke with so much passion about what drives her and how she has seen kids grow in to adults and go on to start their own families. No two days are ever the same for Nicola and that’s what she loves the most about her job. I could see that she loved to get involved with whatever activity the kids were getting up to and the kids absolutely loved it. I was very naive to think that junior club would only have activities such as coloring in and arts and craft but I was wrong in so many ways. There was a range of activities for the kids to enjoy from badminton to dance class and even a full-on science experiment where they were building their very own volcano.
On Thursday I was off to meet with Phil O’Conner and his Mentee, Alecs. I wanted to find out about their experiences and what they found useful about being on the program. Our meeting was arranged over at the Clubs Haken Lane center and on arrival I could see how modern the facilities looked. We sat down and before myself or Phil had a chance to say anything, Alecs was eager to tell me just how bad Phil was at football and this helped break the ice. Both Phil and Alecs explained how they were only matched together in September 2016 but it feels like they have known each other for a much longer period. It wasn’t long before the topic of football came up and rivalry started, Phil was a Tottenham fan (I wasn’t best pleased with this as I am an Arsenal fan) and Alecs was a keen Manchester United fan. I could see that the bond they had created was special and that was justified when Alecs explained how having Phil as a mentor has helped him to stay focused at school and make him want to achieve more in his life. I could see that Phil was getting a bit emotional by the words Alecs was expressing and I realised how much this meant to both. For me, they had started a journey together and although they are at the start of that journey, they are enjoying every moment of it.
I felt fortunate to have escaped the office environment and to have experienced another side to the club. I now fully understand that there are many cogs to help make the club what it is and I have taken so much away from my experience. I have learnt that youth work is a difficult occupation as the way to approach things is different for every child you work with. I experiences and outcomes you get from working with young people are very rewarding and I have enjoyed every second of my BLGC experience.