North Avenue Youth Centre Chelmsford
Young people and their parents are being offered professional support in their community to keep safe from modern-day dangers.
Set up in Melbourne, Chelmsford, in 2000, the North Avenue Youth Centre welcomes young people in the area aged eight to 18 – up to age 25 for those with additional needs – in junior, senior and older sessions.
It provides a safe haven for young people to go to instead of hanging around on the streets and potentially falling into trouble or danger.
The Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex (PFCC) contributed £9,000 to North Avenue Youth Centre from the 2022-23 Crime Prevention Fund to provide additional provisions for those not yet engaging with the centre.
Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, said: “By collaborating with each other, our common goals are going to be reached far more successfully. No one person or organisation can keep our communities and residents crime-free and safe. By bringing youth workers, young people and parents together in this way, the fight against exploitation on our streets is going to be won.
“Work like this is vital if we are to keep our young people safe and to support our families to live happy and fulfilled lives. That is why we are pleased to fund these projects in this way.”
Bored youngsters will be treated to a monthly trip out and parents are being given the opportunity to learn vital new skills, thanks to the funding.
The centre took the unique step of employing a professional youth worker four years ago.
Youth centre manager Charlie Newton said: “During our community safety listening project with young people and parents, we were told young people do not feel safe in local parks. They feel safe in residential areas. But, residents can feel uncomfortable with young people hanging around the streets. For those young people who are finding they are not welcome, or don’t feel safe socialising in the community, there are not many other options. We know isolation is a massive issue and impacts on young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
“We want to engage them with consistent, regular sessions that we run. This isn’t about ‘problem youth’, I believe all young people should have access to good quality youth work. The relationship between a youth worker and young person is different: we are not their parents, teachers or police and engagement is completely voluntary. Being able to engage with youth workers gives young people additional trusted adults who they can bring any challenge, question or idea to. Through that relationship, young people can access support, encouragement, power and perspective in a different way.
“All of our sessions have a learning objective and encourage self-reflection.”
While it is the aim of the centre to entice young people to engage and attend, Charlie is also keen that parents realise there is support on offer – with the ability to refer families to food banks, Children’s Society or young people’s mental health.
She said: “We are also launching a community coffee morning for parents looking to undertake similar training to what our volunteers experience. Most of the time, parents are the first line of defence for young people. If we are going to have an impact and support young people, for example around preventing exploitation, we can take them to different places, enable new experiences and promote aspirations, but part of that is also listening to parents and supporting them to be as informed and skilled as possible to guide and protect their children.
“The funding will enable us to bring in speakers, to provide workshops on drugs and young people’s mental health or online safety.
“There is this image that those at risk of exploitation have been kicked out of school or are disadvantaged by poverty, family situations or are already involved with crime and making poor choices, but the truth is there is no category of young people not at risk and young people cannot consent to their own exploitation. It is in every area and affects everyone; it is devastating, to the individual, the family and community as a whole. To allow people to seek support, we have to give them that safe space to do it where they don’t feel judged and can ask what they need to know.
- The coffee morning will be held at the youth centre every Monday from 10am until 2pm. Interested parents are welcome to drop in. Contact the youth centre on [email protected] or 07521 445149.