Queensway youth club: 'The big challenge for us is funding'
The volunteers from St Mark's church provide a vital service for young people in one of the county's 'left behind' areas
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By Natalie Bloomer
The youth club at St Mark’s church on Queensway in Wellingborough has always been popular but since the shocking murder of 16 year-old Dylan Holliday on the estate, the number of young people using the service is higher than ever.
Every fortnight between 40-60 children attend one of two groups held on a Friday night at the church. NN Journal visited last week during the younger session which is aimed at eight to 12 year-olds. The doors opened at 6pm but children were already waiting outside an hour before.
“A lot of these kids wont be going on holiday or having expensive days out over the Easter break so it’s vital that we do this, I just wish we could offer more. We know if we put something on people will come, we know it will be oversubscribed,” Reverend Ben Lewis from St Mark’s says.
“The problem isn’t getting people to come, it’s having the money to do things. It’s a struggle with equipment, there’s always something that needs repairing or that we’re short of - tonight it’s footballs. But we’re blessed with great volunteers who keep it all going.”
The husband of one of those volunteers was busy trying to repair some of the broken equipment as we spoke to Rev Lewis. A temporary fix to a basketball net pleases the children who rush to play with it but he says a lot of the items will need replacing.
Some of the volunteers use their own money to provide activities for the children. Lisa is an ex-Scout leader and says the need to keep the entry fee here low (just £1 a session) so that local families can afford it means there’s little spare cash for crafting materials or to replace equipment.
“I bring in my own materials, tonight we are making clay sculptures so I have bought all the things needed out of my own pocket. Our aim is to keep these kids off the streets so that means we can’t be charging high amounts to come in that some people can’t afford,” she says.
The club was set up by Fiona Lok and Adelle Toseland about six years ago when they felt something was needed locally for their own children.
“We started off with about 20-30 kids in one session, now we have two sessions and see between 40-60 in a night. We have 80 in total on our books,” Fiona says.
“The big challenge for us is funding, we’re a church outreach project and so when we apply for grants many places treat us as part of the church rather than a separate entity. We’re just volunteers who work full time elsewhere so we don’t have time to set it up as a registered charity or anything like that so it makes it difficult to access funding.
“We recently applied for some from North Northants Council but we heard the deadline has been extended because there are so many people applying for it. Tonight we have an Easter egg raffle to try to raise some money.”
Adelle was at home with Covid when NN Journal visited so we spoke to her on the phone.
“Since the pandemic we have noticed some of the kids really struggling with anxiety and with their friendships. Some don’t want to go to school but they come here and it’s relaxed and fun and it really helps them with socialising again.
“Fiona and I are also going to do some special needs training so that we can support the children that need it. We’ve currently got a number of children with special needs and have enquiries from families about others.”
Funding for youth services in the county was cut massively during the financial crisis at the county council. The impact of this on the area’s ‘left behind neighbourhoods’ (of which Queensway is one) has been acknowledged by a sub committee set up by North Northamptonshire Council to tackle the issues these communities face.
Michele is at the St Mark’s youth club with her nephew Logan who was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour aged three. He’s 11 now and attends a special needs school in Rushden.
“This has been great for him, he’s really come out of himself, he really looks to it and it’s some independence for him. I can bring him in and leave him at one of the craft tables while I go and chat to the volunteers. Sometimes he’ll even interact with the other children when there’s a game he likes.”
Almost all of the children we speak to say they would be at home playing on the computer if they weren’t at the club. And many who have enjoyed it over the years continue coming right up until they’re 18. The volunteers say it’s not unusual to see them turning up in their cars to hang out at the later session aimed at teens.
Some even come and volunteer themselves, Paulina who is 15 has recently moved to the area and helps out with the younger session before meeting up with friends at the later one after.
“It’s great to watch them develop. It would be amazing to listen to their suggestions of things they would like us to do and say ‘yeah let’s try that’ but for now without the necessary funding that’s just not possible,” Fiona says.