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Our CEO Simon Antrobus on the transformative power of youth work

It’s official – local youth workers are the bedrock of any community.  

For communities where children and young people are at risk of poverty, food insecurity, personal safety and mental ill health, youth workers are an essential lifeline. A recent Youth Work review by BBC Children in Need identified the significant difference that youth work can make in local communities. It also identified that for some children and young people, there isn’t enough youth work to meet need and as a result, children and young people are missing out on this essential support. 

At BBC Children in Need, we know that every child and young person wants to be the best they can be. Jo and Matt know this too. They run the St Michael’s Youth Project (St Mike’s) in Hull and we’re delighted that funds raised through the BBC Children in Need Appeal support the excellent work they do day in, day out for children and young people in Orchard Park and North Hull. 

Their story, and that of the children and young people of Orchard Park and North Hull, is the subject of this year’s DIY SOS Big Build for BBC Children in Need. It’s an important story. 

Every year the DIY SOS Big Build for BBC Children in Need is an outpouring of kindness and togetherness. We’re never surprised but always overwhelmed by our supporters’ generosity and their willingness to roll up their sleeves and to help out by creating much needed facilities where children and young people can thrive. This year’s show is a great example of this.  

In addition, this year’s Big Build clearly demonstrates the value of youth work and youth facilities. For Jo and Matt, providing access to enjoyable activities for children and young people is the mainstay of their approach. Time for children and young people to enjoy themselves in a safe environment with their friends underpins their approach and should not be underestimated. But this is only one important element of what they  offer to the young people. It’s also about the trust that Jo and Matt build with the young people, trust that leads to strong relationships, which in turn, create the magic that encourages children and young people to open up, to share how they feel and get the support to shine.  

Young people have told us this directly. As part of our Youth Work review, young people said that they value the safe space that youth centres provide, having one-to-one time with youth workers and having somewhere to see their friends. One young person said “[My youth worker is] a lifeline. The person I turn to for all kinds of different support”. 

95% of the young people interviewed as part of the review had reported concerns about their mental health to a youth worker. One of them described their youth worker as “the first person I talk to about mental health, I trust them, and they have time for me when other people don’t.” 

Through Jo and Matt’s commitment, St Mike’s has become a focus in the local community for interaction with children and young people on the key issues affecting their day to day lives. Matt and Jo believe unequivocally that every young person who walks through the door of the youth centre should have fun and feel like they belong but they also fundamentally believe that every young person should have the opportunity to develop and be the best they can be. Of course Matt and Jo will focus on the all-important building blocks – a safe place to meet friends, to have fun, improve mental health and to eat well – but what they offer is much more than that. They offer a chance for the children and young people to see a different world, to experience new things, to have ambition and to begin the journey of realising their dreams. Their centre is a key part of this because it is founded on a very simple and basic principle – a belief in the potential and the untapped brilliance of every child and young person. This very simple act of taking time to listen, to engage and to show support and belief are important and life affirming elements for children and young people and the very essence of youth work. 

At the time of writing, BBC Children in Need funds community based youth work activity to the value of £46m. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, thousands of youth workers funded by BBC Children in Need in communities across the UK are demonstrating their belief in young people every day of the year. For many young people experiencing economic uncertainty, food insecurity and loneliness and isolation, this chance of a connection with a trusted adult is transformational. 

We know that every child and young person has dreams and ambitions, things they want to achieve – personal to them. The DIY SOS Big Build for Children in Need takes this belief in children and young people, this opportunity to provide transformation, one step further. The piece of land, just outside of Hull, has a 25-year peppercorn rent lease. It’s a place where children and young people can experience and enjoy open space, the countryside and a little wilderness. But without running water, electricity, toilets and camping facilities the potential for the magic of youth work to thrive is limited. Not all youth work requires buildings, nevertheless providing quality facilities is an important part of demonstrating to children and young people that their wellbeing and enjoyment genuinely matter and that there is a place where they belong. Ask yourself this: when you were young wouldn’t you have wanted the very same thing? 

When children and young people need us most we should accept the challenge and step up and be counted – just like Jo and Matt and everyone who has volunteered to be a part of the DIY SOS Big Build at St Mike’s. That’s something all of us can do.  

Together, we can show our support to every child and young person right across the UK, because every child and young person should have the chance to be the best they can be. 

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