If you’ve been following my blog you’ll have seen that lately I’ve been taking part in a project called #WiganMYPOnTour. A project which will see myself, sometimes accompanied by fellow MYP Daniel Gilmore, travelling to different groups and events across the Wigan and Leigh borough. Our first adventure took us to Ashton Youth Council and was a great start to the project. So on Saturday 23rd of March, I headed down to help out at a fundraising event in The Meadows Youth Centre, in Worsley Hall.
The event was organised by the young people from the Meadows Steering Group in order to raise money which would then be donated to Christie’s Hospital in the name of local community member Sean Flemming and a lifetime wish for local community member Mr. Derek Myers. Despite only having three weeks to organise the event these fantastic young people, with help from their workers Scott, Alicia, Patsy and Therese, managed to organise a fun-filled event which would make any events organiser jealous.
Despite the mountains of snow, the young people had turned out in force and when I arrived, all red nosed and shivering, I was pleased to be welcomed into the warmth of the youth centre by smiles and waves. I was quickly shown around all the stalls that the young people had organised (Check out @JillyDanielMYPs on twitter to see some pictures!) - to name just a few, there was a raffle, a cake stall, a tuck shop, a book stall, a secret auction and much more! The prizes and bric-a-brac on sale had all been kindly donated by either the young people, the community or local businesses. There was definitely something for everyone - from live music from the young DJ, young people running Easter crafts and card making in the back room whilst youth workers Alicia and Patsy were busy cooking up treats like hot dogs and “lobbies” for cold and hungry customers.
After helping run the book stall I took advantage of a quiet moment to talk to some of the young people. Armed with my notebook, I headed for a stall filled with competitions like ‘How many sweets in the jar?’ and ‘Guess the name of the bear…’ to talk to a very cheerful young girl called Jade - aged only 12, she has been part of the Steering Group since it started a year ago. She was quick to tell me how much she was enjoying the event and that, even though it had been stressful trying to organise it all, it had been worth it. I wanted to know what other events and projects she had been involved in thanks to The Meadows and she was quick to list some of her favourites including visits to Scotsman’s Flash, Youth Proof event, Big Day Out, the opening of The Meadows and trips to Camelot and Alton Towers. She credits the centre as being a great place to make friends and a good place to go if you have any problems. I was impressed at how confident she was, despite her young age – if someone had interviewed me at that age, I would have completely frozen but Jade was happy to talk to me and as I was about to leave she admitted she had the centre to thank for her confidence.
All the young people I met were enthusiastic and keen to help, however with each young person hoping to make their stall the most successful the race was on to win the customers. A young man named Callum had his best market place voice on and was swiftly winning customers over to his raffle stall. I was quick to seize a rare quiet moment on the stall to ask him a few questions. Callum, aged 13, had been involved in the original Steering Group which had been created to give young people a voice as to what should go into the centre when it was first being built. He spoke with pride about how his involvement within the group had given him lots of new opportunities and helped improve his communication skills. He summed up his experience as having been ‘worth it’ and said he hoped to stay in the group for plenty more years.
By this time the youth centre was buzzing and the homemade cakes were selling fast - I nipped to stall to buy one and, while I was tucking in, I took the time to have a look around the building. The revolution of the centre was supported not least with a grant of £452,000 from the Youth Capital Fund – government money provided to create positive activities for young people – which was used to convert the old boarded-up building. In October 2010, it was officially opened up as a state-of-the-art facility for young people in the area to use, by Wigan Athletic manager Roberto Martinez. With everything from pool tables, big comfy couches, a kitchen and big chill out areas it could almost be described as everything that young people of today are looking for. Plenty of groups and sessions take place in the centre, not just the steering group including dancing and 8 – 13’s. If you live in the area (or even if you don’t) it’s definitely worth a visit to have a look at some of the eye-opening changes that have made to the building. The rooms are littered with pictures from some of the groups’ proudest moments as well as posters or decorations homemade by the young people. It’s homely and welcoming and I was definitely glad to be sheltered from the snow!
Of course, any project would not be where it is today if it didn’t have a good support network, and The Meadows is no different. It is supported by a fantastic team of youth workers and the young people I spoke to were quick to thank them for their hard work, with one even summing them up as ‘kind, helpful and funny’. I sat down for a chat (in the fantastic world flag themed chill out area – definitely one to see) with youth worker Scott to get his opinion. Having been with the group for 12 months he was keen to tell me that he had loved every minute of it and even described The Meadows as ‘one of the best provisions for young people in the area’. It was obvious that throughout Scott’s involvement in the group he has been immensely proud of the young people. Describing them as ‘enthusiastic’, ‘brill’, ‘committed’ and an ‘amazing team of workers’, it was clear to see that these young people meant a lot to him and he admitted himself that he was constantly amazed by their work. Obviously the snow had put some people off but Scott was pleased to see people from the communities working together to support and donate. “It’s fantastic that even in the current economic climate people will donate and give up their time and energy to help people, even if they don’t know them.”
Of course, Scott and the other workers had every reason to be proud as the group ploughed ahead raising money despite the adverse weather conditions and cold chills. However I couldn’t write about The Meadows without mentioning another incredible event which took place there in November of last year. An event which was organised by workers from the Voice and Engagement team and young people together to celebrate the achievements of local young people, it was an event filled with glitz and glamour. The incredible and inspiring MOSCARS which saw over 224 certificates and awards presented to 113 young people. The event was run by comedienne Vic Cook and impressively supported by the likes of Children and Young Peoples Cabinet Champion Councillor Susan Loudon, the service manager for gateway Jeff Cunliffe and team leader for Voice and Engagement Simon Morton. The event was a massive success with not only official AQA awards being handed out but also the likes of ‘Rising Star’ and the ‘Extra mile’ awards. The main theme behind the event was not only to celebrate the young people’s achievements but to recognise the amazing work these young people were doing for their community. A young lady called Leah (13) told me how she felt it was ‘really good to see everyone who had taken part getting involved’ and a young lad called Adam (14) happily expressed how he had ‘really enjoyed the night’, classing it as a ‘great experience’. I highly recommend taking a look at some of the pictures from the night as you can see the pride in the eyes of the young people and how happy they were; as well as some of the fantastic suits and fashion on show. I’m a keen believer that young people deserve more recognition for the fantastic things they do and this event seems to me to be a perfect way to give it to them.
Sadly it was soon time for me to leave and after meeting such wonderful young people I found it difficult to go. It’s clear that these remarkable young people have made a big difference to their community and the centre has played a key role in their personal and social development. It’s hard to believe that the majority of the young people behind events such as the MOSCARS and the brilliant fundraising day are only 8 to 24 years old as they are so dedicated and hardworking. It just goes to show that you should never judge a person by their age. It’s easy for me to boast about these young people because they deserve the recognition. It often worries me that sometimes young people don’t realise just how special they are and it would be an incredible shame if these young people didn’t know. The fundraising day was a great event and I can’t wait to hear how much they raised for such a worthy cause and definitely one that’s close to my heart.
So as I wrapped up in my scarf, hat and thirty other layers ready to face the blizzard outside, I give a quick wave goodbye. Sadly I don’t think many people saw me, because, as I started to back away, the DJ played Gangnam Style and The Meadows youth centre was soon filled with young people and adults doing the hit dance. As I left I looked back and smiled, remembering that two years ago on the opening Roberto Martinez said “This is going to be a place where young people can make their dreams come true”. I think he was spot on.
By Jilly McKiernan