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18 November, 2013

Empowering young people in Nottingham

Adhi Scott conducts a youth meeting
Adhi Scott conducts a youth meeting

Maxine Cockett and Adhi Scott work with Bringing People Together (BPT), a Nottingham-based community project, which works with Initiatives of Change. My Story is a BPT project which provides a safe place for young people, from all walks of life, to share their experiences and make life choices.

By Rajesh Sharma, Maxine Cockett and Adhi Scott

Maxine Cockett keeps in close touch with young people through her smart phone
Maxine Cockett keeps in close touch with young people through her smart phone
Today is no different from any other day - it’s dark, wet, cold and rainy, yet young people are waiting at a street corner in the St Ann’s area of Nottingham. Yet today is different from other days. They are waiting to meet with Maxine Cockett and Adhi Scott, two local youth workers.

When the youth workers arrive, the talk is vibrant, except for one young girl, Shirley, who is as quiet and sullen as the murky evening. Whilst the group engages in banter with Adhi, Maxine takes Shirley aside. Shirley confides why she has not been responding to Maxine’s most recent phone calls and texts. ‘I have given my Blackberry to my Dad again to pawn,’ she says. She does this so that her family can buy weekend essentials. She will only be able to retrieve her phone when the family receive their next benefit payments. This is a regular sacrifice she makes for her two unemployed parents and six siblings. Both parents are struggling with drug misuse. Shirley is cut off from her world again.

Maxine offers to lend Shirley her old phone. One of the young men, Dave, overhears the conversation, and offers to buy Shirley a new phone. The two youth workers respect his care and concerns for Shirley but know that Dave’s money comes from illegal activities. If Shirley becomes obligated to Dave, she could get caught up in the same illegal activities. Dave is into illegal activities, not because he wants to, but because this is the only way he knows of making fast money to put food on the table for his mother and siblings. If Dave does not get hold of his life, he may end up in a young offender’s institute.

The Robin Hood Chase Centre, once a bustling arcade
The Robin Hood Chase Centre, once a bustling arcade
Dave has a chequered school life. Presently, he attends a pupil referral unit. This is unlike an ordinary school. Closely monitored and supervised, the place has both opportunities and dangers for him. He has to interact with other young people, who could negatively influence his thinking. He has to go to the unit, or end up in court again. David is one of many young people who feel let down by the education system and do not trust authority.

Every young person has a story to share: an enjoyable holiday; moving home; starting a new job; finding a partner; developing and writing lyrics for a song; getting involved in crime through peer pressure; personal achievement; or something deeply personal. But there are hardly any opportunities for them to share their experiences, particularly those that are personal.

Maxine and Adhi work with Bringing People Together (BPT), a Nottingham-based community project, which works with Initiatives of Change (IofC). My Story is a BPT project which provides a safe place for young people, from all walks of life, to share their experiences and make life choices.

Bringing young people together
Bringing young people together
The need for the project was reinforced when BPT members attended the ‘After the Riots’ forum in London, organised by IofC, in February 2012.The forum highlighted the need to provide specific support for young people in inner city and rural communities in Britain. BPT found that the issues expressed at the forum were closely linked to the plight of many young people living in the inner city areas of Nottingham who were struggling with low educational attainment; long-term unemployment; and getting caught up in illegal activities to find money.

Maxine Comments: ‘Agencies and authorities have an expectation that is low for the young people of a certain colour, class and area. Fifty years after Martin Luther King’s ”I have a dream” speech, many of our youngsters are still living in absolute nightmares. We are still judged by the colour of our skin, not by the good deeds that are done by our communities.’

BPT recognised that whilst there are some common issues, each individual has a unique story to tell. Not all are negative. In fact, some are inspirational in what they do in their own way to help others, be role models and undertake community work. Some are often lonely and isolated, with very few friends.

Regeneration has bypassed Raford in Nottingham
Regeneration has bypassed Raford in Nottingham
Young people relate to BPT workers, particularly as some of them come from tough neighbourhoods and have hands-on experience of making ends meet.

For instance, Maxine was directly involved in the 1980s riots. During the 2011 riots, she was proactive in preventing young people from taking part. She is confident that once young people are plugged into the project, it may better their lives and, in some instances, they can change the system for the better.

Established in 2012, My Story has made steady progress in making contact and building trust with about 50 young people. The initial stages were very emotional and challenging as some young people have personal and deep-rooted issues and found it very difficult to share their stories. Eventually, through trust building and frequent contact, a regular group began to form. Now, the group meets at local social venues. ‘At first, some of the young people would not come into the centre of the city, but through persistence and being flexible to accommodate their needs, issues and challenges, they joined in’, says Adhi, ‘IofC support helped to cover minor costs of refreshments and purchase of audiovisual recording equipment.’

Through using the IofC principles on life-changing, young people began to share their personal stories. Most are challenging. Some young people are from families where parents have alcohol problems. A few girls have said that they provide sexual favours to get money to survive and put food on the table for their parents and siblings. They are pushed into working in backstreet saunas. By no means have these been easy decisions. They have tried, again and again, to get jobs, but are turned away because of a lack of qualifications. So many are left with few choices, and may take a very dark road to survive.

Through My Story, young people express their inner feelings and concerns, often through directly sharing stories. Some rap, write stories or poems.

The project has identified a major gap in the service sector for youth. Many do not know about community services that are available to help them.

BPT is currently seeking funding for the next phase of the project that will engage the young people in writing, producing and staging a play based on their life experiences. The play will put across the challenges faced by young people to a wider audience. It is also intended to raise their self-esteem and confidence, giving them back their dignity and, it is hoped, move them on to a better place, where they can feel optimistic about their futures.

The names of young people in this article have been changed to protect their identity


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