How Space 2 is giving hope to Newcastle's youngsters

We explore the NE1 and YMCA backed youth club doing amazing things with 13 to 18 year olds in the city

Junior youth worker John Rudd in the Cafe at Space 2

To some they are typical teenagers, difficult, troublesome, more bother than they are worth.

But to Maxine Brown they are “bairns” to be nurtured through the difficult years between childhood and becoming an adult.

She laughs with them when they are happy and cries with them when they are sad and, above all, listens when they want to talk.

Maxine runs Space 2 in Newcastle for teenagers aged 13 to 18.

It is part youth club, part job club, and all about letting its members set the agenda.

 

“People often point to the bairns and say I will never get anywhere with some of them,” Maxine said.

“But they are great kids, I love them, and will do anything for them and given the chance they will prove they are decent members of society.

“I just got a text message from a girl who has been coming here for a while and I cried when I read it.

“She had been referred by her school and we worked with her through a period of difficulty and unemployment until she found a job in London.

“Her message said we had sorted her life out, she would always remember us, and would not be where she was without us. I just burst into tears.

“We have helped five youngsters find jobs in the past month but it’s not easy.

“Each kid could apply for 30 jobs a week, get knocked back 30 times, and you have to keep their spirits up.

“You have to work with them, tell them it’s not the end of the world, and encourage them to try again.

“I listen to their life stories and their disasters and try to steer them through.”

Space 2 was set up over a year ago with an official launch party attended by singer/songwriter Jake Bugg.

Financed by development company NE1 with day-to-day management from YMCA Newcastle and educational organisation Solar Learning, NE1 Space 2 is an unique facility.

NE1 say it is unrivalled and not replicated by any other youth facility in the whole of the UK.

At the heart of the project was the desire to tackle the growing problem of youth unemployment in Newcastle and the wider North East.

The idea was to put businesses in direct contact with young people who had an interest or a passion in their line of work and to shape their qualifications and training to help create the workforce of tomorrow.

It was to actually find these young people positions, work experience, apprenticeships and jobs in relevant industries.

That sounds dry but, Maxine says, it works in practical ways.

“We had one young lad join the Job Club and he asked me to get him a job in a cafe or restaurant,” said Maxine.

“I asked if he wanted to be a chef and he said no, no, I want to wash dishes.

“That was the limit of his ambition so got him talking, and I listened and he talked about what he really wanted to do with his life, which was to become a plumber.

“Now he is in the second year of a plumbing course and well on his way to doing something that is not washing dishes.

“There are other stories like that and I will often wake up in the middle of the night thinking what I can do to help the bairns we have.”

The YMCA’s partner in the day to day operation of Space 2, situated in a range of former shops in Clayton Street, is Solar Learning.

Their founder Michael Evans said: “Our approach is slightly different is that we challenge our youngsters to make more of themselves.

“Some of what we do is fun, some is educational, some is finding work, but we always listen to what they want.

“It’s not just paying lip service to listening to teenagers but we are in for the long haul.”

Michael admits he caused a lot of problems for adults when he was young, but has used his life experiences to make sure today’s kids don’t make the same mistake.

“I fought with my teachers and although I had a brain I wasted my education,” he said.

“I became a dad quite young and went through some low-paid jobs and unemployment before I sorted myself out.

“I taught myself the guitar, which is something I always wanted to do, and gradually sorted myself out.

“What I do now is not a job, it’s a calling, and it’s about encouraging youth-led learning.

“While I don’t want to get political what we as a country do for your youth is under-resourced and not valued.

“Society can complain about young people being a menace but they are not.”

So far the centre has had 26,000 visitors since it opened just over a year ago, 1,500 members, and an average daily attendance of 150. Hundreds of events, many of them initiated by the young people, have been organised.

This year's Geek Festival was one of the events to take place in Space 2
This year's Geek Festival was one of the events to take place in Space 2
 

Businesses which have supported Space 2 include Greggs, John Lewis, Bond Dickenson and Benfield.

A series of seminars and events designed to introduce young people to the world of work have offered opportunities that have led to real jobs.

One of the first sessions organised focused on retail with a group of nine young people all keen to get into the retail industry. The team at Space 2 is now devising a schedule covering different industry sectors from finance and law to medicine and fashion and design.

Maxine said her “bairns” quickly conquered their initial fears and embraced the chances Space 2 offers,

She said: “Lack of talent and ability is not the problem here, there is a stack of it in Newcastle and it is evident in the hundreds of young people who use our centre every day.

“What is lacking is confidence and self-belief and an understanding of the hugely complicated layers of red tape surrounding getting a job when you are young and unemployed.

“Without the right type of help, support and information offered at the right time, in the right environment, a generation of young people will give up on their hopes and dreams and will settle for at best, second best, and that’s just not acceptable.

“We’re very protective of our young people and of Space 2 and I’m always telling them that there is a long life ahead and together we will work hard to raise aspirations and continue to offer opportunities that will keep these young people on the right track and working towards their personal goals.

“Being able to put these local businesses directly in touch with talented young people and vice versa is what makes Space 2 unique and so valuable.

“The team here are all staff of YMCA Newcastle so we’re well versed in making connections for people and working with different organisations and we’re determined to make a difference.”

There are occasional ups and downs along the way.

Maxine admits to having sleepless nights worrying about the children, thinking about the best solution to their particular and individual problems, but regards it as part of the job and has no regrets.

And there was the time when volunteers went along to the racecourse at Gosforth with a collecting bucket.

“Eight of us went and were walking asking for donations,” Maxine said.

“Someone put a betting ticket into the bucket and it actually won. It was worth £120. We collected a total of £1,310 that day and it allowed the bairns to get new stuff like games.”

Spend a couple of hours at Space 2 and it is evident Maxine and her team inspire their charges and vice versa.

A painted slogan in the cafe says: “Don’t let life randomly kick you into the adult you don’t want to become.”

It’s not an official slogan but it probably sums what Space 2 is about.

Volunteer Sophie Javed, 19, said: “It’s a brilliant atmosphere. There’s always something to do and quite a few have found jobs because they come here.”

James Chilvers, 23, has found a job in sales but still gives him time to the project.

He said: “I volunteered for Michael for 5-6 years previously and have been coming her for six months helping where I can.

“I enjoy it. I would not do it if I did not enjoy it.

“When you are 16 you don’t know what you want and need guidance and support to make those hard decisions. The decisions you make at 16 implicate on your whole life and if there is an issue at home you need someone to talk to.”

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