“Our youth justice system should not just be about punishing crime, important though that is; it should also be about reforming offenders. It should provide discipline, purpose, supervision and someone who cares – elements that have all too often been missing from these young lives.”
So said Justice Secretary Liz Truss last weekend (10th December, Guardian), as she announced plans for two new secure schools off the back of the Taylor report into youth justice.
Interestingly I’ve just returned from three days in the Lake District with young people’s charity Chance for Change (www.chanceforchange.org.uk), where I met their staff team and found out what makes them unique in supporting vulnerable young people from cities across the country.
Chance for Change are based in a large bunkhouse, just above, Glenridding; and for five months of the year, via referrals from partners across the UK, they accept groups of young (18-28) men and women to undertake a personal journey with them.
Most of the young people are vulnerable: many are homeless, some with previous drug and alcohol dependencies, few have steady employment. What they all have in common, is that they’re at a stage in their life where they need and want the opportunity to change. At the bunkhouse, they get the first steps on that journey.
Hosted by Rab, a Scottish ex-serviceman, the young people are put through a tough selection criteria. (When I say tough, I’m not referring to star jumps at 5am!) It’s as much a mental challenge as a physical one. The young people must live together for four days initially, during which time they’ll learn basic outdoor skills, personal budgeting, planning and reflection skills. If they get through this task, they are invited back for a place on the Foundation stage (10 days).
Their first goal at Foundation Stage is to plan a journey, across the local landscape, using a small personal budget (which Chance for Change provides) for food, accommodation and travel. The budget is around £12 per day, so the young people need to be savvy in how they spend it. However, thanks to a brilliant partnership with Go Outdoors in nearby Penrith, Chance for Change are able to provide the young people with a rucksack containing everything they’ll need for days in the wilderness, including clothing, boots, a tent, cooking equipment etc. This equipment is theirs to keep.
Some young people head up to Penrith and wild camp around there – content with the familiar lights and sounds of the bustling town. Others head straight over the mountain range and take public transport when they meet up with the road on the other side (not an easy trip, I assure you!). Many head up to Red Tarn and camp around it’s tranquil waters. And some map a route of youth hostels – not yet quite ready to relinquish all creature comforts. What unites them all is that they have the courage and confidence to set off from the bunkhouse; each undertaking their own personal journey.
The success rate of the scheme in its first year is fantastic, following pilot funding from the likes of Rank Foundation and Paul Hamlyn. The Big Lottery have invested in the project, to ensure young people can continue accessing the programme for the next three years. And whilst not everybody who joins the scheme completes the whole programme, I heard from one young man who dropped out as he needed to care for his young child. Now most of us would think fair enough, no big deal, right? But this lad hadn’t taken responsibility or had a relationship with his child before the course. The fact he’d been on the course – asked himself serious and challenging questions about his life, been able to escape the chaos of home life and reflect – meant he was now ready to step up to the challenge of parenthood. So whilst not a tick in the outcomes box, a huge success in my eyes!
So, the challenges….
Chance for Change’s key challenges including funding the refurbishment of a beautiful, but antiquated old bunkhouse in the heart of the Lake District National Park. The place hasn’t had any TLC since the 70s, and could definitely do with an upgrade to maximise its potential. Pro bono architect’s plans, courtesy of Peregrine Bryant, have been drawn up, and a fundraising campaign will commence in 2017.
Another challenge, common across our sector, is the transition to a commercial model of operation. With a magnificent building, in a stunning and prime location, there’s an opportunity to generate income from the bunkhouse whilst the programme isn’t running. A refurbishment is the first step; but it will then need pricing, marketing and managing effectively to realise its potential and deliver it to a public audience – not an easy task for a very small charity with limited commercial expertise.
Perhaps most pertinent is the desire to ensure as many young people as possible can access the programme. Chance for Change have partnerships with Foyers across the country and CentrePoint, but I really feel they need to connect with more young people’s organisations.
So, my big ask to my networks from reading this blog is – if you work for, or know of any organisations working with young people aged 18-28 who might benefit from either the programme or the space, please tag them, share this post, or point them in the direction of this article so they can find out more and get in touch with Chance for Change.
The organisation has a great thing going here, and I’d like them to have the opportunity to change as many lives as possible. Start a conversation with them – it’s free and you might find a long term partner who can help you achieve your outcomes and goals efficiently and effectively.