I’ve been thinking a lot about choices of late. I guess a big part of that was being offered this job as Director. I knew I wanted to run an organisation like this one, and I got offered it, so the choice to take it was simple. The choices available to our young people at the project aren’t always that clean-cut.
This morning I had four choices for getting to work. I could drive my car, ride my bike, get the bus or walk. It was raining, so bike or walking were out. My wife wanted the car, so it was the bus – £4.60 for an all-day ticket. Decision made.
I take the range of choices available to me every day throughout my life for granted. Some of my choices are defined by money – having a car, a bike, enough money for bus fare.
Some choices are available because I’m confident enough to take them – meeting new people, playing football badly, applying for new jobs, travelling to new places. Why shouldn’t I?
So money and confidence make choices possible. A third driver of choice seemed to be knowledge that the choice was available.
I know through experience things that might be abstract to other people. I’ve been to university, acted in a play, meditated, got muddy at a music festival, and now I’m running a charity.
I’ve been encouraged to do all these things so I know them as a reality, not some vague idea intended for other people.
And having life choices is addictive. I know I can have more of these experiences, similar or different. The world is my oyster, if I can get the washing up done, kids to bed and keep my eyes open long enough to reach them.
What if as a young person you have none of these, or a significant deficit of one or more? How does that limit your chance to be happy, healthy and play a positive part in your community?
What if you don’t have the confidence to thrive at school, the knowledge at home to support your studies, or the money to pay for extra tuition? What if your local youth club is closed and you can’t afford the bus fare into town? What if you have no idea what skills and talents you might have, and nobody to help you find out?
The rhetoric of recession tells us the state is increasingly limited in its ability to construct and offer choices. Our work tells me that this is the only way we can meet the needs of these young people and help them fulfil their potential.
It’s not just about amounts of money, but the way it’s spent. Enabling young people to know and understand their choices, and to access them through building confidence, is every bit as significant as providing money to deliver those opportunities.
I chose to do what I do to help give young people choices, and I’m privileged to work alongside nearly 40 volunteers each year who give their time and brilliance for the same reason. Over the next few years we want to double the number of volunteers that help broaden the choices of our young and most vulnerable.
Is mentoring a choice you’d be open to considering?
Poet Rebecca Tantony took the good and bad memories of being young from the audience at our 15th anniversary celebration at the egg, Theatre Royal Bath, and turned them into a spine-tingling live poetry performance in just 25 minutes.
Here’s what she wrote.
Do you remember when freedom tasted like optimism?
This thick, forest of hope on the tip of our tongues.
These fun, sun hung morning bus journeys to school.
Flicking love letters to classmates, screwed up balls of secrets
caught open palmed by chance.
Do you remembering discovering a coded language;
that boys had something we would never know,
that girls had things they would never show,
and that we all would grow bigger than our dreams.
Bigger than the villages we were born into and the city scenes.
Bigger than learning and mistakes.
Do you remember how we finally found our place?
Sat on miniature chairs, chewing strawberry laces and fried eggs,
do you remember being so tired but refusing to ever go to bed?
Now all you want to do is sleep.
Do you remember how you were always trying to fit in,
start over, start afresh, start sitting comfortable in your skin,
that awkward feeling of authority,
trapped and ambitions and the ordinary.
Do you remember being so young that your pupils spoke of infinite,
when BMX rides led us further than we could ever be,
when first kisses were sloppy paddling pools and our cheeks blushed the
colour of bleeding skin,
when our bones were aching and
our teeth were full of milk.
Do you remember when we spoke only in hope and insecurity?
When sick meant something good and wicked meant something extraordinary.
Do you remember when freedom was found in bikesheds,
scratched on the tables of maths lessons and the back of toilet doors,
do you remember everything you were growing towards?
This invisible place where you would finally find all that you knew you could do.
Well guess what,
we grew to there,
now it’s over to you.
There are some dangerous myths about youth crime.
Rates of crime, including youth crime, have significantly fallen since the 1990s, yet most of us think they have increased.
We believe teenage pregnancy rates are climbing when in fact they are the lowest for 40 years.
Newspapers are full of reports of gang and knife crime, but the 2011-2012 murder rate was the lowest for nearly 30 years. We fear drug-fuelled gang culture, but youth use of drugs, particularly Class A drugs, has declined in recent years.
Why this gap between perception and reality? When I became Chairman of the Youth Justice Board in 2004, I knew that twenty years of political ‘arms race’ getting tough on law and order had already played on these fears.
During my tenure I saw how police targets for ‘offences brought to justice’ led to record high numbers of children and young people in custody. Youth crime wasn’t rising overall. Instead we were viewing as ‘criminal’ behaviour that might previously have been punished within school, family or community – behaviour which many respectable adults have dabbled in, including myself.
Our perceptions of crime grew as a result. Nor did youth offending fall as a result of these punitive measures. Indeed the best evidence shows that bringing young people into the arena of police, courts and custody increases the risk of re-offending.
Today we’re making progress. The number of youths in custody has fallen from about 3,000 in 2007 to fewer than 1,300 in June 2013 not due to the success of the previous policy, but its quiet abandonment for economic reasons.
I’m far from complacent: the ages of 15-18 are still the peak years for offending and one third of all indictable convictions are handed out to under-21s. But myths about youth crime, and the right ways to reduce it, are dangerous. They help criminalise and exclude young people who need opportunity and support.
So I’m proud to use my experience to support organisations like Dance United, Jamie’s Farm and Mentoring Plus who are doing just that. I’m amazed when I learn how much their young people have to cope with, and all the more inspired by what they can achieve when given the chance.
Rod Morgan is Professor Emeritus of Criminal Justice at the University of Bristol and was formerly HM Chief Inspector of Probation (2001-4) and Chairman of the Youth Justice Board (2004-7). This commentary is based on a longer article by Prof Morgan for Outlook, the magazine published by Children England.
As part of our ongoing consultation with young people, we asked some members of our Youth Action Group for some top tips on the best way for adults to communicate with young people. That was all we asked – no pointers or prompts.
The results we interesting, and the priorities they set perhaps eye-opening. The theme that leaps out repeatedly is honesty.
So here is the succinct list from Stacey, Laura, Dan, Hayden and Amy.
· Talk to us on our level/understand street talk
· Give us a chance and listen to us
· Be fair
· Keep promises
· Treat us with respect
· Don’t patronise us
· Believe in us and don’t look down on us
· Be honest
· Don’t snap, stay calm
· Don’t lie
· Respect us as equals
· Don’t pre judge
· Give us opportunities to look forward to
Funding from Awards For All
We recently gained funding for our Schools Exclusion Project which is a new support service for young people at risk of exclusion. This Support Service will be available to pupils in the last year of primary school and to all pupils in secondary and special schools. We would seek to develop this service in partnership with Black Families Education Support Group (BFESG). We intend to work very closely with the local authority and other voluntary and statutory services such as Off The Record and the Princes Trust, and including CAMHS, 117 Project and Connexions. Mentoring Plus would be the lead organisation working through a steering group of other statutory and voluntary agencies, including the Specialist Behaviour Service and other schools where appropriate. The aims of the project are as follows:
• To help prevent exclusions through early intervention and targeted support
• To support excluded pupils through a tailor-made programme of mentoring, counselling and activities (Key Project and interest groups)
• To support the emotional well-being of young people at risk of exclusion in a school setting
• To provide Peer Mentor Training and support to primary and secondary schools where requested
The project will aim to reduce the risk of exclusion by supporting young people at risk with mentors from the local community. By using positive role models, the aim is to enhance their future educational and career aspirations .The service would be delivered by the development worker supported by a team of existing staff and volunteers and by the recruitment of 20 additional volunteer mentors. The role of the development worker would be to design a tailor-made programme of support for each young person identified as being at risk of exclusion,
A study by The Hansard Society released in April 2012 shows that volunteering in the United Kingdom went down from 29% of the population to 21% in the period 2010 -11. It is a significant figure with very real implications for charities like Mentoring Plus. It means that, as the chill winds of austerity continue to bite, volunteers have never had greater value. Equally, the competition to recruit and retain them has never been stiffer.
With this in mind, it’s incumbent on Mentoring Plus to improve the quality of the overall experience for our volunteers. What we ask of them is uniquely demanding and it’s become clear that they need an increasing amount of support if they are to give our young people the help and encouragement they need.
We’ve therefore piloted the idea of monthly support meetings with mentors. As well as giving them a greater sense of involvement in the project, these meetings enrich the mentor experience and give us the chance to pick up any problems at an early stage. They also help to ensure a greater continuity in the relationships and promote the idea that our volunteers might offer to help us again in the future.
But it’s meant that, as the work of interviewing, training and supporting mentors becomes more intense, a natural split occurs between finding and recruiting such people and supporting them once found.
To this end, our Fundraiser has successfully fund-raised to take on a part-time recruitment person, whose role will be to go out into our local community and actively promote the work of Mentoring Plus.
For there is no doubt that any future development of Mentoring Plus as an organisation relies entirely on our ability to acquire such resilient and caring volunteers. Volunteers who, in a period that will see children and families tested as never before, will play a key role in maintaining the precious fabric of our society.
We have now received approval from the Charity Commission to revise our charitable objectives. This will allow us to widen the category of young people we can support through mentoring, befriending and counselling.
As well as young people at risk of offending, our beneficiaries now also cover:
- Looked after children
- Care leavers
- Young offenders (those in custody and those leaving custody)
- Educationally excluded
- Those not in education, training or employment
- Those at risk of abuse, domestic violence and drug and alcohol addiction.
We hope that this change will enable us to reach even more young people who would benefit from the mentoring experience.
Hi, I’m Lucy. I’m one of two volunteer press officers for Mentoring Plus.
I suppose it’s easy to assume that when you volunteer for a charity, it’s always on the frontline, doing the hands-on work. But, there’s always work to do behind the scenes too and Mentoring Plus is no exception.
I started volunteering for Mentoring Plus in October 2011. I had some free time and wanted to put some of my skills to use. I’ve always worked with young people so I was very familiar with the kind of work Mentoring Plus does but rather than mentor a young person, I wanted to help get the message out about the organisation’s work.
As a press officer, I help Mentoring Plus talk about the work that it does. This can involve writing press releases and articles for local and national newspapers, arranging television or radio coverage about our work or getting the message out through our website and on twitter. I’m also interested in helping our young people get their own voices and experiences heard. I also help promote our fundraising activities, like skydiving and abseiling.
All this activity helps make sure that the local community is aware that we exist and that we are doing good work with young people in the area. It also means that when people are thinking about volunteering or raising money for charity, they will think of us.
I love being a volunteer at Mentoring Plus. It’s given me the chance to learn some new skills and sharpen up some of the skills I already had! I like being able to make a contribution to the organisation and the young people of Bath. The team is fantastic to work with too!
Have you got something to offer us at Mentoring Plus? Perhaps you’ve been thinking about volunteering but don’t know what you could do. Get in touch and talk to us. We’ve always got lots of projects on and can always use a hand behind the scenes. We would love to hear from you.
In addition to our core service of mentoring we also run a series of after school activities. These activities seek to strengthen the relationship the young people have with the project and ultimately with their mentors. As well as enhancing self-esteem, social skills and confidence, attendance at these activities provides a safe environment to experience a wide range of different opportunities. They can also be good fun!
We have just planned the evening activity programme for next term. Highlights include an exciting photography project culminating in a public display at the Holburne museum in July, other craft and music workshops, a Spring Fair, cookery sessions and some great plans for the garden.
The best place to keep up to date with the activity and event schedule is on our calendar at http://www.mentoringplus.net/calendar.html
We have just heard that a recent fundraising bid has been successful. BBC Children in Need have awarded us £30,000 over 3 years. This will fund the staffing required on our KEY activities. The KEY activities form a fundamental part of the mentoring process. It is through these holiday activities that we are first able to engage with the young people referred to the project. KEY provides a warm and friendly way of starting to form initial relationships and also gives us a chance to assess the young people before being matched to a mentor. Many of the young people we work with are, understandably, anxious about engaging with a new service and the KEY activities represent a great way for them to access and begin to feel comfortable with being part of Mentoring Plus. Opportunities for team bonding and social development iare also part of it. Of course, the KEY days are also great fun! We usually start off with 15 young people in a minibus and head out to play manhunt in the woods, go canoeing on the river Wye, go mountain biking in Bristol or go down a coal mine in Wales! Graffiti and craft workshops take place here at Mentoring Plus and we have also run circus skills sessions in our garden.
So, we are chuffed that we can continue to run the KEY activities and that they can be supported in the way that they need to be. They really do hold the key to engagement.