FOUR years ago Young People March was in crisis - it was operating on a shoestring, with little support or recognition for its dedicated band of volunteers.
Today the charity, which was set up in the early 1990s to provide facilities for the young people March and surrounding area, is a thriving centre open seven days a week, offering a huge array of activities and services.
It still has a dedicated group of volunteers who help make the centre, believed to be one of the few youth facilities in the country which operates seven days a week, the successful enterprise it is.
In April 2007 Young People March was battling for survival, struggling to pay bills with barely enough finance to keep it open for the its twice weekly evening clubs, its monthly Friday night drop-in and the weekly Saturday drop-in sessions.
But thanks to the hard work of the volunteers and trustees things have completely turned around and the YPM has become a hub for the young people it was set up to help.
It is open daily from 9am to 5pm except Fridays when it closes at 3pm. It has evening sessions on five nights a week, is open 12pm to 4pm Saturdays and 4pm to 7pm on Sunday.
An achievement of which joint centre manager Sarah Brown is extremely proud.
“We were in serious difficulties four years ago, we were struggling to make ends meet and we were being criticised for under-using the facilities.
“But that has all changed, we are now more of a community facility than ever before. We have more people recognising the work we do and coming to us to offer support and help.
“We are now open seven days a week and I’m fairly certain we are possibly the only youth facility in the country that does that,” explained Sarah, who runs the centre in City Road with fellow manager Jayne Manders.
The centre still offers young people a safe haven to hang out with their friends, enjoy games and listen to music, but it also offers so much more.
Thirteen young people have just successfully completed a six weeks work skills course aimed at helping them into work.
There is sexual health and pregnancy advice and support, there is support on alcohol and drugs issues, and array of other organisations such as youth offending make use of the centre.
“It is less of stigma for young people to come to the centre, it doesn’t have a big sign over the door saying youth offending which makes young people feel more comfortable about attending appointments and attendance is so much better as a result,” she explained.
Unemployment among the young is a major issue at the moment, with figures for people aged 16 to 25 at the highest they have ever been, and YPM is helping with courses in completing CVs and also highlighting local job vacancies.
“We scan the job vacancies every day and highlight any we find, and it has paid off. We have helped three young people get jobs in the last three weeks - which is very satisfying for us and great for them,” said Sarah.
An array of other courses are run to help young people gain qualifications they might find useful if they are looking to get into youth work.
Members are encouraged to run their own groups, come up with ideas and see them through to fruition. For instance they run regular gig nights, where the members do all the organising and promotional work to ensure success.
Fenzone, the youth council set up to give young people a purpose and a voice, encourages members to become decision makers and gives them an opportunity to play a major role in the running of the centre.
It is now a separate entity to YPM but is involved in delivering many different projects within the centre but independently for the benefit of young people.
One such project is the Buddies Scheme run every Friday for the children of Burrowmoor School.
The teenagers organise and run the sessions aimed at increasing self esteem and boosting confidence in children who need the extra support.
It is something the young people would like to extend into other schools in the town and it has also received £500 worth of funding from the High Sheriff for resources and materials.
“We are really proud of what we have achieved at Young People March and we want the wider community to be aware of just what a success story we have now become.
“This is a very different place to what it was four or five years ago,” concluded Sarah.