Connect brings a new look youth service to Berwickshire

L-r, Julie Middlemiss Brown, Steve Wright and Susie Hopewell meet in Coldstream Community Hall to discuss a merger of the three Youth Clubs they represent.
L-r, Julie Middlemiss Brown, Steve Wright and Susie Hopewell meet in Coldstream Community Hall to discuss a merger of the three Youth Clubs they represent.

YOUTH services in Berwickshire are about to take on a whole new look, as two of the largest youth projects in the district, Duns and Coldstream, join forces to create a new Berwickshire wide service called Connect.

Initially youngsters should hardly notice any change to the youth centre sessions they have been enjoying, although the long-term aim is to expand what is on offer, while others who haven’t had the chance to go to youth club sessions will hopefully be able to do so in the future.

Funding youth clubs and youth groups has been notoriously difficult over the years, and local services have often had an uncertain future - the Eyemouth Dry Dock eventually closed, Duns Youth Project had to reduce services for a short time until new funding streams were found and grants for staff wages at both Duns and Coldstream are now starting to dry up.

The economic climate has not helped and in an innovative move to make youth services in the district more appealing to funders the management committees at Duns and Coldstream have joined forces. By doing so they have been able to create a more streamlined service, attracting high quality staff working with young people in a number of locations across Berwickshire. The aim is to expand youth services to some of the smaller settlements as well as the mainstream services and increase the number of specific projects in the towns.

Connect will officially come into being on Tuesday, November 1, Duns Youth Centre manager, Steve Wight, taking over as manager of Connect and the Coldstream Youth Project manager, Julie Middlemiss Brown will be the new body’s development co-ordinator. All staff at Duns and Coldstream will remain in post, transferring over to Connect, and already funding support for projects and staff wages is coming in.

Both the Tudor Trust and Lloyds TSB Foundation have pledged their support for Connect, both giving grants towards specific project and staff roles - Tudor supporting the development co-ordinator post and Lloyds TSB the Eyemouth outreach project.

The Eyemouth project was the first collaboration between Duns and Coldstream youth group staff and proved that working as a joint enterprise was not only possible but extremely successful.

Over the last few months two youth outreach workers have been engaging with Eyemouth youngsters aged from 12-18 in the town who have complex needs, many of whom have become disengaged from mainstream education. Mental health issues, learning difficulties, family problems, and drug or alcohol addiction are issues some of them are struggling to deal with and the youth workers’ ability to reach some of these youngsters has brought praise from both Eyemouth High School and funders.

Youth workers forge relationships with the young people and provide one-to-one support or mentoring, as well as delivering a programme of activities. It is anticipated that 60 young people will benefit over the next 12 months.

Awarding the project a £6,000 grant Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland, chief executive, Mary Craig OBE, said: “The project’s work in Eyemouth has shown successful outcomes for young people with a range of problems. It really is making a difference for these people, and I am delighted that we have been able to support it.”

Lloyds TSB have been great supporters of both the Duns Youth Centre and Coldstream Youth Project in the past and their confidence in the new youth service has been welcomed by Connect’s manager and management committee.

Steve Wright, Connect manager, said: “We were absolutely over the moon to learn that we were getting this grant from the Foundation. It’s come at exactly the right time for us.”

“Today’s young person is tomorrow’s adult and with that in mind the aim of ‘Connect’ is to provide a safe and happy environment that enhances the lives of children, young people and their families.

“Connect will also give us the opportunity to reach more young people across Berwickshire.”

Duns Youth Centre runs afternoon/evening sessions for youngsters from P7 age to S4 and over, with a youth cafe drop-in session on a Friday, a popular multimedia group that has seen their budding film makers winning a national award for their anti-bullying film ‘Super-Ginger’.

Youth Services at Coldstream include an After School Club, youth club and internet cafe.

An unannounced visit by the Care Commission to the After School Club in July resulted in it being given a “very good” rating.

The inspector concluded: “We found that Coldstream After School Club provided a friendly, relaxed atmosphere for the children. The service provided excellent opportunities for them to experience a wide range of games, activities, trips and outings.

“It was clear from talking to the children that they really enjoyed coming to the club.

“The staff worked well as a team and were committed to involving the children in the running of the club.”

Coldstream Youth Project has been an integral part of the town’s community centre, the centre’s management committee also taking responsibility for the youth project.

The changes that are about to take place will mean that the youth services will pass over to the responsibility of Connect but the youth sessions will still have exclusive use of the balcony area. Coldstream Community Centre will rent out the space to Connect and management committee chairman Alex Thomson gave a reassurance that they will continue to support the new look service: “On behalf of Coldstream Community Centre Trust, I would like to extend our best wishes to Julie and her team at the youth services as they go forward in their new format.

Chairman of the the new Connect management committee, Jane Harvey, said: “Although Connect is the new name for a Berwickshire-wide youth provision, at its heart are the managers and staff that have worked tirelessly for the last few years to keep the individual centres afloat and delivering a service to the young people of their local areas.

“None of this will change.

“Coldstream, Eyemouth and Duns will all continue to have their own identity and benefit from the specialist local activities preferred by their youth. What has altered is that the management of the services will be across the centres.

“Steve and Julie have demonstrated over the last year that, despite being employed by separate and competing youth provisions, they have been able to rise above the politics of the past, work together and made a real contribution to the development of a combined Berwickshire youth project. Re-establishing the Eyemouth centre was their first joint task that involved delivery. And what a success that has been.

“The management committee would like to thank them for their commitment and pioneering work, and is confident that with the team on board the new venture will deliver even better services to Berwickshire youngsters.”