Hadleigh youth centre reveals brand new look
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
Facilities include a teaching kitchen, equipped music room, chillout zones and baby-changing for local parents.
A Suffolk youth charity has this week unveiled a brand new look, six months after lockdown prevented its grand re-opening.
The Porch Project, which has been operating in Hadleigh for a decade, has moved to larger premises at the southern end of the high street and, following lengthy refurbishments, is now ready to welcome people from within the town and nearby villages.
New facilities include a music room, chillout spaces and even a huge teaching kitchen where its hoped community cookery classes will be able to take place.
“It started off with kids hanging out on the porch of the local church,” Porch Project manager Mike Grimwood says of the charity’s humble beginnings, “which is why it’s called the Porch Project.
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“Rather than send these kids off on their way, the church invited them in and gave them a cup of tea, some toast and let them play games. From that, we’ve managed to developed into a full charity. What was a small group of youngsters in Hadleigh, has now grown to around 600 on the books for the whole area.”
Something the charity prides itself on is how accessible it is, and while it brands itself as a youth centre, the facilities are in fact available to other members of the community too now, following an increase in staff numbers.
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“Up until this year, it’s always been ages 11 to 19, and this time two years ago, there were only two members of staff for the whole charity. Now we’re a team of five, so we’ve grown more than double in 18 months - which shows how successful the Porch Project has become and how much it’s used.
“We then began to realise that as much as we were saying it’s for those aged 11 to 19, a lot of the youngsters who were coming in were talking about their home and family lives, such as their little brothers and sisters, and family members who were pregnant.
“So we’ve recently changed to say that we still support 11 to 19-year-olds, but we now include anyone pre-birth to mid-20s who may still need us. We’re now supporting the community in a manner of different ways, and the centre is here for people to use however they want. It’s a youth centre that just happens to facilitate other community uses. For instance, we’ve now got baby changing units here that anyone can come and use.”
With charities across the country feeling the pinch due to the pandemic, the Porch Project has always worked hard to secure its funding - with senior youth worker Kayleigh Diss spearheading these efforts.
“We are not core funded at all,” explains Mike. “We get no government funding in any way shape or form - it’s all through applications to other charities or organisations that are able to give grants. We have to cover a minimum of £120,000 a year to keep this running, and it’s all through applications.”
Kayleigh, who first joined the Porch Project as a volunteer, is constantly seeking out potential funders to help keep the youth centre on its feet.
“A lot of my role when I first started was based around the young people, such as outreach work, working in schools, one-to-one support and drop-in work. I then I found I was getting a real buzz applying for funding because as someone who’s very passionate about my job, being able to write about why we need the money is great,” she says.
“I think with the change in our circumstances, in terms of now supporting people pre-birth to mid-20s, we’re now looking for more sustainable funding over longer periods of time to ensure we can be as a consistent as we need to be.”
Luckily, one charity in particular has been able to provide the centre with a hugely invaluable resource.
“To start things off with our refurbishment, we obtained a grant from Wooden Spoon,” says Mike. “Wooden Spoon is a rugby charity that funds projects that help support children across the country.
“Up until recently, it would’ve provided things such as playgrounds, play areas and sensory rooms, but Wooden Spoon began looking at other ways that its grants could be used to enhance the lives of young people. When we explained how shocking it is that many people of a certain age can’t do the basics of cooking or even make toast, Wooden Spoon partnered with Woodbridge School to share the cost of providing and installing this amazing kitchen for us.”
Prior to the refurbishment, the Porch Project’s kitchen consisted of a temperamental fridge-freezer, a sink and a microwave. It now has a full-size kitchen with double ovens, dishwashers and various food preparation areas.
“We’ve since had the building works done - and it’s now three times the size it was before, with a full-size learning kitchen. It’s all disability-friendly, with different height levels for the surfaces and sinks.
“We then realised we weren’t particularly disability-friendly overall, in relation to wheelchairs, so we had a ramp installed around the back. All of the ground floor is now completely accessible - we’ve also had walls taken down and doors widened.”
Another thing that the youth centre drastically needed was a lick of paint – which has really helped lighten up the overall atmosphere throughout.
“We’ve dedicated each room to a theme. The team picked lots of bright colours, and what we’ve tried to do is make every single room multi-use. Our training room for example, consists of tables and chairs, but we’ve got boardgames in a cupboard, so the kids can use it as a games room if needed. We wanted somewhere they could have ownership over, and somewhere that was just as much theirs, that they could call their own.”
Other rooms throughout the centre include chillout spaces and music rooms that are fully equipped with sofas, cushions and instruments.
The team are delighted they’ve finally been able to open the doors, as the Porch Project’s makeover was actually due to be revealed on the day lockdown was announced in spring.
“Everything was ready prior to lockdown, and we were raring to go with a full open day – but as you can imagine, we were incredibly frustrated at not be able to bring people in,” says Kayleigh. “That’s why we started to reveal the rooms online last week, so we could get a bit of a buzz about what was going on here, as no one had seen it.”
Since opening Kayleigh and Mike have been overwhelmed at the positive responses the premises have received so far.
“Some of the young people that came in said they just loved it. They said they want to come in and do their homework here after school.
“Even when the centre was pre-upgrade, one of the things the youngsters would say is that it felt like it was a home away from home,” adds Mike. “It’s a safe place, and we want to make it as warm and welcoming as possible.”
With current social distancing restrictions being followed, the centre has made sure it’s Covid safe by implementing a number of guidelines throughout – including temperature checks for everyone who enters, using the NHS’ Track and Trace system, and taking down contact details upon arrival.
“As far as the open week goes, we’re allowing a maximum of eight in at one time. Everyone has to wear a mask unless they’re exempt, and because we’ve got enough staff members, we can actually split them into pairs, threes or fours to do the tours, so it’s nice and spread out.
“We’re planning to do some baking sessions as well, where the kids can see how it’s done. We’ll do those in pockets of three to four people to begin with, and following the National Youth Agency guidance, build it up slowly from that until we can hopefully come to a new normal, where we can get more people in to do the baking themselves.
“Prior to lockdown, we ran quite a few education-based projects, such as CV writing and getting into employment, which are currently on hold at the moment, and we’d really like to get those back on board as they’re all really invaluable skills. We’re also planning on bringing in more of the community to volunteer with us, so the older generation can work closely with the younger generation and share their skills.”
With a number of plans in place to help support the community as a whole, the Porch Project is eager to get back to work – and is thankful to everyone who has helped keep the centre going during these tough times.
“We are also hugely grateful for the ongoing support we receive from the amazing team at Suffolk Community foundation and the Police and Crime Commissioner, Tim Passmore,” says Mike.
“We’ve been amazed at the engagement and interest we’ve had already,” Kayleigh adds. “When these visions become a reality, it’s really rewarding for us as a team.”
To find out more about the Porch Project, visit www.porchproject.co.uk