In just over five years, youth work in the Borders has been transformed almost beyond recognition, much of it due the efforts of Youth Borders.
In that time the number of youth groups has boomed to where the region now boasts 35 major organisations catering for nearly 3,000 young people.
What prompted action was a crucial meeting back in the October of 2009, which reviewed the historic issues that had always faced those working and volunteering in the local youth work sector.
Traditional difficulties were substantial, ranging from a lack of sustainability, including accessing stable sources of funding and too few trustees, to a very low uptake of Youth Scotland youth worker training and a real difficulty in reaching young people in more rural areas.
But five years later and the revolution in the local youth sector has now seen Youth Borders shortlisted for next week’s National Youth Worker of the Year Awards , run by YouthLink Scotland.
These recognise and celebrate outstanding achievement with young people.
Youth Borders was formed in 2007 when the Borders Association of Youth Groups and the Borders Voluntary Youth Work Forum merged.
As an umbrella charity able to facilitate easier access to information and guidance on a host of topics, including youth work, fundraising, child protection, professional development and treasurer training, Youth Borders has brought much-needed sustainability, motivation and an aspirational approach to youth work provision.
And thanks to the efforts of Youth Borders, more young people than ever before – nearly 3,000 – have access to support and out-of-school activities.
The charity supports seven lead youth work organisations – Connect Berwickshire Youth Project; Escape Youth Café, Hawick; Rowlands, Selkirk; Earlston Youth Catchment; Cheviot Locality Youth Work; Tweeddale Youth Action; TD1, Galashiels.
The organisation has helped open doors for these groups and strengthened the relationship between volunteers who run youth groups and partners such as Scottish Borders Council.
Bridie Ashrowan has been Youth Borders project manager since 2009 and says, while the youth sector is catering for more young people than ever before, there are still on-going challenges.
“That includes the competitiveness of funding and finding stable sources of funding and encouraging more people to consider becoming trustees and volunteers,” said Bridie, who has also worked for Project Scotland, the Woodland Trust Scotland and, most recently, Borders Forest Trust.
“However, the last few years have seen us learn a lot more about the science involved in running a charity,” she added. Our job is to help youth work providers do their job better, whether that be from facilitating contact with the local authority, looking at affordable insurances or providing basic training.
“Five years ago, groups were not getting trustees coming forward, groups had very small boards, often lacked leadership and training of staff was difficult.
“Now the numbers speak for themselves. The seven lead organisations are all independent but all meet together, share intelligence and information about funding resources.
“If there are people out there who think there is a gap in their area for some kind of youth provision, then I’d say get in touch with Youth Borders first. Afterall, we’ve already done a lot of the legwork on many of the issues they will face, which means we can help point them in the right direction.”
Despite all the challenges for those involved in youth work, what is not in doubt is that the range of activities now on offer is changing both the image of Borders young people and the image they have of themselves and each other.
Participating in activities has seen stronger CVs for young people and growing confidence, and a spin-off benefit has been that a number of those who have served as volunteers have ended up finding full-time jobs as a direct result.
And Bridie says there is now a need to tell the stories of young people’s achievement more assertively, and to wider audiences; supported with facts, figures and case studies, adding: “There are fantastic success stories across the region and young people, as well as those who work with them, deserve to have these highlighted and celebrated.”
To find out more about the variety of volunteering opportunities near to you, contact Volunteer Cluster Co-ordinator Kai Peacock on 07585825974, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
l NEXT WEEK: Spotlight on Connect Berwickshire Youth Project