Inspiring the next generation

30th September 2019

Excitement is in the air. It’s a warm September evening and young people at the Phoenix Youth Project are waiting for two positive role models to join them for a fun-filled fashion shoot.

Too many young people in Cumbria grow up without positive words. Role models can play a huge part in our lives, we can all remember a family member, teacher or sports star that either lit our imaginations or provided an encouraging word. That’s why staff at the Phoenix Youth Project (PYP) decided to do something about it. Founded in 2003, each year, 700 young people access its community-based activities in Cleator Moor, Frizington and Moor Row.

The charity has received nearly £200,000 in grants from Cumbria Community Foundation since 2004 when a grant supported the start-up of its community-based learning centres. Since then, grants have supported core costs, residential trips, educational courses, including first aid and health and hygiene training, social action projects and the Phoenix Role Models.

In 2016, PYP received a grant to run Phoenix Role Models. Local professionals attend youth work sessions to share career stories and give advice to the youngsters. The positive role model sessions are all about helping young people to realise their potential, give confidence and to inspire and motivate, and show that they can live their dream.

Running this session is Amy and Louise, local entrepreneurs who changed careers after having families to run a fashion business called Ruby & Bean. The energy was high and during this session, everyone had the opportunity to join in, whether it was as a fashion model, reporter, photographer or lighting assistant. Everyone had a role to play and the chance to experience what it’s like to be involved in a fashion shoot.

After a chat about working in fashion and trying on outfits, the young people got to grips with the cameras before heading out into Cleator Moor for a photoshoot. After an hour of fresh air, a good laugh and lots of posing for the camera, spirits were high and confidence even higher, even for the shyest.

Conversation is free flowing. Career aspirations are discussed: “I want to be a photographer when I grow up, I love this!” Confidence is boosted: “I love the clothes, thank you for your time and for being so kind to me, it’s boosted my confidence.”

Amy and Louise said: “It has been fantastic to share our experiences and business as part of Phoenix Role Models. Seeing the children engage in what we do and really getting involved was incredibly rewarding.”

Luke and Emily who attend the older youth group said: “The role model sessions are excellent, we get to talk about careers, current affairs and experience new things, that we would never have had the opportunity to do anywhere else.”

Paul Rowe, Project Manager of PYP said: “The role models project has helped young people realise their potential, build up an understanding of the possible pathways into work and success, and believe their background is not a barrier.”

For the last 16 years, a dedicated team has worked with some of the most disadvantaged 8 to 19-year-olds in and around Cleator Moor, to help them raise their aspirations, develop positive behaviour, and encourage them to lead healthier lifestyles along with tackling crime and anti-social behaviour.

The project is also supported by more than 10 volunteers, many of whom have grown up attending the sessions. One volunteer said: “I wanted to give something back because the club really helped me. I was doing stupid things like throwing eggs at cars, just because there was nothing else to do. This place gave me something else, activities and something better to do than being stupid and getting into trouble. I don’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing now if it wasn’t for the centre. I’d have gone on throwing eggs at cars and ended up in trouble like some of the mates I had then. If you ask a lot of the kids here, they’ll tell you they’d be in trouble is it wasn’t for this place.”

The 12 weekly evening sessions focus on personal and social development, supporting and challenging young people appropriately when needed. Speaking to some of the young people, it’s apparent how much the project means to them and the impact it’s had on their lives. Mia said, “I have met new friends and I look forward to coming every week”.

Emily and Billy Jo said: “We look forward to Friday night when we can have fun with our friends in a safe environment. It’s a special time with special friends.

Chloe and Charlie said: “We love playing air hockey and of course the basketball court and the fact that there are lots of people to play with, we are never on our own. If it wasn’t for the youth club, we would just be inside playing on the computer.”

Supporting young people can make a massive impact on their lives and the lives of their families.  A thankful parent said: “His confidence and self-esteem have reached an all-time high thanks to the warm and guided atmosphere that his youth club provides. Before he began, he lacked self-confidence and had low self-esteem. The youth club has restored his confidence to such a degree that he feels completely comfortable interacting with adults and his peers. We can’t thank all the staff at the youth centre enough for what happens every time he goes to the club. He always returns, happy and contented and eager for the next session!”