Helping Others column with Karen Weaver: Volunteers blown away by enthusiasm at local clubs

The Fairfax Club is for young people aged 11 to 19.
The Fairfax Club is for young people aged 11 to 19.

A recent project organised by the clothing retailer GAP really helped some young people in the Harrogate District.

They set April as a month of staff volunteering and challenged store teams to participate in 25 hours of volunteering. If successful they could then apply for funding to help the groups they volunteered with to buy things they needed.

Harrogate store manager Cara O’Connell took up the challenge and approached North Yorkshire Youth (NYY) to see if there were any opportunities which she and her team could take part in.

NYY is a charity based in Thirsk which provides support and activities for young people and through their youth development worker for Harrogate, Vicki Lever, two opportunities were identified.

The Fairfax Club is for young people aged 11 to 19 and meets weekly during term time. The volunteers helped out for two weeks and found the experience rewarding and enlightening in terms of the challenges faced by young people in today’s society.

They helped organise games and chatted to the young people and ran a popular ‘shut the box’ competition.

The volunteers had great fun as well as beginning to understand why youth clubs are so valuable to young people as safe environments offering the chance to meet friends, chat and socialise in a place that belongs to them.

The second opportunity was to help with the fortnightly Saturday Club at Fairfax, a club run solely by volunteers and catering for young people with learning and physical disabilities. They use the medium of arts and crafts to engage the members, and have recently started using the kitchen to make snacks for the group, thus extending the creative activities on offer and teaching essential life skills.

The GAP volunteers really got stuck in and were blown away by the passion and enthusiasm from everyone attending. As Cara said: “We were welcomed into the group and really felt it was such a worthwhile cause to give young people a place to go and feel safe to be themselves with no exceptions.

“The team was blown away by the passion and dedication of the young people that attend the Saturday Club. We feel we have gained a lot from working with you all and will endeavour to continue volunteering as and when around our normal shifts.”

The partnership has been very successful. Not only have the young people benefittted but the volunteers have enriched their knowledge regarding the issues young people face.

The volunteers achieved their target of 25 hours and have now applied to the GAP funding pot to help the groups with essential equipment. As Dave Sharp, chief executive of NYY, said: “This has been a fantastic piece of work through the support of the NYY team and the volunteers at GAP and The Saturday Club. Hopefully other organisations in the Harrogate area will see the benefits to volunteering in their local community and encourage their staff to volunteer. Just a small amount of time can make a tremendous difference.”

I really like this story because it encapsulates so much about the value of communities, organisations and individuals working together to improve things for the future.

Here we have a Harrogate Borough Council community centre hosting a youth club run by a charity offering support to young people, working with a group of volunteers from a high street retailer who now know a little bit more about a particular community and have been able to offer practical help.

At the moment it’s tempting to feel quite overwhelmed by the national and international news and politics, and even somewhat helpless.

However, as this example shows, at a grass roots level and closer to home there are many practical ways to take action to improve things for everyone.

One of the many benefits of volunteering is that it brings people together who might not otherwise meet.

The more we interact with each other the less isolated we are and can begin to understand the viewpoints, challenges and concerns of our fellow citizens.

Volunteering offers the chance to participate alongside people of all ages and abilities, to bridge the gap between generations and between businesses and communities. It is for this reason that the voluntary and community sector is sometimes described as the glue which holds society together.

For information about youth groups in Harrogate, check out NYY’s facebook.com/northyorkshireyouth page or e-mail Vicki Lever at vicki@nyy.org.uk.

For more information about volunteering opportunities and the local voluntary and community sector generally, visit www.harcvs.org.uk and we are also on Facebook and Twitter for up to date news and views.