The Youth Club Free Access to The Hunslet Club been running for a year now. To celebrate, they held an open house last week (May 17, 2022) and I went to check out the progress of the project.
The building on Hillidge Road was already buzzing when I arrived at 6pm with more older people (8+) arriving all the time. The senior youth club operates until 9 p.m., Monday to Friday and is free. It offers a safe space where young people can take part in all the activities on offer or simply relax with their friends. There is also a Junior Youth Club (8-12 years), also free, which operates from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Dennis Robbins, the general manager of the Hunslet Club told me:
“We weren’t sure what to expect when we set it up to run over five nights from 4:30-9pm, but the response has been amazing, amazing. On most nights we average 50 at the junior youth club and 50 at the senior youth club; it’s 250-330 young people in the club when you include all the activities we organize. It’s every night, it’s huge and I think it’s going to grow.
I spoke to a group of boys who were playing pool, one of the boys explained:
“I stay here all the time. There’s the pool, you can play X Box and then cook, or you can play football outside. You can do anything here. It’s just cool, it’s a place to relax.
I asked the youth worker at the table if his main job was to play pool. He said to me:
“We make sure the kids are well behaved and reasonable. We watch what they do, but it’s an open club so we let them do what they want. If someone is not right we can intervene, sometimes we let them sort it out themselves, but if they get angry we can take them aside and talk to them to see if they are okay.
Dennis told me that these youth work interventions are an important part of how the club operates.
“Our intervention workers are there to support any young person who has a problem. We have processed 230 surgeries over the past 12 months. These range from bullying and loss of confidence at school to pregnancy, alcohol, drugs and petty crime. Some cases are triaged overnight, some drag on over a period of time, some are referred to other agencies.
He told me of a case where a youth worker noticed two boys suddenly buying everyone drinks at the candy store. He alerted the response worker who discovered that the boys were getting involved in the crime. Work is underway to help the boys.
One of the girls I spoke to enjoyed the staff as well as the activities. She says:
“I come on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I like the staff, they are really nice and they help me with a lot of things. There was an incident with this boy and they really helped me deal with it. I like spending time with my friends, baking and playing sports with them.
It is planned to develop the youth clubs using the ideas of the young people themselves. There will be a Games area equipped with the latest technology; a music room where we equip ourselves with DJ equipment and guitars, drums and other instruments; as well as a craft and design workshop.
“There’s nowhere else like it in Leeds – and there should be. 85% of these young people are from South Leeds but we have young people from 23 wards. We are a city-wide offering, the only purpose-built youth club in the city. Other cities are getting £8m new buildings, Leeds are lagging behind. Look around you, we prove that this kind of arrangement works.
“Young people keep coming, they meet new people and make new friends, I love that.”