Youthscape – One year on

If Luton has a more beautiful building than that dedicated to helping youngsters who are having a hard time I have yet to see it.

A former mill has been converted, with love and attention to detail, into an iconic centre for the charity Youthscape.

The building cost £1 million to buy and a further £2.4 million to refurbish of which the Connolly Foundation donated £300,000.

Obviously what actually goes on in the converted mill near Luton Railway station is more important than the building itself, but its quality and sheer beauty almost demands the same from its users.

And one year on from its formal opening by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, it is going from strength to strength.

As Chris Curtis, director of Youthscape says: “It is almost as though the building talks to us and says – you’re in the best make sure you do your best. And we try and live up to the surroundings we find ourselves in.”

Youthscape works with disaffected youngsters, from eleven to 19 years old, but mainly young teenagers.

They go into Luton schools and talk about the problems and difficulties youngsters face, by group and individually, with up to 4,000 presentations a year.

They also have some 400 referrals to the centre each year, where they can help and mentor at a much closer, informal level.

And it can now be used as a drop-in centre and recreational space, where some 60 people a day come along either for help and advice or merely to engage with the staff.

And on Wednesday evenings they can prepare and eat food, where social and emotional issues can be dealt with in a relaxed environment and they can share the ’highs and lows’ of their week.

One issue that is being confronted at the centre is ‘sexting’ where inappropriate messages and images are sent to youngsters’ phones.

In collaboration with the police Youthscape has developed a piece of work that asks the questions and are suddenly having conversations about this difficult issue.

The piece of work, which is like a game, is now being sold to schools, providing income for the charity.

Chris said: “Suddenly we are having these conversations which other adults understandably find difficult. We have also developed another programme on anxiety and panic attacks. We can go into schools or youngsters can come here and help in a different way and connect.

“We go and find the young people who are struggling and work alongside them. And slowly but surely our work is reaching further and further afield. We have a saying: innovative youth work – born in Luton, delivered everywhere.”

Mick Callanan, of The Connolly Foundation, said: “We are very proud to support this wonderful charity in Luton, helping young people who need support and also to play out part in restoring an iconic building in the town.”