It was the 15th March 1999 when I first arrived at the Corner House Resource Centre - I arrived at 98 Dovecot Street to begin my placement as a Student studying Youth & Community Work at Durham. At that time the project offered services from cradle to grave including Lunch Groups, Breakfast Clubs for the Homeless, Creche Facilities, Job Clubs, Creative Art Clubs and of course Youth Work.
Once my placement had finished, I returned to University….. months later an opportunity arose for a Sessional Youth Worker and so this is where this journey really begins.
In January 2000 the Organisation changed its focus to delivering Youth Work, only as the need became greater, and the mix of clients was potentially not a perfect alignment! In April 2000 the Corner House Youth Project was established under the Leadership of Lesley Makin, my predecessor.
As the Youth Work offer expanded, the Youth Work team also began to grow and we started to provide a holistic service to some of Stockton’s most vulnerable and challenging young people and I guess the rest is history.
Over the last 21 I have worked alongside an amazing Staff Team who never cease to amaze me in their passion for the work they do and the willingness to work in some very difficult situations. At this point I must remember those staff who are no longer with us, who also played such an important part in my journey with the Corner House, Nicki Gardner who worked on our Alternative Education Programme and became a really close friend, Jeanne Allison a Youth Worker specifically in Parkfield and Mill Lane, Trustees like Jan Beckwith and Bill Taylor who worked tirelessly as Trustees.
Now to the hundreds, and yes probably thousands of young people who have accessed the project over the last 21 years, some of which I will never forget. During my first few months at the Project I worked with the youngest Heroin addict in Stockton who, at 11, was in a horrendous place and also with the first young person who was given an ASBO in Stockton despite many years later receiving a diagnosis of Autism. I spent many evenings in Local Police Stations with these two as their responsible adult and became very close to them and their families trying to support and help them make sense of life which was at times, I’m sure like wading through treacle! There have been many young people who will always remain in my thoughts and sometimes spot them from afar and I think to myself … phew they made it and by that, I mean they are still alive which taking all things into consideration is remarkable. Sadly, we have lost a number of young people over the last 20 years too and attended far too many young people’s funerals always questioning ‘if only …. what if?’ which in turn just meant that we would carry on and work even harder to support these complex needs young people.
I have been doing a lot of looking back (as you can imagine) looking over the reports I have written, talking about the different characters we have had the pleasure of meeting and situations we have found ourselves in over the last 20 years. We have always tried to align our work to Local and National Policies and differing agendas of which there have been many from SRB - (Single Regeneration Budget, for those of you too young to remember) Neighbourhood Renewal Fund the arrival of Connexions and Integrated Service Areas, Every Child Matters, Youth Matters and Neighbourhood Management to name but a few! There have been times when this was a fine balancing act, ensuring we could deliver this to fit comfortably with the true meaning of Youth Work, as it has often felt like Youth Work was seen to be a vehicle to support the delivery of the Government Targets on Employment and Education, rather than meeting young people where they were and on their terms. We did and still continue to manage this melange to try and ensure we could deliver much needs services to young people in Stockton.
I have enjoyed immensely working in the VCS and with the Local Authority in Stockton and thank you to each and every one of you who have believed in the work we do and supported us to deliver the whole range of services to some of the most troubled Young People in Stockton.
And now… it’s time for me to hand the baton over and I feel so comfortable that Debbie Jones will take on this role with so much energy and passion while the ethos of the organisation remains true to its commitment to young people. The Management team is strong and the new Operations Manager, Lucy Bentley is now in post I have no doubt that the organisation will go from strength to strength. Debbie will be supported by the whole staff team of that I am sure and especially Karen Winner who has been my wing woman since I was appointed CEO all those years ago who I owe a special thanks to.
Thank you goes to the Trustees who have had the confidence in everything we do and for the support they have given me especially over the last 5 years.
I look forward hearing, albeit from afar, about the continued success of the Project and I wish you all well.