Published on November 9th, 2017 | by John OMeara



There aren’t many openings for youth workers these days, but the Youth Service’s loss has been Laurel Road’s gain. Joy Scott-Thompson and Linval Waite, both skilled youth workers, are members of Cannon Street Baptist Church, which decided to step in when Laurel Road Sports Centre fell into disuse in 2014. Crucially, their aim was to maintain a resource for the whole community, and it was the strength of their determination to do this which enabled them to succeed in a demanding ‘community asset transfer’ process.

A new ‘community interest company’ was set up which, amongst other things, meant that no money could flow back from the Centre to the church, but the church committed £10,000 over 3 years to help things get underway. Now the Centre is run through a combination of charitable grants (a non-stop process of applications), booking fees, and a growing range of partnerships through which external organisations come and deliver services.

Joy and Linval are employed full-time, at minimum wage level, but put in 55 to 60 hours per week each alongside a committed group of 9 volunteers without whom the Centre couldn’t function (if they say they will come they do come). They approach the work as if it were a family business – prepared to do whatever it takes.

It was their youth work know-how which told them to establish provision for adult and older people first, knowing that if young people occupy a space first they tend to take it over. Now the young people have to relate to, and respect, a diverse range of adults, within a framework of ‘old school’ discipline – so a broadened concept of ‘family’ prevails.

From a low-key opening in January 2015 the Centre has built up to over 500 users per week. The users’ backgrounds include Asian, Caribbean, East European, White British, African and ‘Middle Eastern’. A number come in as distinct cultural groups, but several of the heaviest use activities are totally mixed. This means that you are likely to get into the kind of conversations here that you do in the changing room at the Leisure Centre – exchanging information and opinions on issues ranging from physical health to whether there is an after-life.

Joy’s and Linval’s skills enable them to weave the young people into this. There was recently a lively discussion in a mixed group of young people about the kind of ‘equal opps questionnaire’ labels that did/didn’t apply to them, and finally a boy of African descent exclaimed ‘What am I?’ – an echo of Handsworth’s central question, and a reminder of why we need youth work skills on the streets. A new partnership with Sutton Coldfield YMCA has secured 2 youth workers to do street and centre-based work over the next 3 years.

The Centre’s activities try to balance the needs of those who can afford to pay and those who can’t across a wide range: football, karate, varying adult fitness classes, cycling, ‘talking therapy’, Victim Support, youth club, Stage School, stay and play, holiday playschemes, English and Maths tuition, netball and table tennis, and the booking of space for meetings and events; St. John Wall School have low cost access to the facilities during the school day. Latest information can be obtained by phoning 0121 523 6802 or just calling in any time between 9am and 10pm (4pm on Sat.) or 10am to 4pm on Sunday.

Next week sees the beginning of sessions which will use dance and movement as a way of reducing the risk of falls in older people – by ‘being there’ in the way it is, Laurel Road Community Sports Centre will continue to provide opportunities for key services to develop.

The ‘Breaking Bread’ initiative (click BreakingBread – third para.) highlighted the importance of cultural groups providing support to ‘their own’, but also of then moving on to reach out across boundaries to co-operate with others in addressing local issues. Many are doing this, but there needs to be a constant and continuing pressure in community relationships, and resource allocation, to ensure that the momentum is maintained.



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