‘Young people feel they have nothing to live for’ declared the national press recently in a bombshell statement about failed education and employment opportunities for teenagers.
Many, already disillusioned by the system, are slipping through society’s net, opting for a life on benefits or crime, it was claimed.
Yet long before the national media’s interest, it was an issue that one small charity in Mansfield and Ashfield was well aware of, and has been working hard to turn around.
The Inspire & Achieve Foundation was launched in 2009 with an aim of helping 16 to 24-year-olds labelled as ‘NEETs’ - not in education, employment or training.
It was founded by West Notts College principal and chief executive Dame Asha Khemka, and is based at the college’s Ashfield Centre site on Huthwaite Road.
With ongoing support from the college, and following a period of extensive research, the charity has made great progress over the past 12 months - and has the stats to prove it.
Since January 2013, the charity has helped 133 young people, with an impressive 68 per cent now in education, employment, training or volunteering.
The results are made all the more impressive by the tireless efforts of such a small team, with much of the work shouldered by Foundation director, Pippa Carter, and youth programme officer, Jay Moore.
“It’s been a fabulous year and I’m not surprised by the response, because we really did research it,” said Pippa.
“It’s nice to see it paying off and coming to fruition.”
The breakthrough came with the launch of the ‘outreach’ programme last January, a way to engage with disillusioned teens.
This includes organising weekly boxing classes, football sessions and a parent’s group for young mothers or fathers.
And while such programmes can often be dismissed as a soft approach to those unwilling to work, it has clearly become a successful means to an end.
The underlying ethos is to promote personal responsibility through structured activities - all geared towards what Pippa describes as their ‘light bulb’ moment.
“It’s when they realise they have to take responsibility for their own future and pull their finger out, that is crucial,” she explained.
“It’s not about boxing or football, it’s just doing something that they want to do.
“A lot of people may ask how it helps, but it’s giving them something positive to do, and if you’re on the dole or have just come out of jail it’s something to get out of bed for.
“It also helps gain their trust, and once they become friends with us, they become relaxed and we can help them make the transition, because many are not ready for college.”
On the strength of the ‘outreach’ success, the charity is due to roll out a structured ‘stage two’ - introducing them to classroom-based learning, addressing employability skills, anger management, body language, behaving responsibly, and ultimately, taking control of their own future.
“I would expect us to help more people,” added Pippa. “It’s just about finding the best way to do it because every person is different.”
However, finding the so-called NEETs can be a task in itself.
Despite forging links with all manner of local organisations and agencies, it is often Jay’s job to walk the streets and speak with gangs of youths to help spread the word of the sport sessions.
The former professional boxer from the Mansfield area admits he has a chequered past and has spent time in jail before his own ‘light bulb’ moment, ditching his life of crime to become a drug and alcohol worker before joining the Inspire & Achieve Foundation. And with a knowledge of street life, he is able to connect more with those in need of help.
“You might get the odd one out of a group show some interest, and that’s what you need because he will tell his mates,” explained Jay.
“It’s just having someone to listen to them and not judge them.
“It was not until we started that realised that it’s such a huge issue that it not getting any better.
“Some of them shock you, some who you think might struggle want to go to college. I’m pleasantly surprised and it’s very rewarding when it does happen.”