YMCA builds trust and gives hope in Mansfield

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THERE were no indians, cowboys or leather-clad motorcyclists in sight when I visited Mansfield’s YMCA but it didn’t stop me humming the tune in my head as I walked through the door.

When someone mentions YMCA this is probably the image that most people will conjure up of the 70s American group but it’s a far cry from the reality.

From humble beginnings in 1844, the Christian organisation was originally set up as a bible study group by George Williams for his fellow workers in the London drapery trade.

Now, more than 250 years later it is still going strong with over 45 million members in 125 countries worldwide.

It has developed, adapted and changed over the years and today it works with young men and women regardless of race, religion or culture helping young people to build a future.

Five years ago Mansfield’s YMCA opened its new, purpose built community facility on Commercial Gate to complement a 22 bedroom hostel for the homeless built in 2003.

Its purpose then, as it is now, was to provide ‘a facility to train and develop local people, homeless young people and support the local business community, acting as a hub to engage in training and development’.

The YMCA Learning Skills Development Centre provides support, guidance, advice and training to all sections of the community who have been referred either through a partner agency or from the YMCA hostel.

“We deliver a course aimed at getting people into employment or further learning,” explained trainer, Peter Jacques. “For many it is about building their confidence and trust and discovering their strengths.For others it is about writing a CV, filling in email applications and setting up mock interviews to help them get the job they want.”

The group who were studying on the course when I arrived were a cross section of the community of varying ages but all sharing the same objective - to secure a brighter future.

“I try and mix up the groups so there is a mixture of age and experience as they tend to help each other and benefit more,” explained Peter who becomes a role model for many, pushing them in the right direction to succeed.

“It’s a tough role as many of our youngsters are disadvantaged but we do all we can to help them on the right path, setting up work placements and encouraging them,” added Peter who goes that extra mile and has been known to approach employers on his trainees’ behalf.

“We can open the door but it’s up to them whether they walk through it. It’s rewarding when someone gets a job - it makes it all worthwhile.”

The Mansfield Training Centre, since it opened in 2007, has seen 1,526 people of these 416 have received an accredited qualification with 180 moving into work or further education and training - 688 are still working with the YMCA.

One such person is Sandra Carlin who is a mature lady from Skegby who has been referred from the Job Centre after being unemployed for five years following redundancy. She works as a volunteer at the Ladybrook Open Door Coffee Shop and is hoping her work experience, together with the support from the course, will secure her a job.

“Many jobs advertised you need to apply online, which has put me off but I am hoping on the course to learn how and get the help I need,” said Sandra. “The course is interesting and better than expected.”

At the other end of the scale is Mark who at 20 is just starting out in life as he attempts to recover from his past and build a brighter future.

“I’ve just come out of prison after serving five months of a 10 month sentence for handling stolen goods. I’m really grateful to be living in the hostel after my mum refused to have me home because of the trouble I’ve caused.”

It was being unemployed and ‘bored’ despite successfully finishing a three year bench joinery course in 2010, that led Mark into drugs and crime - an all too familiar tale.

Prison has had the desired effect on him as he seems determined to turn his life around.

He now benefits from not only the housing facilities but the training programme the YMCA offers.

The personal cost to Mark is £8 a week whilst unemployed with the majority funded from housing benefit. This increases to £185 once employed.

The hostel is meant to be a short term option supplying the homeless with a refuge for three months but there is some flexibility in this when required.

The YMCA also owns houses in the community where young people can learn the skills of independent living as a transition to finding and managing a place of their own.

It is one of the conditions of staying at the hostel that residents take part in the training courses offered which Mark sees as an opportunity.

“I consider myself lucky to be given a place to stay as well as the chance to work towards getting a job,” added Mark “I just want to get my own home and get a job and be normal like everyone else.”

The mechanics of the YMCA have changed dramatically over the centuries it has been operating but the fundamentals of its original founding father has remained the same -to protect the welfare of young people.

Craig Berens, director of programmes at Nottinghamshire YMCA, said: “Being unemployed, especially as a young person, is socially isolating and can easily grind you down. Our trainers help to build these people back up and give them the hope and the tools they need to build themselves a better future.”