Becontree charity making the most of tech to keep supporting young people

Future Youth Zone

The Future Youth Zone - which currently has 7549 members - has been forced to move its typical activities online. - Credit: Jimmy Lee Photography

The ambition of Becontree’s Future Youth Zone is to give young people ‘somewhere to go, something to do and someone to talk to’.  

That’s the mantra the youth centre – affectionately named ‘Future’ – lives by, and the ethos through which it has attracted more than 7,500 members.    

So, what happens when the outlet it provides is thwarted by a global pandemic?    

That’s the question the Post put to the charity’s marketing and communications manager, Lizzie Alabaster: “During this pandemic we have had to change our offer to young people and during the most severe restriction, like now, we have had to take it online. This has been in the form of interactive Zoom sessions.”  

Among the most notable of these has been cooking sessions, with the ingredients delivered to homes before everyone comes online to bake: “With young people having to do all their learning on Zoom, it could become monotonous. So, the cooking lessons gives them that extra level of interaction. We’ve had sessions with around 25 kids making a cheesecake.”

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They tested this online method with cooking, before moving on to other activities. A huge positive, in Lizzie’s view, is “how well our digital offer has been taken up”.  

That appears to answer the above question. The only way to get through this period, where young people cannot access Future, is to offer as comparable a service as possible.    

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If feedback is any indicator, staff are doing a great job. Lizzie told the Post they have received a positive reception so far, particularly on Instagram where the charity routinely holds live chats for young people to get involved in.    

The openness with which its 7,549 members feel able to communicate is down to one thing: they all know that Future is a centre designed by young people, for young people: “We want them to be the essence of what we do.”  

Future Youth Zone

The centre, opened in April 2019, continues to be there for its members in the form of a comprehensive digital presence. - Credit: Jimmy Lee Photography

And they are. Each and every young voice helps shape the centre, whether members can be there in person or not. As Lizzie explained, many of the 68 staff at Future are local faces.  

This is by design. Locality tells the young people that they are represented, understood. This, combined with who the youth workers are as people, assures them that they are cared about: “Staff members are so invested in them.”  

Of course, there are some activities you simply can’t bring online. Boxing falls under this category, though the slight relaxation of rules between lockdowns saw Covid-compliant sessions make a brief return.    

One group - aptly named ‘The Boxing Boys’ - particularly enjoy those: “They’re really empowered by boxing, and have a great relationship with one of our youth workers, Sam Short.”  

Sam Short

Boxing is one of the activities offered by Future, with one member pictured here alongside popular Youth Worker Sam Short. - Credit: Future Youth Zone

No doubt all of these activities will make a permanent return later this year. According to Lizzie, it’s not so much about that for most people. Rather, it's simply about being together again: “They are only interested in coming back to the Youth Zone.”  

While everyone involved patiently awaits that day, there is plenty of work going on behind the scenes at the charity.    

Alongside relaunching Babyzone - a support network for parents with small children for which a head of education has been recruited - it has also expanded its fundraising team to three members.  

The latter of these is especially important given the landscape facing charities, the survivability of which relies on continued support and donations from patrons and the local community. This is how “we can keep being there” for young people, said Lizzie.

Whilst there is a high level of engagement from across the borough the Youth Zone recognises that there are some obvious obstacles for some young people to easily access the facilities from certain parts of the borough. 

There are plans in place to reach out to young people in those areas and ensure as many young people as possible get the benefit of the positive activities and support that is on offer.

More immediately the charity is hard at work preparing its next home activity booklet, set to be released in the February half-term.  

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