By Matilda Gladwell, work experience
After seeing an increasing amount of negative comments on social media aimed at the young people of Lingfield, local resident Bernadette Chipp-Smith wanted to do something to make a difference:
“People were complaining about kids vaping or hanging around in the streets. But there was nothing for them to do in the village: they needed somewhere to go.”
She expressed her concerns on Facebook and was directed to Rev. Ian Whitely, vicar of the Church of St Peter and St Paul. Firmly of the belief that ‘rather than blame the young people, work with them’, Ian and Bernie teamed up to open the Lingfield Youth Hub in February this year. Now they have 40 young people who regularly attend, and a small team of volunteers who help create a safe and welcoming space for them.
Based in the Victoria Sports and Social Club, every Wednesday between 16:00 and 18:00 young people from Lingfield and the surrounding areas can make use of the pool and table tennis tables, play on games consoles, take part in organised activities, or simply sit and chat with friends, for just £1.
Through collaborations with local businesses, such as Coughlan’s Bakery and the Star Pub, Bernadette and Ian also provide free food including pizzas, sandwiches and pastries, to reduce the stigma around those who cannot afford to buy something to eat.
“We never want anyone to feel excluded because of their financial situation,” Bernadette said.
As well as providing entertainment and ‘a space where young people can be themselves’, Ian and Bernadette are determined that the hub will also be a place where they can learn life skills, and hear from inspirational speakers regarding careers and future opportunities.
“We want them to learn something they didn’t know before,” said Ian. “If we can make a young person go, ‘that’s what I want to do when I’m older’ then it has all been worth it.”
The pair say the hub’s main aim is to make its attendees feel valued, and the transformation in some has been phenomenal. In particular, during the filming of the hub’s zombie movie The End is Now in July, which was created and directed by the young people in collaboration with Focus Film School, they saw members increase in confidence and form friendships.
Their biggest challenge centres around funding. They have received grants from various groups including Lingfield Parish Council and Your Fund Surrey, as well as assistance from the church for DBS checks and safeguarding courses, but are looking for ways to ensure the hub is sustainable for the long-term. Storage is also an issue.
“Our ultimate goal is to one day have a family hub in its own building, so our young people have a space that feels like theirs, and we have room to keep more equipment for them,” said Ian.
If you are interested in getting involved with Lingfield Youth Hub as a volunteer, guest speaker, donor or to run a workshop (they are also looking for somebody to help the young people restore an old motorbike), please visit their Facebook page.