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Caring about communities

MISSION: Sophie Simpson and Serena Johnson want to change things for young people

WITH COMMUNITIES throughout the UK at breaking point due to budget cuts, lack of provision in local areas and the loss of community buildings and spaces, two Yorkshire mums have invested their all into giving young people access to the vital services they are so desperately lacking.

Huddersfield is a large, diverse town which lies halfway between Leeds and Manchester and is home to Serena Johnson and Sophie Simpson. The Ashbrow ward, which includes Deighton and Bradley, is one of the most deprived areas in the UK.

But the two women were so dismayed by the influx of crime on their streets coupled with cuts to youth services that they quit their jobs and made the tough decision to tackle the problem themselves.

“There is nothing here for the community. It has all been taken away,” said 36-year-old Sophie. “There are no youth provisions, no parks and nothing for the young people to do.

“There is a lot of gang-related crime here and if you look at newspaper articles about the area you will see that there have been shootings in the streets, stabbings and a lot of gang crime, which has worsened since the youth provision disappeared.”

The women have now launched an extraordinary mis- sion to gain support from individuals and businesses to create ‘youth zones’ across Huddersfield, which will become safe spaces for young people to socialise and develop skills.

Youth worker, Serena, 33, previously worked as a community engagement officer for Kirklees Council but after fighting to get involved with a project to engage so called ‘hard to reach groups’ she became frustrated with the lack of further provision. “I used to go to the youth club in that area when I was growing up and those were the best days of my life,” Serena said.

“My youth worker used to discuss my future and some of the challenges I would face as a young black woman. It was nice to have those conversations. As youth workers we have the opportunity to challenge the negative percep- tions and opinions of young people. Without that, how do these young people understand what’s right or wrong?”

Instead, says Sophie, they risk being negatively influenced by their older peers. Their mission began in 2016 when together they formed community interest company, Conscious Youth.

After consultations and successful events with young people the two friends have earned the respect and recognition of their community – winning a micro-grant after pitching their idea to social crowdfunding group Huddersfield Soup and securing further funding from Bright Ideas to deliver community- based culture share events called Unified.

In November they won the social enterprise start-up award for Yorkshire and Humberside and have been nominated for a National Diversity Award in the community organisation category. They are also proud finalists for the Huddersfield Daily Examiner community award.

Their successful programme, Stepping Up Stepping Out, is designed for young people aged 16-25 with a focus on character building. It aims to improve the mental and emotional resilience of young people.

With ambitious plans to offer widespread youth provision in the most deprived areas of Huddersfield – Conscious Kids for eight to 12-year-olds and Conscious Youth for children aged 13 upwards – they are making a plea to businesses in the area keen to fulfil their social responsibility.

“There is no funding from the council to support what we are doing so our only option is to ask local businesses and organisations to get on board and support it,” added Sophie.

They plan to open the first centre in May, which will be situated at the Chestnut Centre in Deighton and as well as appealing for funding the project requires a range of resources including stationery, computers and tablets to run homework clubs, furniture games consoles and leisure equipment.

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