Creative Youth Network – Bringing young people in from the cold

Creative Youth Network is a youth services and arts charity that works to support every young person aged 8 to 25 across Bristol and South Gloucestershire to reach their potential for successful adult lives, regardless of background or circumstances.

The charity’s team of youth workers, creative professionals, volunteers and campaigners engage young people through the arts, sport and social action to provide emotional help, opportunities for creative expression and advice on accessing alternative education, training and employment.

Its track record of offering initiatives that recognise the needs and interests of its diverse constituency have seen Creative Youth Network become the only organisation in England to be awarded ‘Outstanding’ accreditation by the National Youth Agency, its highest classification.

Dance studios allow young people to express themselves

“Having a few months of youth work to support my wellbeing has really helped me work on different thoughts. It has completely changed some of the ways I think about myself and my ability to do things like speak up more. Thank you.”
– Sarah

‘Disadvantage’ comes in different forms

In 2023, the charity reached 5,100 young people, of which three-quarters were from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Young people come to its programmes and activities through many routes, often through their trust in their youth worker, but also by signing up to activities themselves or via referrals from schools, varied social and community services or parents, guardians or carers.

‘Disadvantage’ can refer to many different experiences, whether obvious or hidden. It may mean young people living in poverty or with trauma and neglect, not feeling safe in their own home, or experiencing domestic violence, alcohol or drug misuse within their own family. They may struggle to stay in school, or their education is affected by their caring responsibilities, or they are in care themselves. Some may have a learning difficulty or physical disability, while others may find themselves isolated by their sexuality or ethnicity, or have recently arrived in the UK and speak little English.

Creative Youth Network’s mission is for all young people to find the assistance they need, delivered by adults they trust.

“My youth worker Will has helped me get things off my chest. He also got me back in school – he helped me talk to my teachers and tell them when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m now doing things I never thought of before, like talking to new people and I even have a few good friends I met at The Station.”
– Luke

Youth workers offer a range of support to young people

A home away from home

The cost-of-living crisis impacts heavily on communities in Bristol. The value of Creative Youth Network’s facilities is emphasised by the worsening challenges young people face who, without a safe space to spend time, may be at risk of anti-social behaviour or worse.

The charity’s programmes take place in venues across Bristol and South Gloucestershire. The sites comprise a variety of spaces, such as multimedia and meeting rooms, sports halls and arts studios, and accommodate a range of interests, including dance, photography and positive activism. The charity’s youth workers also connect with young people in places where they congregate, like parks and shopping centres, to invite them to attend sessions at one of the venues.

One of its main youth hubs is The Station, a former fire station in central Bristol, where staff are seeing growing demand for its services. More and more young people are coming through its doors to make new creative work, bring their voices together for forums, develop skills and access support from a network of partners working under its roof.

The large centre is expensive to run, and the charity reached out to SMV for funding that would help it continue to meet the growing needs of its young people amidst increasing operational costs.

In December 2022 SMV donated £7,500 via its Winter Crisis Appeal, and a further £5,000 in February 2023.

“The funding was a lifeline,” said Rosie Fenlon, Head of Fundraising and Communications for Creative Youth Network. “The Station provides young people from all around the city with access to programmes and services. It offers person-centred support to all young people, but particularly serves those facing challenging circumstances, and invites them to be part of a new community. For all those needing a meal, we could provide hot food. For those needing warmth, we could give them heated spaces. For those needing relief from stress at home, our youth workers were able to make sure our sessions and spaces were accessible and engaging.”

With The Station’s doors open, the charity’s art-based programmes and opportunities to socialise were able to continue delivering measurable outcomes for young people, such as improved communication skills, confidence and emotional self-management. In addition to the activities on offer, access to youth workers helped young people to further their sense of self-agency, understand and make healthy choices, and strengthen their wellbeing and resilience.

The Station is a welcoming space for all young people regardless of background

“It makes me feel so happy that we have places like The Station for people like me who don’t have a family.”
– Saul

Between December 2022 and September 2023, The Station welcomed 755 visitors across a range of schemes. 43 young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) attended its West of England Works programme, assisting them to re-engage with school or college, find training courses or secure jobs.

The charity also delivered 129 open-access midweek sessions, including some specifically designed for young unaccompanied refugees and asylum seekers which were attended by an average of 60 young people per week, and weekly sessions where five young people benefited from special one-to-one support.

Away from The Station, youth workers maintained their commitment of engaging with young people in city centre parks and other open spaces, which encouraged 208 new visitors to the centre.

Both despite and because of the rising living costs, The Station continues to be a vital haven of welcome, engagement and a hot meal for those in need. Creative Youth Network’s many initiatives, whether inside or outside the centre, remain an outstanding focal point for young people in Bristol and South Gloucestershire, enabling them to strive to be the best version of themselves.