As we celebrate our 25th anniversary this year, we’re reflecting on some of the services, highlights and people who have had such an impact during that time. This month, we’re showcasing the story of Meet Up, our Youth and Family Centre on Thetford’s Redcastle Furze Estate.

Funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, the main aim of Meet Up is to provide leisure activity and support services for young people, their families and the local community. It enables them to access provisions in a safe and informal environment and make positive choices and changes where necessary. In the ten years of provision delivered by The Benjamin Foundation, Meet Up has had a significant impact on the local community. Mike Towndrow, Meet Up Manager, explains more:

“Meet Up was initially a café in the early days, offering young people on the estate somewhere to drop-in. It had been  a community asset before we took over the running of it in 2009 but unfortunately had been unoccupied for a number of years. When we opened, it was very much youth-focused. When I joined The Benjamin Foundation six years ago, although the focus at Meet Up was still for young people, it soon became obvious that there was scope for a lot more.”

Seeing an opportunity for the development of community and inter-generational engagement, the Meet Up team have steered the centre to address these needs, offering more for the community it serves.

Mike continues: “We began to organise more community events, reaching out to groups such as The Redcastle Action Group to support their fundraising by offering use of Meet Up as a venue, which helped us to build healthy relationships. We also worked closely with the nearby school, as well as local families and community groups.”

Over the years, the need has increased and peoples’ circumstances have become much more complex. Once again, Meet Up responded and developed a range of groups and activities, which include Life Skills for those Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) or for those who are home-schooled, Youth Clubs, Parents Support Groups, ASD groups, Parent and Toddler groups, Counselling, a Senior Citizen lunch club, Saturday club and young carers.

“Meet Up has offered a stable and consistent environment for families, which is unique. They feel it has been a huge benefit to the whole community; it’s central to the estate, giving people opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

This wouldn’t have been possible without funding from The National Lottery Community Fund.

“They’ve funded Meet Up for ten years and without their foresight and continued support, Meet Up simply wouldn’t function. With over 100 people regularly attending the centre every week, literally thousands of local people have benefited over the years.” Mike says.

With many families experiencing challenges such as split parenting, financial difficulties, drug and alcohol abuse within the family, domestic violence and struggles with mental health and emotional wellbeing, many of the young people who attend Meet Up can often have their own difficulties. The Meet Up team acknowledge this by providing positive activities and new experiences which young people may not otherwise have access to. Activities, which have included, for example, day visits to Norwich, residential trips to the North Norfolk coast and Forest School sessions bring new opportunities for learning, socialising and enhancing their emotional wellbeing.

“Their lives at home can be chaotic, but we offer them some normality. By using the Nurtured Heart Approach ®, we turn the most challenging situations toward success by focusing on individual skills and qualities, and not putting energy into negative behaviour. We instead focus on the positives and what the young people can achieve and are capable of.

Reflecting on the last few years, Mike also says that one of his highlights has been seeing the progression of the Meet Up staff.

“I’ve seen their development from being volunteers to working for The Benjamin Foundation as colleagues. Their confidence and self-esteem has flourished and that shows in their work. They’ve grown the groups at Meet Up and made them a success. For example, our Parent and Toddler Group is now so busy and vibrant. It’s lovely to see.”

Over the last ten years, Meet Up has become a key service for The Benjamin Foundation as it brings the community together and supports the development of local people, but there are always more people who need support.

Mike continues: “We want more people to visit Meet Up and see what’s on offer for the Thetford community. We’re an open door for those who need us.

“I recently had one young person say to me ‘you’re the only person who believes in me.’  That was huge. It’s these small, positive experiences gained through Meet Up which will eventually sink in for the young people we support and will become so valuable as their lives develop. It’s been a huge privilege to be in this position.”

For more information about Meet Up, please visit: https://benjaminfoundation.co.uk/service/meet-up/

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