Introducing - Edenbridge's ECTreme youth club
West Kent works in partnership with community groups throughout Kent as part of its work to promote strong neighbourhoods.
In Edenbridge, where we play a major role in the work of the Edenbridge Youth Work Consortium, one of the most popular meeting places for young people is the ECTreme youth club.
The Friday night venue is so popular that there is a queue outside the door of the Old Eden Church half an hour before the advertised start time. “The youngsters don’t want to get here late because they know we can only take the first 50,” explained youth worker Anthony Shipwright.
That limit is fixed by fire regulations, but it also allows the youngsters to enjoy an impressive level of interaction with the volunteers who help Anthony run the Friday night club.
“Fridays are about relationship building,” explained Sheila Stapleton, a long-term supporter of the youth club since it was founded nearly 20 years ago and now one of its main fund-raisers.
It means that while most of the youngsters are happy to play pool, air hockey or table tennis, join in one of the craft or activity sessions, chat to their mates or listen to music, there is plenty of opportunity for anyone with the teenage blues to have a quiet one-to-one with an adult volunteer.
For most, of course, the Friday night sessions are just a chance to meet with friends and do what teenagers do in a safe, caring and fun environment.
“Coming to the youth club on a Friday is really important to me,” said 14 year-old Fay Weller. “There is something different to do every week and it’s a chance to catch up with my friends and make new ones. It’s just brilliant.”
Fay and her friends can join in with a range of activities such as tie-dying or street dance workshops, while trips to places of interest and summer residential camps are all part of the attraction for the ten to 18 year-olds who belong to ECTreme.
While the youth club is attached to four local churches and founded on Christian values, it is not overtly ‘religious’ and there is no requirement on the youngsters to attend church.
“We make no secret of our Christian values and we hope that in leading by example we are sowing the right seeds, but that is as far as it goes,” explained club chairman Graham Brown, himself a member of St Peter and St Paul Church and a long-standing volunteer within the Scouting movement.
The Eden Christian Trust – the ‘ECT’ at the heart of the youth club’s name, now brings together St Peter and St Paul, The Eden Church, St John’s United Reformed Church and Marsh Green and Holy Trinity at Crockham Hill.
As well as the Friday youth club, full-time youth worker Anthony also heads up the One2One Mentoring project and runs outreach sessions in Edenbridge, Hever and Crockham Hill primary schools, helped by an impressive team of 33 volunteers.
Anthony also runs the House Group for some of the older teens and a fortnightly Sunday Club for those who want to explore Christianity further. The Trust is affiliated to Kent Youth, which has given the ECTreme youth club a much-coveted very successful rating.
Activities organised by the group – and funded by the £1 a week subscription paid by the youngsters who attend – include an annual photographic competition that culminates in an exhibition in the Edenbridge Events Gallery.
“The children are provided with cameras and are then shown how the whole process works, from producing the prints, mounting, framing and hanging them,” explained Anthony.
While the children make a small contribution to costs with weekly ‘subs’, most of the funding comes from the churches involved as well as from supporters, charitable organisations and the fund-raising activities of Sheila and her team.
Sheila is keen to see more financial support from local people and organisations. “We would certainly welcome more support as it is can be a struggle to do everything we want to do for the children on a limited budget,” she commented.
The One2One mentoring sessions are highly regarded and have made a real difference to the lives of several youngsters.
“Children are referred to the Tuesday night mentoring sessions by a parent, neighbour or their school,” explained Sheila. “The parents are always involved in the decision and the sessions are all by appointment. We have seen a lot of success in the past with children who have been given more confidence and have gone on to achieve a lot more than they thought they could.”
Meanwhile back at the Friday night club, Fay’s friend Megan Paice was full of praise for the sessions. “It’s a chance to meet up with friends and enjoy lots of activities, including roller skating, film nights and even trip to Thorpe Park,” said the bubbly 15 year-old.
“It’s something I really look forward to every week.”