The drop-in youth sessions we run at HOUSE in Edenbridge are popular, informative and fun - and in at least one case they have changed the life of a local young person.
When Olivia Williams was presented with a Try Angle Award for personal development from Kent County Council she was quick to give much of the credit to the sessions held at HOUSE three times a week.
Olivia, who says she was “anxious, withdrawn and socially awkward” when she was first persuaded to attend a session as a 13 year-old, now leads the town’s youth forum, is a respected member of Kent Youth County Council and is planning to study animal management at university when she finishes college.
But life wasn’t always that good. “I had to be persuaded to go to HOUSE and I would only go with my friends,” she recalled. “I suffered from anxiety and I was socially very awkward; these days it’s hard to shut me up.”
HOUSE team members Cheryl Banks and Ben Reynolds told the Try Angle judges in their submission that Olivia had been “a quiet individual who was suffering from mental health issues.”
They went on: “Over the years she has worked with our staff to improve her mental health and emotional wellbeing. She has developed her identity and is no longer the shy girl we first met. She has spoken at meetings to hundreds of onlookers and – although nervous – she shone.”
Olivia now runs sessions at HOUSE - which combines the usual fun youth club activities with advice on everything from sexual health to drugs and alcohol use - at which she talks to other young people about mental health.
Her own journey has made her quick to spot others who need help and support. “I see plenty of youngsters who remind me of how I used to be and I try to help them realise the potential that they all have to grow and achieve more. It’s about confidence – and that’s what HOUSE gave me over the years.”
Now 17, Olivia does not believe she would ever have gone to Hadlow College, where she is studying for a BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Animal Management, if her confidence had not been boosted by HOUSE.
“I used to be a follower,” she recalled. “I only came to HOUSE because my friends encouraged me, and I always did what other people did. The old Olivia would have stayed on at school because that was what her friends did; instead I found the course I wanted to follow and moved to Hadlow, despite the fact that I didn’t know anyone.”
Despite studying hard, Olivia is still a regular at HOUSE, and is also an active member of the town’s youth forum, which gives the young people of Edenbridge a voice that is respected at town and district council level. She was elected to represent Sevenoaks and Edenbridge on Kent Youth County Council last year.
The Try Angle Awards were introduced by the county council in 1994 to raise the profile of people aged 11 to 18 (up to 25 for those who have special needs) “who really try, often with little recognition, to do their best”.
Although proud of her award, Olivia gives much of the credit to HOUSE, which she said had made her “a better person”. She added: “The team is really friendly and they listen to everyone. Whenever someone has an idea or an opinion it is listened to carefully. No-one is ever made to feel stupid.”
Olivia needs to be 18 before she can formally become a volunteer at HOUSE but she provides friendship and support to younger members. “I think they sometimes find it easier to talk to someone closer to their own age,” she said.
HOUSE in Edenbridge is open from 6pm to 9pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and from 6.30pm to 9pm on Fridays. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ve seen a real change in myself over the past four years and I really want to help others in a similar position make that change.”Olivia Williams