More Than Just a Youth Club
The three women in front of me are bubbling with enthusiasm, waxing lyrical about the not-for-profit charitable organisation that is Girvan Youth Trust.
Two of them, Lucy O’Donnell and Erin Murdoch, are perfectly placed to sing its praises, both having taken advantage of its services during their own teenage years. But Gail McMaster is equally enthusiastic and unable to disguise her obvious passion for everything the charity stands for.
“Every single thing we do is free,” she tells me, “we do not charge a single penny for any young person to attend any of our stuff.”
That ‘stuff’ includes everything from day-to-day attendance at Z1 Youth Bar, the Trust’s multi-functional dedicated youth centre, to attending one of the pre-organised summer programmes.
“We’re here to provide social, leisure and informal educational opportunities for our local young people,” Lucy clarifies. “Primarily 12-18s, but we do go up to 25 in some cases.”
All four project co-ordinators (the fourth, Yvonne McGill, is absent from our meeting) are well aware that if they charged for their services, it would be the most vulnerable who would lose out, effectively creating a barrier between the Trust and those who need it the most. As a result, fundraising is a constant consideration.
“One of the main things we do in the summer is Girvan Boating Pond,” Gail tells me.
Based on a service-level agreement with South Ayrshire Council, the Boating Pond is a great source of income for the Trust, its seasonal profits often used to maintain or replace the boats. Open from April to September each year, it also provides employment and training opportunities.
“One of the main things I’m proud of,” Gail continues, “is that we’re a Living Wage Employer. We’ve got young people… starting on £10 an hour which is double what they would get working for a minimum wage at any other summer job around here.”
Those employed to work at and run the Boating Pond will earn their full lifeguard qualification and benefit from first aid courses. New starters must also go through the appropriate application process and attend interviews thus providing them with real-life experience for any future job opportunities. The people skills and responsibilities involved also stand them in good stead.
As well as being able to provide employment for some of their regular attendees, Girvan Youth Trust can also arrange volunteering positions for both young people and adults in the town. This includes working at their own charity shop in Chalmers Arcade. The shop is managed solely by volunteers, including Lucy, Gail, Erin and Yvonne, or ‘The four wheels’, as Gail likes to describe them.
The Trust first opened its doors in 2008 and is open from 9am to 9pm Monday to Friday, as well as on a Saturday evening. The Z1 premises (formerly the Cranford Hotel) are deceptively large, allowing for activities such as table football and pool. There is also a comfortable space for one-to-ones, as well as a large room for parties and other events. In December, this was used to host a Christmas dinner for over 70 young people. The rooms can also be hired for private parties, events and meetings, providing another valuable source of income.
But it’s clear the young people of Girvan are the main priority for the entire team at Girvan Youth Trust. In addition to the obvious social benefits, the team goes above and beyond to offer encouragement and support.
“I sometimes see us as a back-up aunty or a back-up big sister that’s not going to parent them but will support them. You can tailor-make that support… it’s being empathetic.”
This includes basic life skills such as budgeting and banking but also social issues such as maintaining and manoeuvring friendships, and employability skills including interview technique and CV preparation.
The Trust works closely with Girvan Academy and other organisations such as Thriving Communities. When necessary, one-to-ones can be arranged and personalised goals set up to navigate an individual to where they want and need to be.
I ask the three ladies what they enjoy most about their roles. Gail is the first to respond.
“From my point of view… when you’ve got them to an interview and you’ve prepared them and then they’re coming in saying ‘I’ve got a job!’ or they say ‘I’ve got a job interview, can you give me a reference?’ It’s so satisfying.”
Lucy says: “I’m more street-based. A lot of the young people I engage with are the ones flying under the radar. Going out there and reaching some of the most vulnerable… it’s putting the time in and showing them that they’ve got a positive role model and that someone does care. If they’re out in the streets in all weathers, there’s a reason for it.”
“For me,” Erin explains, “it’s about letting young people see the opportunities that can come out of attending clubs or groups… or volunteering. It’s being part of a team that was there for me and my friends when we needed something to do, somewhere to go, and someone to talk to.”
It’s not the first time Erin has alluded to her own time in Girvan as a youngster and the benefits of her involvement with Girvan Youth Trust. Lucy also has something to add:
“When I think back, one of our youth workers was Heather. Heather’s been here since day dot. I always say to them… if I am to you what Heather was to me, I’m happy with that. When we were teenage girls in the midst of the drama, Heather sorted us out.”
Gail adds: “If you think of the legacy… those who first came here are now parents themselves. They’re now sending their teenagers to us. To have that ongoing reputation is good.”
Indeed it is. But there are other benefits involved too, including local employment opportunities with the likes of Trump Turnberry, The Quay Zone, Fairbairn & McQuiston and Woodlands, all of which have approached GYT asking for recommendations to fill apprenticeships and other positions.
“We’re really embedded in the community,” Erin says with an undisguised element of pride, adding: “If we weren’t here, it would be a very different town for the teenagers. We’re more than just a youth club. It’s difficult to put into words what we are because we try to be what young people need and that can be different on a month-to-month basis. Where we are now is not where we’ll be in a year’s time because priorities change. Everything changes.”
That recognition is, perhaps, one of the main reasons the Trust has been so successful for so long. That awareness of the need to change, adapt and to develop skills to match the constantly changing needs of young people, is vital.
“Food now features highly in everything we do,” Gail explains. “I’ve noticed the difference coming out of the Pandemic… teenagers are coming in hungry. Our services are having to adapt.”
She describes Erin as ‘the queen of the toastie’ but despite the humour, is aware of the seriousness of the topic. In fact, thanks to National Lottery funding, they are in the process of setting up a new project, a weekly meal club where free, hot and nutritious meals are provided.
But progress doesn’t stop with the team. During Covid, the Z1 premises were refurbished to ensure the building not only satisfies the requirements of Girvan’s youth, but that it is as inclusive as it can be.
Away from the premises, the ladies are keen to talk about ‘Music on the Prom’. Run solely by volunteers, the free event takes place every Sunday from 1pm to 5pm from June to September and attracts crowds of up to 300 people.
“It’s a huge tourist attraction,” Gail says. “We get different live acts every week. We’ve had Simply Rod, The Barrstools, The Peas, Scotland Rocks, Jubilee… We don’t get funding, it’s completely self-funded. Local business provide sponsorship but we rely completely on collection buckets.”
Giving up their time every Sunday during the summer involves a huge commitment from the volunteers. Erin sums it up:
“Youth work is an approach, it’s a way of life. It’s in the schools, it’s on the streets, it’s down the beach… it’s everywhere.”
And it’s most definitely at Girvan Youth Trust. Check it out!
For more information, visit www.girvanyouthtrust.org or find them on social media.