Striving to make Irvine a better place for young people
Irvine’s Youth Legacy Centre opened its doors at Unit 2, Bridgegate in December 2022. Since then it has helped hundreds of young people with a variety of issues ranging from simple boredom to more serious mental health concerns.
Youth Development Worker, Morgan Blackie, tells me more about the charity.
“Before we picked this unit, we were doing engagement work on Friday nights, looking to see where the young people were hanging about, plus a lot of consultation work with the communities. This showed us big groups of young people hanging around the town centre, that was why we needed something more central.”
It was apparent that young people were leaving their own residential areas to congregate in Irvine town centre, leading to both behavioural and safety worries.
“That’s what this is about, providing a safe space for them to come where they can still be with their friends and still be in the area they want to be in.”
The charity runs a number of different groups seven days a week, targeting young people of all ages and backgrounds, but predominantly those aged between 11 and 16.
“We have an LGBT group focused on the LGBT community… and we’re involved with the Equalities Project with North Ayrshire Council, basically looking for equality for all protected characteristics. We’ve also got mental health groups like Mindful Monday which is mindfulness and resilience.”
In this particular group, drama is often used as a way of encouraging young people to address their problems, as Morgan explains: “They find it easier to put them in a drama scenario rather than sitting and talking.”
Tuesdays and Fridays play host to a regular youth group which concentrates on specific issues that affect young people such as drugs, alcohol and vaping.
“The age that they’re doing it at is getting younger and younger. There are so many aspects as to why… including boredom. There’s nothing for them to do. They’ve literally got nothing apart from our youth centre.”
Morgan continues: “On a Wednesday, we’ve got a girls group, looking at building healthy relationships and discussing safe sex. We’re also hoping to deliver a tots programme soon.”
The girls recently applied for funding and, as a result, were able to enjoy go-carting and bowling at The Garage in Kilmarnock. Not to be outdone, the boys have plans of their own.
“The boys are looking at running a community project. There are a few options. It will probably be something quite small but it will be big to them to be able to give something back.”
On Saturdays, a detached youth work team hits the streets of Irvine for up to two hours, speaking to young people and helping them with any issues they may be facing. And Sundays is for ‘Chat & Chill’ where the centre is opened up to provide youngsters with a space to chill out.
“We provide a hot meal at that,” Morgan confirms. “This week it was pizza and hot dogs. Some weeks it’s toasties and soup, or pasta and garlic bread. It’s just a wee bite to eat for them.”
Due to space limitations, these Sunday sessions are capped at 30 attendees. The number of young people registered for this particular activity is 76 and the total number of youngsters who have registered with the charity since January is 227, demonstrating the demand and need for its services.
“We can see there are young people out there that have identified that they can use the service. There’s a massive need for it.”
All of the services provided by the Youth Legacy Centre are completely free. Funding comes from a variety of sources including North Ayrshire Council and The National Lottery Community Fund. The Trust also intends to raise money through its own fundraising activities.
“The boys group is super keep,” Morgan tells me. “They’re wanting to do a cycle ride around Millport to raise money to get other things to expand the charity.”
Throughout our conversation, it’s clear that Morgan is also super keen. Not surprising since she has been involved with helping the young people of Irvine since leaving Greenwood Academy aged 16.
“I was an apprentice with North Ayrshire Council. I was a youth worker and then a sessional worker. Through both of those roles I worked with Irvine Youth Forum.”
Having taking advantage of the Youth Forum herself as a youngster, Morgan was eager to get involved herself and is now perfectly placed to offer help and advice to Irvine’s next generation.
“There’s quite a few people on our team like that who have all got history with the group.”
The team consists of four core workers plus five sessional staff. Being a two-tier charity, there is also a Board of Directors and then a Board of young people. Together they ensure the charity continues to offer invaluable services to those who need it.
“It’s difficult because if they don’t listen to their parents they’re not going to listen to us. The way that we do it is to have casual conversations… to try and get to the bottom of why they are doing what they’re doing.”
One of the charity’s main projects is providing meals during school holidays and at weekends.
“We’ve been working in partnership with North Ayrshire Council to deliver a school meal programme – a sandwich, a bottle of water, a biscuit and a piece of fruit – for four weeks of the summer holiday. We also thought it was important to put something on at weekends. Before we started here there was a massive gap. There was nowhere for them to go that was warm and they could get a meal.”
Of course, it’s one thing hearing from the people who represent the charity, but proof of its success lies with those that it serves. This success is displayed for all to see at the Bridgegate premises where the young people of Irvine have recorded their thoughts. These include the following:
If I wasn’t here, I would be causing trouble.
It made me change my attitude towards younger people.
It makes me feel welcome and makes me feel like I fit in.
Youth workers are supportive, caring, friendly and understanding.
It’s a good, safe space.
I have met new people and made new pals.
From Morgan’s point of view, this not only motivates her to do as much as she possibly can to help the youth of her home town but also validates her decision to pursue a career in youth work.
“I love it, I couldn’t do anything else,” she declares. “I’m at uni studying community development as well. I’d love to be able to stay here and make it bigger and better. We’ll see how it goes.”
Further information can be obtained via the Irvine Youth Legacy Centre Facebook page.