A NEW Stratford organisation is offering hope to young people who don’t suit conventional education and are in danger of becoming marginalised or turning to crime.
New Meaning, a charity offering training and skills programmes for those aged 16 to 24 that is partly funded by Warwickshire County Council, has just opened in a warehouse on Masons Road.
When the Herald paid a visit during its first week we were impressed to see the huge cavernous space being transformed into a stylish place to hang out. This included a construction work zone, boxing gym, kitchen area and various break out zones.
It certainly doesn’t look like any other school or college in the district. And that’s not just where the differences end.
There are no A-Levels or exams, instead students can learn basic English and maths along with life skills – enabling them to live independently – and even boxing. In addition students can learn construction crafts or embark upon on-the-job training while continuing to learn new skills with New Meaning.
The teaching staff aren’t the norm either. They are down to earth, have life experiences and are used to dealing with young people who struggle to fit in.
Former boxer Adam Harper teaches construction, English, maths and boxing. He outlines what’s on offer: “New Meaning is an alternative route for learners who are struggling with mental health problems or might just need to be in a different setting. It is more relaxed here and a very different environment from mainstream schools and colleges.”
The boxing element is a way of offering students self-esteem. Adam explained: “Boxing is a passion. It offers discipline and gives kids a purpose.
“Not everyone can be Joshua Anthony, but it can give you the vehicle to drive you out of bad times. It’s definitely helped a lot of people I know, myself included. If it can steer people on to the right path then that’s great.”
After working as a football coach for 24 years, fellow tutor Nas Sahota, who looks after the work and study programme, reckons he has good insight into young people’s experiences. “As a coach you work with kids from age seven up until they are 17, you see the physical and emotional changes they go through as they grow up – that helps when you come into an environment like this.”
He continued: “We focus more on the individuals too. Schools can’t do that with groups of 30. Here there’s a lot of one-to-one and we treat them more like adults as well.
“We form a bond with them – it’s not like the conventional relationship that kids have with teachers.”
Another tutor that knows about troubled starts is Carl Coleman, who worked at Warwickshire detention centre Rainsbrook for 13 years.
“Working in the prison system you see the revolving door – young people going out only to come back in again,” explained Carl who is the head of construction at New Meaning. “For some of them being locked up inside is preferable to being in their own home, and that’s sad. It definitely got worse when Theresa May shut down all the youth clubs.”
Adam agrees, he continued: “I’m 33 now and when I was at school doing GCSEs a few young people participated in the use of cannabis. Now working with young people I find children in Year 7 using class A drugs and it’s scary. Whatever is happening around the world it’s getting worse.
“With youth funding being cut by the government it’s left them no option but to roam the street, with no real ambition or desire. Now when I ask them how are you going to make money, the majority of them answer dealing drugs and it’s frightening that is foremost in young people’s minds.”
New Meaning was founded in 2006 by David Lett and John Evans who focused on motivating, enabling and facilitating change in young people and those without jobs through a range of programmes.
This ethos is very much being continued by the impressive people at the new Stratford centre.
Adam summed up their mission: “Fundamentally we have to embed a new attitude in the students and encourage them to make the most of any opportunities open to them, rather than being lazy or naïve.”