Youth clubs offer “safe space” amid pandemic challenges

Pool-ing together: Youth leaders Nicholas Kelly, Chloe MacDonald and Roddy MacLeod at Broadford Hall.

Adam Gordon speaks to youth leaders about the importance of social and sporting activities amid the pandemic…

“They are safe havens, which are rarely acknowledged as being that precious space between home and school”, was how Free Press reader David Ashford described the crucial role of youth clubs in a letter to the paper earlier this month.

Mr Ashford’s comments followed concerns raised in our first edition of 2022 about the social loss endured by youngsters acutely affected by pandemic restrictions across the past two years.

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Nicholas Kelly and Roddy MacLeod, as organisers of the youth clubs in Broadford and Portree, have an insight into what the clubs offer young people, and the support they provide.

“The Broadford Youth club has been going for decades, since the 1990s anyway, I used to go it myself,” youth worker Nicholas Kelly told the Free Press.

“About 15 years ago myself and a small group of parents kick-started the club again, because it had fallen away a bit. We introduced the football coaching side of it, and as that progressed, it became clear that there was a need for a girls’ group. There were quite a few girls who needed their own space and time, as there were a lot of boys going to the group who were dominating the activities.”

Nicholas said that for several years the girls group ticked over with four or five people regularly attending but it has enjoyed a surge in numbers recently, thanks to the help of Chloe MacDonald who has been taken on to run the sessions and help with the general youth club on Fridays.

He added: “The group we have now is well into the mid-teens, so it has tripled in numbers this year. Through the pandemic there wasn’t a lot happening but through extra funding we were able to get Chloe back on board and we started a walking group last year, and since the winter we have been holding activities in Broadford Hall.”

The absence of social contact, and the impact that this has had on teenagers in the era of Covid-19 was highlighted recently by Portree High School pupil Luke Eveling.

He spoke about knowing friends who during the pandemic had turned to serious drug abuse as a way of coping, with others dropping out of education completely as a result of lockdown.

As well as providing an outlet for youngsters to have fun, take part in activities and sports, and socialise, the Broadford youth club also offers continuous support on a range of issues around drugs, alcohol, social media, sexual health, employment opportunities and training.

Meanwhile, up in Portree, High Life Highland youth development officer Roddy MacLeod is looking to follow the example set by the Broadford group.

The Portree Youth Club launched in September 2021, but Roddy explained the pandemic has meant that attracting enough people has proven to be a challenge.

He added: “Nicholas and I have helped Portree get set up and going, and the great working group along with Emma Gordon who we’ve had as an assistant youth worker has helped get the club off the ground.

“It’s not been easy getting going since starting, but we’re hoping it will pick up this year once things settle down. The aim is to have a safe space to socialise and hang out.”

He added: “We are starting back with a new pool table, table tennis and much more, so we’ll have a good eight weeks of sessions before the Easter break. We are also looking to set up a girls’-only session.

“The success of Broadford is what we are wanting to replicate in Portree.”

Across the course of a week, the Broadford Youth Club hosts football sessions for primary school pupils in years one to three, soccer sevens for P4s through to P7s from across the south end of the island, which is run with Ben Yoxon, football sessions for high school pupils, a girls’ group, and the general youth club night on Fridays which now has a membership of 30-40 youngsters.

Nicholas added: “We have pool, darts, table tennis, PlayStation, TV.

“We also have a communal spot, where you can sit with myself and Chloe and chat. The other night we ended up playing Uno with two fifth years, and three first years, in school you wouldn’t get that.

“We are there to give advice if they like, but it just means they have a safe space where they can talk about what is happening in their lives.”

Images by Willie Urquhart.