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Man who opened a door 21 years ago to help youngsters
FOR more than 20 years the Canvey Youth Project has provided a lifeline for vulnerable young people on Canvey when they have had nowhere else to turn.
Located in a tiny room just off St Nicholas Church, in Long Road, the charity is small, but its impact on the community has been immeasurable.
Since the youth project was first launched in 1992, around 8,000 underprivileged young people on the island have come through their doors looking for help.
Providing support for anything from homelessness to benefits to debt advice and substance abuse, the organisation provides a vital service for people aged between 11 and 25 who have been backed into a corner.
And the demand for their services is only continuing to grow after the closure of Images youth centre in Furtherwick Road and Connexions on the island.
However, when the project was first set up two decades ago, founder Steven Saxby never imagined it would have lasted so long.
Mr Saxby, who is now a parish priest in Walthamstow, said: “I started the project 21 years ago alongside a man called Tim Clapton, who was a youth worker in the parish of St Nicholas Church.
“He was doing outreach work at the time, and back then things were becoming hard for young people.
“A lot of 16 and 17-year-olds were being pushed into homelessness, so his work was helping to identify those with a real need and provide them with the help they needed. I had just come from university and I wanted to spend some time doing youth community work.
“We felt that there was a real gap in the provision of services for young people which should have been provided by other. So we set up a group of five volunteers and launched the Canvey Youth Project, and some of those people are still giving up their time today.
“Twenty-one years later and it is great to see that the youth project is still going strong, as unfortunately it is still meeting a real need on the island. I never would have imagined in a million years that what we started would still be going this long.”
Mr Saxby believes the demand for the charity will only continue to increase in future years as voluntary organisations are coming under increasing pressure to fill the void left by massive public sector cuts across the country. The future for young people is looking bleak after David Cameron’s announcement at the Conservative Party conference that young people under 25 could lose their state benefits if they are not in work, education or training.
Since last year’s welfare reforms, the youth project has already had to expand to cope with demand.
Last month they received £195,000 in lottery funding to extend their drop-in centre opening hours and launch a new mentoring scheme, offering oneto- one support for 1,500 youngsters over the next five years.
Mr Saxby added: “It was very hard for young people when we set the charity up. It is still hard now and I think it is only going to get tougher.
“With all the changes to benefits and welfare reforms and the problems young people are facing with employment, I think the project is as much needed now, as it was back then, and will continue to be needed in the future.
“But hopefully, as long as the dedicated volunteers continue to give up their time and do their great work, the youth project will be there to help young people in need.”
For more information on the charity, visit www.canveyislandyouthproject.org.uk
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