Youth club's modern sessions helping raise aspirations of Walsall kids
The modern day youth club is much more than a place for young people to meet up with friends after school.
From instilling community beliefs, to a place to vent and just be children for a while, Kicsters youth club in Walsall has been putting children at the forefront of everything it does since it formed five years ago.
It is a digital pop-up youth club for those aged 10 to 18 with a mission to deliver community programmes that meet the needs of young people, empower them to learn new skills and improve their emotional wellbeing.
The small team, lead by Rob Smith, Ben Williams and a handful of dedicated volunteers, provides free weekly sessions for young people from predominantly disadvantaged and low aspiration backgrounds.
Up to 30 children can walk through the doors of Rough Hay Community Centre in Darlaston on a Tuesday evening full of energy and beaming smiles, knowing they get to let loose for two hours each week.
Ben says: "Whatever they want to do we try and facilitate it, from days out, gaming, radio, filming, coding, art - we even did some gardening with elderly residents in the summer and we had them pulling out vegetables they'd planted together in the garden."
As well as the session in Darlaston, Kicsters also run weekly clubs at St Thomas Church in Mossley with hopes to expand if they can secure more funding in the future.
But for some of the children, it is more than a place to play with friends and an escape from the troubles in their lives.
Ella Rounds, aged 10, says: "I've been coming here for four months now and it makes me really happy, I get to do things I enjoy like drawing, dancing and karaoke but it also takes my mind off the things going on at home."
Ben adds: "The work doesn't stop when we leave after the sessions on an evening.
"You get to know the kids and build a relationship, so you help with them deal with their problems outside of the youth club too.
"We see them come on leaps and bounds especially when they take part in the community side of things.
"It's about getting them to start having conversations and build up friendships and trusts, even if that starts with them talking about a game, they will remember that and it builds the next week.
"Once they start to grow in confidence then we can get them trying different activities and teaching them new skills."
Kicsters strive to empower young people to work with their communities and create positive changes.
"We talk about health, what's going on in the world and a lot about how to change things for the better," says 10-year-old Gracie Jones who has been a member of the club from the start.
Their latest project is to start a uniform bank using unwanted uniforms to help support families in Darlaston who struggle to cover the costs of school uniform for their children.
Stacey Deakin, who has volunteered at Kicsters since it started, says: "At the end of the year at my child's school there was a skip full of uniforms, shoes, coats all in good condition that were just thrown away and I just thought what a waste.
"I knew there were uniform banks in other areas but not here and the kids are all on board with it and want to help out, we are hoping that we can open our own uniform bank here at the club.
"It's brilliant seeing the kids all working together on these community issues and helping people who are struggling. It's not just for the kids but also helps take some of the pressure off the parents who are struggling to make ends meet."
Last year the youth sessions reached more than 200 children in Walsall giving them a free, safe and fun place to go each week and the passion from the club's staff and volunteers is set to ensure their work continues for years to come.
Ben adds: "We're honoured that young people have taken to our Kicsters clubs and have taken ownership of it in their communities.
"Thanks to them, parents and volunteers we are able to do more than we could have imagined to support young people and the wider community.
"We're looking forward to seeing what the next five years have to bring as we continue to grow the project."
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