Since starting out in 1894 The Broad Plain & Riverside Youth Project in Bristol has seen thousands of young people come through its doors, going on to become youth workers, teachers, social workers, professional footballers and rugby players, and even local Major.
Long-serving Club Director, Dennis Stinchcombe MBE, charts the club’s enduring success and tells us about how a certain local graffiti artist came to the club’s rescue.
Tell us a little about The Broad Plain & Riverside Youth Project and how you got involved?
“Broad Plain started out as a Lads club in 1894 and as the years progressed so did the various name changes, which included Boys Club, Broad Plain Working With Young People to its present title Broad Plain & Riverside Youth Project.
As you can imagine these days and for quite some years now we opened our doors to girls as well as boys and therefore today we have a mixed gender membership. Interestingly enough we were full of kids in 1894 and a major part of the well-being of the community and we are still full of kids even now, every night, 125 years later.
Leadership has always been important and during the whole period I think there has been around 11 leaders. I for instance am now into my 42nd year and am actually the longest reigning leader in our history and the proof that longevity, consistency and continuity creates a safe and welcoming environment for all the young people who come through our doors. We have a very small generic staff team who effectively run the whole of the centre’s activities backed up by a management board and dedicated volunteers. We actually were awarded the Queens Award for Voluntary Service in 2010 which was a big thank you to all of our volunteers.
The nightly sessions are all youth work biased and involve just about anything that young people would like to take part in, from quiet social games such as snooker and pool to boxing, football and rugby. Today our biggest draw for young people is our boxing section, but we also have a kick boxing group and our very own Maritime Youth Group Cadets.
The day-to-day business is our SPICES Project, this is an Alternative Learning Resource, where we work with students who have been excluded from main-stream education and would otherwise have no education. We use sport as a platform to reengage these young people which in turn keeps them from a life of crime. SPICES stands for Sport, Physical, Intellectual, Cultural, Educational and Social – all the tools a young person needs to nurture and develop.”
What are the main social issues in the community you’re tackling? Are these issues getting any worse or better?
“The challenges facing the youth of today are quite frightening, even though there seems to be more choice available for them. We are in a world where they have so much technology, Facebook, computer games etc that even though it broadens their minds, it’s also a vent which corrupts them, so actually it prevents them from wanting to join clubs such as ours as it may not seem to be cool!
There are many more young people coming from split marriages and/or partnerships, which again causes the youngsters added strife and pressure. And finally schools are very much places where it is fine if they conform, but an ongoing nightmare if they don’t; as they are statistically managed and more concerned about the school’s overall annual grades than they are at times with the young people’s social welfare. Therefore many young people feel out of the loop with nowhere to go and this causes long-term stress and anxieties amongst them. As a youth worker therefore, we are dealing more and more with disaffected, hard-to-reach young people who are desperate for support and guidance outside of their families and friends. We have to be much more social work orientated and very much the advocate for them.
The rewards however are plentiful as there is nothing more rewarding in seeing a young person achieve, develop and grow into wonderful adults. That in itself is a massive privilege and one that I am fortunate to see on a regular basis.”
You’ve had a high profile supporter in the past in the legendary street artist Banksy? How did this come about and what impact did it have on the club?
“We were very fortunate in 2013 when an ex-member ‘Banksy’ saw that we had a funding problem and very kindly put a piece of street art on a door just outside of our club gate which of course was secured. The piece was called “Mobile Lovers” and depicts a male and female embracing one another. However they are both looking at their mobiles rather than at each other – a modern day story, where so many people with a phone tend to ignore everything else that is going on around them!
After a massive battle with the Mayor of Council, George Ferguson, and the piece of art being resident in Bristol’s museum for a few months [some 750,000 got to visit it at the museum] in the end Banksy actually gifted the art to me personally and I in turn gifted it to the club. We sold it for £563,000 to a Philanthropist and after Purchase Tax and royalties, which I might add was the buyer’s responsibility, we ended up having £403,000 into our club’s bank account. We gifted £12,000 to Young Bristol’s seven core clubs to assist them with leadership grants so as you can appreciate thousands upon thousands of Bristol kids gained from this wonderful, selfless act from Banksy.”
What have you learnt from your time running a local charity?
“I have found that running our charity is incredibly time consuming. It’s a never off-duty type of role which can’t just be played at and has to have full and total commitment from everyone involved from the kids to the Trustees. We are always looking to see how we can improve the programme and more importantly how we can fund each and every facet of the project. Communication from top-down and bottom-up is crucial and all involved have to buy into what we are doing. That is, a real belief in the value that it has for all the young people who travel through on their personal journeys whilst growing up.”