The development of a youth café led by young people from Springfield School in Drayton, Portsmouth is outlined here by Jo Derham, manager of the North East Community Improvement Partnership in Portsmouth

The North East Community Improvement Partnership (NECIP) is based around a cluster of schools in the Drayton, Farlington and East Cosham areas of Portsmouth. One of our most exciting developments has been the creation of Café Central, a youth café which is open from 7pm until 9pm on Friday evenings for young people aged 11-16 years. This case study focuses on this provision, which was planned and developed, and is now co-managed, by former pupils of and young people from Springfield School.

Audits of community provision and consultation with young people identified that there was limited provision and opportunities for young people in the area. They wanted somewhere local where they could socialise with friends and engage in a range of activities in the evenings. They also wanted this provision to be heavily subsidised and felt it was important to have a say in its development.

We already knew from our work with partners and area-wide consultation with residents that there was a fear of antisocial behaviour from young people. The police also reported instances of
young people drinking under age and engaging in minor youth nuisance due to boredom. Moreover, young people themselves expressed a desire for ‘somewhere safe to go’ on a Friday night to stop them ‘hanging around’ and being moved on.

All things considered, we aimed to find an effective way to keep young people off the streets, out of the way of potential trouble or criminal activity, and offer a resource that would engage all young people, including those who would not typically access community provision. So our task ahead was to: i) create a social meeting place for young people aged 11-16 years, prompted by local young people’s desire for some kind of youth club; and

ii) engage in an approach to reduce involvement in antisocial behaviour now and in the future.

How it all began
We worked in partnership with Springfield School, initially through the school council. This was a great forum to collect student views about the kind of extended school provision they wanted and when they wanted to access it. It was also important to consult with local residents and we did this via a survey and through the work of the Safer Neighbourhood Team serving the area.

Analysis of our consultation data suggested that the informal and undemanding atmosphere of a ‘café’ was considered to be the most appropriate approach in attracting young people to attend. Proposals to take this forward were welcomed by young people and other residents alike.

Young planners and managers
Following our initial consultation with students, we conducted a variety of focus groups to look at the logistics of setting up a café. This was a great way to generate new ideas and consider how to get the wheels in motion. From this work we were able to pull together a group of interested young people who wished to drive the idea forward and, together with other local representatives, they formed a committee and became the ‘Young People’s Action Group’. The group initially discussed and agreed a number of policies and rules in the form of a written constitution; and, as we had a great number of other issues to work through to ensure that our plans became a reality, the group met every Thursday lunchtime for several months in order to work up the whole proposal and the finer details of our plan. As the name of the task group suggests, the work was led by young people. It was paramount that we actively listened to and took on board the ideas of young people and ensured their involvement at every stage as equal and active stakeholders.

Implementing the vision
We thought in the early days about key partners to engage and, working very closely with the police, subsequently contacted colleagues at Cosham Baptist Church, our community wardens, Motiv8 (Motiv8 engages with young people and supports them in accessing better life chances through strategies to reduce youth offending and anti-social behaviour) and the Youth Service.

As an extended school, working collaboratively with partners was already part and parcel of what Springfield did but the opportunities and ambitions of this particular project meant that specific involvement and input needed to be negotiated and agreed. Along with two of our key partners – Motiv8 and the Youth Service – the young people, advised by the adults in the group, were keen to have service level agreements in place for commissioned services, as they felt that this would give them a clear understanding of what services were to be provided, and provide clarity around roles, responsibilities and expectations on all sides. They were involved in negotiating all of this and had a real say in the decision to decommission one of the services when it became apparent that it was too expensive (although Motiv8 pulled out at the end of the first year as they needed to refocus their priorities to work with targeted young people). Subsequently, they led on the decision to recruit another youth worker through our other service level agreement.

Premises and funding
Once the wheels were firmly in motion, we set about seeking premises. We visited a number of shortlisted venues (based upon the result of preferred locations during the consultation phase), and took photos to share with the rest of the young people. It was important to have somewhere central and youth friendly and so we looked into locating the café at The Link which was the preferred choice amongst the majority.

The young people selected this venue as it met their needs in terms of location, space and facilities, not to mention the fact that it had previously been a pub (Cosham Baptist Church bought it in 2002 and refurbished it for church and community use). This was particularly opportunistic as the premises already had a large screen for Play Station 2 games, pool tables, air hockey, a quiet area and a bar area to serve tuck from… not to mention a great sound system. The young people have raised money to install some good-quality lighting, a dry ice machine and some DJ decks, as well as other games systems and accessories.

None of this was going to be possible without funding and so together, we – that is, the young people, school staff, myself and the police – embarked on a fundraising campaign with a difference. We identified potential funding streams from talking with partners and seeking out possibilities over the internet and we wrote funding bids and approached local companies. We were successful in achieving the funds we needed to make this succeed and our successful application to Young Money, in particular, ensured the viability of the first year of provision.

One of the tasks of the committee was to set up provision and offer activities that reflected the needs and wishes of local young people. They embraced this and set up a brilliant programme of provision which we are building on continually. In addition to activities such as computer games and pool mentioned above, there are regular DJ sessions and live bands, competitions, drumming and a range of table top and physical games.

We regularly consult with young people and when some of the girls showed an interest in beauty therapy, we promptly drew on our contacts and set this up. Furthermore, young people identified a range of issues that they wanted to find out more about and so we now offer sessions on topics such as alcohol awareness and community safety. We were thrilled to include this work, as it is feeding their appetite for knowledge on issues important to them, at the same time as contributing to the overall aims of the project around reducing antisocial behaviour. We tend to find that young people do a lot of socialising and relaxing but also learn new skills and broaden their knowledge by listening to guest speakers and speaking with staff. 

Key factors in the café’s success
The youth café is a real success and continues to go from strength to strength. None of this would have been possible without the commitment, goodwill, enthusiasm and drive of young people. Everyone’s investment of time has been key and having regular meetings during the planning stages was essential. Without these meetings, and the composition of a management group, the concept of the café may never have materialised. Time was required to draw up and begin to implement plans and all this was facilitated by an active and committed group with a clear sense of purpose and a will to get things done and see things through!

Another fundamental success factor has been the young people-led approach. We recognised, without a shadow of a doubt, that without the full involvement and steer of young people, the provision would not be what it is today. It would not be as well used and highly thought of and it would not have attached to it the real sense of ownership that young people have. We believe this is the only viable way of achieving something like this and it is essential that all the needs and wishes of young people are considered and valued so that they feel respected as equal stakeholders.

Impact and outcomes
The young people involved in setting up and managing the café have gained a wealth of experience and have developed key skills such as team working, time management and effective communication. They have also had responsibility for handling money, buying stock, organising rotas, prioritising spending, customer service, decision making, speaking at meetings and communicating with a wide range of people. Moreover, they have been involved in raising funding and working collaboratively with our partner agencies. This has involved negotiating at different levels within organisations and designing protocols. These are all tremendous life skills for now and the future.

In terms of youth voice, naturally the young people have very much appreciated being listened to seriously and being encouraged to participate in key decisions. While appreciating what hard work it is to set up something from scratch, they are so proud to be part of the process and have really valued the recognition they have received from school staff, governors and peers. Confidence levels have soared, as has credibility among peers.

What is more, they also benefit from the activities on offer in Café Central – it is their place too and they, like the many other young people who regularly attend, have said it is great that they have something purposeful to do on a Friday evening. We are particularly happy to get through the doors up to six young people known to the police who regularly get moved on when they congregate at other locations in the community. It is great that they are spending social time together on a Friday evening in a constructive way. For this reason alone, we feel this provision is working wonders, as it is engaging young people who would not traditionally access local services. We believe this has been achieved in large part because the café is needs-led and driven by young people.

Feedback from parents has also been very positive. One parent, in particular, approached me to say that they are so very proud of their son, whom they have seen grow in confidence through his involvement as a volunteer. Other parents have focused on the availability of a safe provision where young people can relax and engage in a range of enjoyable activities. Parents and young people alike have stressed their appreciation for the opportunities young people get at the café to discuss issues relevant to them, eg alcohol awareness and healthy eating. We find that young people are also more receptive to messages about health, for example, in a place where they choose to be and feel at ease. There has also been some informal peer mentoring, which we hope to build upon and formalise.

There has also been a real impact in the wider community. The Drayton and Farlington Action Group and Neighbourhood Forum report fewer instances of antisocial behaviour among young people on Friday evenings, and many of the young people have an improved relationship with the police, who are reporting a reduction in the number of under-age drinkers and the number of calls relating to youth nuisance on a Friday night. Indeed, the police community support officer, who is a driving force in the success of the café, has received recognition within the force for his involvement in the café and for his efforts to develop a mutually respectful relationship between young people and the police. Police involvement in and commitment to our work has certainly become a key part of crime prevention work.

What now, and what next?
The café has reopened this term with up to 60 young people attending each Friday evening. Four of the original volunteers (who have now left school) continue to run it, and six new young volunteers have been recruited through an open process.

Now that the café has been up and running for over a year, we are planning for the future. Having set up one successful youth café, there was nothing stopping us – and so a new group of volunteers are now working on setting up a second youth café in another area. Once again, the demand for the provision was identified by young people and the whole process of setting it up is young-people led.

There are also plans for the young volunteers to contribute to other community projects, such as  the Copsey Path underpass facelift – which is great in terms of investing in their area and ongoing skills development. Just begin to imagine their records of achievement and CVs. Moreover, they are working hard to ensure the future sustainability of the café. They will certainly not contemplate losing the provision after all the determined work they have put into setting it up. 

Succession planning is high on the agenda and we are recruiting other young people to ensure that the café benefits from ongoing and growing commitment and support. To date, the young people involved in developing and managing Café Central have been successful in raising over £10,000 for the café, which will certainly help with sustainability. At the same time, the young people are constantly looking at developing activities in the café. This approach of ‘not standing still for too long’ is just what is needed to ensure that the activities continue to reflect the needs of young people, and we are currently planning a programme of holiday provision to be run alongside the café. Certainly, future developments will draw upon an evaluation of current provision – which, need I say, is also being conducted by young people, using a camcorder.

Reaping the rewards
The young volunteers were over the moon to get messages of support and interest from young people outside the area who want to set up something similar. They have a real sense of satisfaction, and rightly so. But recognition does not stop there. We were all delighted when we heard that the young people had won a regional ‘We Can Do It’ award for the best ‘community project’ as well as being shortlisted for a national award sponsored by Deutsche Bank. This is great recognition for everyone’s hard work and determination and also recognises what a great youth facility we now have. It has certainly filled a gap in provision, it is well used and liked, and young people have a real sense of ownership.

In fact, I’d say that the key to the success of this project is the community-focused approach that engenders local ownership and the partnership approach that we have adopted. A great deal of effort and hard work has gone into setting up the café but we are now reaping the rewards and the benefits for the young people who regularly attend. This is what it is all about!