Turning over a new leaf at Houghton Regis youth hub

In the run-up to Hallowe’en, youngsters in brightly coloured outfits knocked on doors around Houghton Regis asking people for “stuff”.

But this was not trick or treating or the anti-social behaviour that has blighted the area for years.

At one time residents might have expected their front doors and cars to be egged for Hallowe’en and fireworks let off irresponsibly around Guy Fawkes Night.

But last October youngsters wearing safety-conscious fluorescent jackets collected unwanted items folk could not take to the tip. They also picked up litter other people had dropped.

The group, who might previously have caused trouble, filled two giant skips to overflowing. The ‘Skip Day’ is just one of the ideas they have come up with to make their community a better place.

It’s a dramatic turnaround in the area of Houghton Regis near the Sandringham Drive Youth Hub, which is run by the Aldwyck Housing Group to tackle anti-social behaviour.

More than 40 young people now attend the club and they are led by some of those who might otherwise have ended up with ASBOs.

A representative group of nine Youth Hub leaders, ranging in age from 11 to 17, all from Houghton Regis, have been nominated for the Central Bedfordshire Council Young People of the Year awards.

They are Damian Czerwiak, Kyle Hipgrave, Patryk Czerwiak, Connor Gorman, Hollie Powles, Ria Stanford, Dayne Jay, Chelsea Harding and Kyron McVey.

The group also included Tommy Fisher and Ryan Allan, who recently moved to Luton.

In the past some of these 11 have been warned they were being anti-social, but none ended up in court and all have improved their ways.

Tommy says transforming relations between young and older people is down to simply giving both groups what they want. For the kids that is somewhere to meet, having meaningful things to do and a sense of community responsibility.

YOPEY, in its seventh year, is open to those aged 10-25 who live, work or study in Beds. Entries include fundraisers, young carers, club leaders, volunteers on projects at home or abroad and young leaders who pass on academic or sporting skills.

The teenagers were put forward by Hafi Rahman, ASB and youth intervention officer at Aldwyck Housing Group.

Much of the trouble was exacerbated by kids having nowhere to congregate without upsetting others. Tommy was part of a group on another estate which was always getting into trouble. When he came to Houghton Regis he found the same was going on there.

“Groups were hanging around, annoying people and causing bother,” he said.

But then he met Hafi and colleague Jane Regan, who were running an ASB street project. They told him and his mates they were looking to set up a youth club and would they get involved. What became the hub started in the housing association’s offices and soon attracted members.

“Then Hafi told us the adult leaders would not be around forever and they needed to train up young volunteers so me and some others said we would do it,” said Tommy.

The volunteer team canvassed other young people about what they wanted from a club and they learned how to apply for grants, with Houghton Regis Town Council awarding £400 for equipment.

There has also been support from Dunstable Town Council and Central Beds Council. The club meets on Mondays and Fridays with early Next Generation sessions for seven- to 12-year-olds and then later sessions for 13- to 16-year-old Our Generation teens. Activities include cooking, discussions about health matters, pool and table football and DVDs to watch.

Members clear up after themselves each club night so the building can be used as offices during the day.

Over October half-term Aldwyck’s Connect maintenance team held sessions for club members to learn basic DIY skills ­ – useful when there might not be an adult male at home. To mark the event they created a superb Connect name plate in wall tiles.

There has been a significant drop in ASB incidents and all ASB cases have been closed, meaning no legal action will be taken against the youngsters.

> Beds YOPEY awards ceremony is at the Luton campus of the University of Bedfordshire in April. Nominations close in February. To nominate logon to yopey.org or write, enclosing an SAE, to YOPEY, Woodfarm Cottage, Bury Road, Stradishall, Newmarket CB8 8YN for paper entry form.