A visit to: Centre63
Centre63 is a youth centre just north of Liverpool city centre, serving the communities of Kirkby and Knowsley. They provide both space and opportunities to young local residents: space where they can socialise, get a good meal and relax; opportunities to learn, express themselves and get support in making changes to their lives.
Many of the boys and young men who rely on Centre63 do not consistently engage with formal education. The staff at the centre therefore support them with a wide variety of informal learning opportunities, ranging from functional skills, to outdoor pursuits, to academic qualifications.
For their Listening Fund work, Centre63 want to invest in better understanding why so many local boys and young men were leaving formal education early. Their goal is to produce both a qualitative and quantitative report which they can use to influence how local schools and youth services deliver their services and programs of learning, helping them to better meet the needs of young people who struggle with traditional education. Rutgers University and Liverpool University have supported the centre’s qualitative work, advising on the design of questionnaires as well as data collection and processing, and whilst the analysis of completed surveys is ongoing, on a recent visit from The Listening Fund staff shared some of what they have learnt to date:
1) Centre63’s Listening Fund work has been split into two parts: free sessions with a psychologist, giving young men an opportunity to talk about their lives, needs and ambitions, and a paper-based survey which will add quantitative data to the qualitative information gathered through these conversations. One of the most striking elements of the conversations for the psychologist was the boys’ altruistic motivations; although they enjoyed being heard, most of them initially agreed to take part with the ambition of creating change for other children, younger than themselves, who might yet benefit from systems which better meet their needs. This has been a recurring theme amongst Listening Fund partners who work with young people affected by large, centralised systems (education, care, etc.) – that they share their lived experience to help others, rather than themselves. Whilst admirable, it does prompt questions about systems’ existing listening mechanisms, and why young people don’t feel able to raise their voice until they are personally distanced from the institutions they are critiquing.
2) The opportunity to listen to young people more intently, and to buy-in some external expertise which facilitated more in-depth conversations, has prompted Centre63 to think afresh about what role they can have in supporting local young people’s mental health. Referrals to CAMHS in the area are particularly slow and with young men making it clear that they feel let down by the systems which are supposed to help them, staff at Centre63 are considering how they can work with boys to provide a level of interim support. As yet there are no definitive answers, but the opportunity to undertake systematic, patient listening has helped Centre63 identify an unmet need.
3) The centre have been able to use the impact of their listening to secure funding for more listening work. The local authority has agreed to fund additional sessions with the project’s psychologist, recognising Centre63’s excellent track record of working with young men from Kirkby, and convinced by the value of providing support to boys who in turn help those in decision-making positions to understand how and why existing systems are failing.
The centre’s listening work is on-going and there remains a lot of work to do in terms of communicating the outcomes of what the centre have heard about formal education, as well as designing solutions to any identified problems. However, better listening has already generated significant benefits, for the young men who have been supported with time, kindness, and understanding, and for Centre63 who have an improved understanding of how their own services need to develop.