Coffee with Luis and Gabriel: Update on The Swan

We sat down with a familiar face and a new one here at Wellspring Settlement to find out more about the new youth programme. Luis has been with us for 20 years but after a recent role change can now be seen working with local young people. Gabriel started with us as our Partnership Development Manager earlier this year and will be working closely with our partners Bristol Somali Resource Centre to make sure the programme meets the needs and aspirations of local young people.

Thanks to both of you for chatting with us, it sounds like you’re both really busy!

Luis: No problem, but yes, it’s always busy here with lots going on!

Gabriel: Pleasure to share a bit more about our plans for the local youth.

Tell us more about that, it seems like there’s been a lot going on with youth work at Wellspring Settlement over the past year or so.

Luis: That’s right. We ran youth activities years ago, and we’ve always had the Family Centre for babies and younger children, as well as parents. It’s really positive to see that we’re working more to provide activities and opportunities for teenagers and young people again.

Gabriel: It’s been great to arrive at this new role and see so much happening already. At Wellspring Settlement we are really putting a lot of effort into co-creating an inclusive and safe space for the local youth.

So what’s on for young people at the moment?

Luis: There’s quite a few ways to get involved depending on what people want to do. We’ve got a free football session every Tuesday from 4 to 5.30 in The Cage at the Wellspring Site. So anyone aged 12 to 17 is welcome to come along to that, have a kick around and a chat. It’s a really friendly group. We’ve also got other groups going on at the moment where young people can come along and get involved in the planning for The Swan development. One runs on a Thursday at the Dings Youth Club from 3.30 to 5, the other on a Friday at our Settlement site, also from 3.30 to 5.

Yes, we’ve probably all seen the building work going on in there. How’s that going?

Luis: It’s going well! There’s a lot to get through as the building itself was quite run down, so getting that structurally sound has taken some time. The building had to be completely ripped out first, and then the roof and walls needed lots of work, but it’s on track to be finished later this year and open as a brand new youth space.

Gabriel: It doesn’t look great from the outside yet, but it is getting there! There have been a few of the snags that you always get when developing such an old building, but the building team from Duke’s have taken everything in their stride and are still confident that work will be finished by autumn this year. They’ve now installed new drains and foundations, which isn’t the most glamourous of jobs, but really important to make sure the building is sound for years to come. Now that that’s done, they’ll be starting to get the inside up together so we’ll be able to have a better idea of how the inside will look when it’s done.

What’s going to be happening in there when it’s open?

Luis: Well, that’s up to the young people really. The planning group for The Swan has local young people on it, and they’ll be making the decisions on what’s on offer, how the space is laid out and what services are running in there. Any local young people who want to get involved are welcome to do so and come along to the group. Hopefully having this input from the young people will mean it’s a space that really works for them.

Gabriel: It’s worth mentioning that the upstairs will be office space for Bristol Somali Resource Centre, one of our longest tenants in Wellspring Settlement, and a very active charity tackling inequality and supporting local residents. WS and BSRC are also working together on the youth work through an established partnership funded by the National Lottery.

How important is it to have a space in the area that’s just for young people?

Luis: Really important I think. We’ve had to put in funding bids to be able to do all this building work and as part of this we asked young people what they do and where they go at the moment. Most of the people we spoke to said they either just go home after school and sit in their rooms, or they have to go out of the area to do other activities. A lot of people said they don’t feel safe going out of the area, they’re away from their safe area. There’s so much enthusiasm for the space from the local kids, it’s been great to see them getting involved with the planning and making it their own. As well as talking to young people, we spoke to other groups who live locally, and asked about the use of the space in a community canvas. Most of the people who responded said something for young people in the area was their priority, as well as activities that bring people together across generations and ethnicities. Lockdown put lots of pressure on families with teenagers who live in small flats, and the anxieties around leaving the house have continued. Lots of families have said their teenagers regularly miss school and stay in their rooms due to this anxiety. Having a local, safe place to go and activities to do will encourage young people to get out more, and build their confidence in being back out in the world.

Gabriel: Barton Hill is a young, vibrant and diverse community, did you that 27% of the population here are young people? That’s way above the national average of 19%.
But like many areas, it faces challenges, especially concerning its youth. In Barton Hill 38% of the children are in low-income families, in contrast with only 19% national average. The unemployment in young people is at a staggering 15%, double the national average.

There are limited recreational opportunities, limited educational support, and a huge need for a dedicated space where young people can come together, grow, and thrive.

That’s where this space comes in. Our vision is simple yet powerful: to provide a safe, inclusive, and supportive space where young people can access a wide range of programs, services, and resources designed to empower them and enrich their lives. We’ll offer a diverse range of programs and services tailored to meet the needs and interests of young people in our community, There’ll be something for everyone here!

That sounds great!

Luis: It is great because it’s not just the young people giving us a wish list. They’ve had the chance to go to other youth spaces in different parts of the country to see how they run and get ideas about what would work for them. They’ve also had the chance to come to meeting with Barefoot Architects and our builders, CW Dukes, to see how a big development project actually works as well. There have been young Somali women who’ve met with female architects or project managers who are in charge of teams of builders and have their respect, so that was a real eye opener for some of them about what’s possible for them career-wise. We don’t just want to give these people a space and leave it at that, we want to give them opportunities they can take forward and build on.

There’s been a lot on the news lately about youth work and knife crime. What’s your take on that?

Luis: Well of course it’s always horrible to read about anything like that happening. It’s important to remember that sometimes it seems like it’s every day, but these things happen in clusters and the chances are that it’s a bit of a coincidence that there were a few incidents in a short amount of time, like any other big city. These young people though have had a tough few years, being a teenager through lockdown is a pretty unique experience and they’re all still coming through that experience. And when they’re finally free leave the house and get back to some kind of normality, they’re facing cuts to youth services all over the place. There’s nowhere for them to go, they don’t necessarily have a trusted adult to speak to outside of their family so they don’t know where to go for support if they need it. What we’ve seen though is that if there are opportunities then the kids will take them up. If there’s a safe space to go then they will go there. And that’s how you build relationships and trust with them so they feel like they can speak to you if they’re worried about a friend or sibling, or if they’re feeling threatened. It’s a long term process, and we’ve got some ground to make up with the people who are older teenagers and young adults today.

We run outreach sessions as well, just getting out in the area to speak to anyone hanging around on the streets or in the parks. You have to make that effort and meet people where they are, not just wait for them to come to you. They’re sometimes not the kids who want to go to a meeting with architects or anything like that, and that’s OK, but we get to know each other, and eventually there’s a relationship. They know where to come if they need a safe space or some support, that’s the important thing.

Is there anything on the cards before The Swan opens?

Luis: We’ve just been involved with a local community day run by Grassroot Communities where we held a 5-a-side tournament in The Cage, which was great. We’re also launching a competition to get young people to suggest the name for the new space. If anyone has any ideas they can fill in the form here and get the chance to see their name suggestion used!

Gabriel: We’re hoping for a soft launch in late summer, and then a proper opening, run by young people as part of our 20th Anniversary event in September. The hope is that the young people will take ownership of this, plan their part of it and welcome in the rest of the community to have a look around at the finished space. There’s still plenty of time before the openings, so get in touch if you’d like to get involved!

Thanks to both of you, we’re all looking forward to seeing how all these plans go over the next few months, and what the space looks like when it’s finished!

You can click here to find out more about the background to the developments. If anyone wants to find out more, or any young people want to get involved in the planning, just get in touch with Luis.