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  • Writer's pictureGerard New

Time Flies When You're Having FUN!

That’s what we’re about.  Not time travel, of course, Fun!!  Enjoying the outdoors in whatever way you like, at whatever level you like, has to be the mantra for anyone wanting to promote the outdoors.  We prefer to describe our work as ‘doing stuff outdoors’, or, to use language more usual for Tyneside, ‘we’ll dee owt to get out’, so long as it’s fun and outdoors we’re up for it.  Over the last ten years, yes it has been that long, we’ve climbed, canoed, hiked, camped, surfed and dive-bombed in waterfalls, all things that sit well on an outdoor enthusiast’s list of ambitions, however, we’ve also played hide and seek - even on bikes, played tag/tuggy/tiggy/ratty (who knew that game had so many names?), played capture the flag, built sandcastles, flown kites and we’ve not even started on the range of ball games we do most weeks in Hodgkin Park or Walker Park.

Setting out as a new charity 10 years ago was tough. We were just starting out while the youth sector was crumbling all around us.  We quickly learned that being new wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be and funders didn’t only like new projects, but it did have it’s benefits.  We could adapt our work to fit what young people wanted and it wasn’t long before we found ourselves exploring, or maybe even discovering, ‘BMX Archaeology’, with a former colleague at Archaeosoup Productions. The result of this work is our Temple Raiders, best described as a youth club on bikes, in South Shields, again ‘doing stuff outdoors’ and having as much fun as we can on bikes.  Rolling on from exploring a 1980s BMX track the group now has access to our very own TO bike.  The idea of a bike shop was never on the list of things to do, it happened because it was needed to help young people stay active on their bikes and working from the back of a car in the freezing cold park in the dark was no longer cutting it.  As well as providing a much-needed community resource we now provide a twice weekly Young People’s Bike Repair Drop-in where young people can get hands-on support to fix their own bikes as well as our weekly Temple Raiders youth session.

Whilst our work around cycling with young people has cranked up our work in South Shields, we also work, and have done since 2014, in east and west Newcastle.  Our focus here is at the core of TO’s youth work, ‘doing stuff outdoors’, in local parks, Hodgkin Park and Walker Park. Having ‘fun’ outdoors is the perfect incentive for young people to engage in physical activity - racing across a field in Camouflage (hide and seek at speed) or playing Ultimate Frisbee, Basketball, or trying to balance on our Slackline is pretty tiring stuff and great fun.  ‘Fun’ is essential to good mental health, it is for all of us, and we firmly believe that having fun is a great way to help young people enjoy ‘a great growing up’.  We take that to mean that your time growing up should be enjoyable, and importantly, memorable.  Many of the young people who have been part of TO over the last 10 years will attest to the great memories of times with their groups - riding a BMX Race, cooking pancakes on Simonside Hills, jumping in Linnhope Spout, paddling canoes up the River Coquet to Warkworth and jumping out mid-river for a swim, cycle speedway racing - on bikes with no brakes!, mountain biking in Chopwell Woods, and a whole lot more.

Through all of these activities runs our ‘Youth Work’, supporting young people to learn and develop as individuals as they enjoy some great activities outdoors with other young people, having ‘a great growing up’.  Whilst onlookers may see young people having fun, riding bikes, playing games in the park and think nothing more about it, maybe even dismissing workers’ efforts as “just playing games”, it’s not.  We’re engaging with them on their level, holding and sustaining conversations with them, developing trusting relationships with them.   It’s ok though, we’re used to people not seeing that bit and maybe it doesn’t matter that they don’t get it.  However, it matters when young people are seen as ‘up to no good’ Here’s one comment from a social media post this Easter about the poor state of Walker Park, “It breaks my heart to see it the way it is now it's full of teenagers on an evening something needs done asap.”  We do need our parks to be cared for but we also need our ‘teenagers’ and all children and young people to be cared for too.  A park full of teenagers?  I wish that it was true. It’s not.  Young people, and younger children too, are spending less time outdoors and playing out than ever before and we don’t need a pandemic to remind us of that fact, the statistics are staring us in the face, 47% of children in Walker are classed as overweight or obese!   Taking time to talk with young people, to understand their lives and to support, challenge and encourage them is where our youth workers do their work.  The relationships between young people and their youth workers is not simply to be a provider of fun, it’s the conversations that take place before, after and during the fun that helps to make a difference.  Our Youth Workers are aiming to help young people to have ‘a great growing up’, wherever they live, by simply being there, enjoying their company and having fun, ‘doing stuff outdoors’.  Let’s hope we can continue to build on this for the next 10 years.

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