If you’ve been to the Hunslet Club in the last ten years you’ll probably know Donna Hall. She exemplifies the passion and enthusiasm that is the hallmark of the club.
The morning I met Donna at the Hunslet Club she had just been speaking to a young girl who had come to the club’s alternative education provision for the first time. She was frightened and didn’t want to stay, just wanted to go back to school. Donna had talked her through her options: stay and try some classes and we’ll write to the school, or leave now and close down another option.
“That’s what I do,” Donna explains. “I’m a qualified youth worker and I support the young people’s social and emotional well-being whilst they’re here with us. I spend a lot of time sitting and chatting and finding out what they’re thinking, challenging their thought processes, helping them get the best out of their time here.”
The Hunslet Club runs vocational training provision for young people who are not engaging with their mainstream school. Hair & beauty, catering, construction and motor engineering are all offered alongside functional skills (maths and English). The young people come from all areas of Leeds and have many different backgrounds and circumstances.
For many it’s a chance to start again and turn their lives around; a high percentage go on to further education and work.
“It’s great to see them when they come back and visit,” says Donna. “One young woman was really hard work, violent because she grew up in a violent family. She is now 23 and came and worked with us on a placement from college and she brought her baby in when she was born. She wants to come back and work here. I know she’ll make an amazing mum and an amazing worker.”
Donna herself came to the youth club as a girl with her older brothers and the Hunslet Club means a lot to her.
“The staff here are so passionate about what they do, it’s like a family.
“I left school with nothing and when I first applied for a job here I didn’t get it, so I came and volunteered for seven months. Then I got a job as a general support worker, that was ten years ago. The Club encouraged me to get a qualification so I studied part time for four years to get my degree in Youth & Community Work.”
Donna also organises the school holiday activity camps and youth clubs. During the October half term they catered for 370 children over the week. Activity camp is often a family’s first encounter with the club so Donna makes sure parents know what’s going on and are comfortable to leave their children. The Wednesday Youth club has up to 70 children aged 8-12 years and Donna marshals a team of 12 staff, volunteers and students on placement to run the activities.
Volunteers are a central part of the Hunslet Club and another of Donna’s roles is that of volunteer co-ordinator. She provides support and advice, arranges training and makes sure they are appreciated.
“The volunteers are amazing. Without them we just couldn’t do what we do.”
Volunteers come from all over. A lot of parents help out with the football teams, sports students come from the universities. As well as giving something back to the community, volunteering can be hugely rewarding.
“One woman recently left us start work as a Behaviour Support Worker in school. When she came to us ten months ago, she was working in an office and hated it. Another has been with us eighteen months, she’s always been good with the kids, but now her confidence has grown and I can leave to her run the session.”
“I absolutely love this place, everyone who comes in is different, but everyone gets treated the same. And I love my job, it’s very busy but massively rewarding.”