The Hunslet Club is taking a turn back to its roots with a new youth provision at its Hillidge Road base.
80 years on from when the club was founded during the second world war when many fathers were away in the forces, we’re in another crisis and the club is responding.
The club is probably best known for the scores of weekly classes it runs for toddlers up to teenagers, ranging from football, rugby and boxing through to gymnastics and dance. But it is now opening up as an open access youth provision.
The building will be free to access for young people through until 9pm, whether they’ve attended an activity or not.
Dennis Robbins, the club’s CEO explained:
“During lockdown we’ve had time to think about what we are offering and what we should offer as restrictions are lifted. A lot of young people don’t want to go home after their activity and we don’t want them on the streets. You want to give them somewhere where they’re safe and they’re enjoying themselves.”
It’s been a great success so far with up to 50 children using the club each evening. Even at 9pm there are still 10-15 young people here.
“That tells me that those 15 children that were in this building at that time, need to be in this building, because where else would they be? Obviously they’re allowed to be out, so if we say their session finishes at 7, where are they going to go from 7-9pm? That could be a dangerous place that they go to. For them, or possibly for others, I don’t know. That’s what youth clubs are about, providing that safe space.”
The club provides food, entertainment, pool, games and in the longer term the club anticipates that the young people themselves will shape how it develops.
It’s a big shift for the club. Adults will be allowed in the building for the under 8’s classes, but when they finish at 4:45pm, adults won’t be allowed in because the building will change from an activity centre to a youth centre. It’s a question of safeguarding, but Dennis recognises that they will have to find some provision for parents who are waiting to collect their children.
Whilst Covid has curtailed many activities this last year, the club has never closed.
It maintained its daytime vocational scheme, working with vulnerable young people. It supported the Involve community hub and Dennis drove the van collecting donated food from organisations like FairShare and The Real Junk Food Project to make up the hampers through the first lockdown. The Club also did its own hampers for vulnerable members.
They also took the opportunity to carry out some refurbishments to the building creating new larger activity spaces, shifting the gym and doubling the space of the boxing gym.
In the second lockdown the club took its activities online. When staff noticed some young people were ‘not themselves’ due to anxiety, or other issues, they invited them into the club for one-to-one support sessions.
“I think we’ve done our bit” says Dennis. “We’ve kept doing what we were allowed to do and we’ve supported the families that needed us.”
He tells me able one incident that a football coach working online with under 11s brought to his attention.
The children were copying and practicing various drills and the coach noticed two children, one had a large well-lit garden with a goal set up to practice in, whilst another was working in the stairwell of a block of flats.
“Again, that tells me the need for youth clubs. If that’s the best space that child can practice, probably the parents didn’t want to let him out as it was after dark, so that was the only safe space for him. It’s great for the kids that have got gardens, but we’ve got a hell of a lot of kids who live in those flats and we can provide that safe space.”
Dennis is clearly enthusiastic about the changes. “We’re reclaiming the club” he tells me with a smile.
Junior youth club (8-12 yrs) runs on Monday and Wednesday from 4:30-7pm
Senior youth club (13+ yrs) runs from Tuesday to Friday (Monday to Friday from 17 May) from 5:30-9pm and is free.