An inspirational youth leader who got his life back on track after battling heroin addiction is hitting the road to help turn around the lives of young people.
The award-winning Youth Shedz Cymru, set up by Scott Jenkinson in 2017, which helps its young members to explore and develop themselves, has been boosted by cash confiscated from criminals.
The pioneering project has been credited with steering a number away from a life of crime and it is now established in Denbigh, Blaenau Ffestiniog and Kinmel Bay, and has supported IT Abergele Community Action (ITACA) in creating a further Youth Shed in Abergele.
It went mobile with a Volkswagen camper van converted by its young volunteers and now a Vauxhall minibus, christened ‘Betsi’ and gifted by partner organisation Grŵp Cynefin, is also on the streets.
Betsi can now get going as well thanks to a £5,000 grant from a special fund distributed by North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones, with the cash used to help cover running costs including tax and insurance.
The money comes from the Your Community, Your Choice scheme, also supported by the North Wales Police and Community Trust (PACT), which is celebrating its 23rd anniversary this year.
It is the eighth year of the awards scheme and much of over £280,000 handed out to deserving causes in that time has been recovered through the Proceeds of Crime Act, using cash seized from criminals with the rest coming from the Police and Crime Commissioner.
The scheme is aimed at organisations who pledge to run projects to tackle anti-social behaviour and combat crime and disorder in line with the priorities in Commissioner Arfon Jones’s Police and Crime Plan.
This year there are 21 grants given to support schemes by community organisations, with an online vote deciding the successful applicants from among the many projects submitted and over 32,000 votes cast.
Scott believes getting Betsi out on the road will be a further boost to Youth Shedz’ work and he said: “This will allow us to go out and visit more communities, travelling to different places and engaging with more young people.
“We have worked with a number of young people who have been prime candidates to go the wrong way in life but they have ended up going to college instead. That isn’t just down to me, but it is nice to know we have helped in some way.
“Our work is not just about anti-social behaviour. We engage with young people who may have issues with confidence and we are here to help them.”
Betsi was already fitted out as a mobile classroom, complete with a whiteboard, TV and heating and Youth Shedz staff and volunteers will be taking along food and drink and providing activities such as a new virtual reality project.
“To say I’m delighted would be an absolute understatement,” said Scott, 47, from Llandudno: “It’s a lot of money and this is hugely important for us.
“We are very grateful that people have voted for us. This funding will make a lot of difference and support what we are trying to do.”
Scott’s role leading the project represents a major transformation from the life he once lived.
Now a happily married father to seven-year-old Emily, Scott’s life was previously blighted by addiction, homelessness and even time in prison.
But he has gone on to work as an award-winning tutor and establish Youth Shedz and he hopes his experiences can inspire the young people he engages with.
“I’m grateful for the help certain people gave me when I needed it after being in rehab and that has led to me doing what I do now,” said Scott, 47.
“I want to give people that same opportunity where others may not be willing to.”
The project has gathered momentum, with Scott receiving enquiries from an increased number of communities about replicating the scheme.
“My vision would be to have a Youth Shed in every town,” said Scott, whose wife Sian is also part of the Youth Shedz team.
“Being able to take Betsi out on the road means we can outreach into areas where there isn’t currently a Youth Shed.”
Thanks to the funding Welsh speaker Angela Lloyd, who originally joined as a volunteer, now works at the shed in her home town of Blaenau Ffestiniog and in Kinmel Bay.
Her weekly hours have been doubled to 16 and she said: “I am really pleased that this funding has meant my hours can be increased but the biggest benefit is that we now have a mobile shed and can engage with more young people as a result.
“I really like working for Youth Shedz. I enjoy engaging with the young people in Blaenau Ffestiniog and I am looking forward to meeting the young people in Kinmel Bay.”
Sonia Nicholson, 22, from Colwyn Bay, originally a volunteer, is now also part of the Youth Shedz teams and she said: “I had a lot of issues with confidence and was very much in my own world. I was struggling with my mental health.
“Back then I would not have been able to do the work I do now but I have been helped a lot by being a part of Youth Shedz. I really enjoy being a part of it.”
Youth Shedz was one of the three pan-North Wales winners in the Your Community, Your Choice awards, each scooping the highest amount on offer of £5,000.
The other North Wales winners were the Urdd Centre at Glanllyn, near Bala, and the Domestic Abuse Safety Unit North Wales (DASU).
Youth Shedz’ funding boost comes just weeks after it secured £2,000 from KFC to allow it to acquire virtual reality headsets for use by young members.
The organisation also regularly receives funding from the Steve Morgan Foundation, the Gwynt y Mor Community Fund, and the High Sheriff’s Crimebeat Youth Fund to allow it to carry out its work helping young people.
North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones said: “I am delighted that my Your Community Your Choice fund continues to support community projects across North Wales for an eighth consecutive year.
“This unique fund allows our communities to decide which projects should get financial support through our on-line voting system and the response has seen almost 15,000 members of the public vote for a total of 30 projects.
“These projects help to support my Police and Crime Plan whose purpose is to ensure that North Wales Police is paying specific attention to those points which have been identified as crucial by the public, me and indeed by the force itself.
“Many of you will be aware of the recent Third Sector consultation that I carried out which has resulted in an update to my priorities to include the ways in which we address emerging trends including Organised Crime and the exploitation of vulnerable people.
“As part of this I aim to ensure that a clear focus continues around county lines crimes – a particularly vicious form of criminality that exploits young vulnerable people into a life of crime which is extremely dangerous and violent and from which there is little escape.
“I am delighted to see that a number of your applications aim to address this issue and support our young people.
“Community groups are vital to the citizens of north Wales, and in helping to ensure that our communities continue to be some of the safest places to live, work and visit in the UK.”
PACT chairman Ashley Rogers added: “Your community your choice is a really valuable way of supporting communities and putting the choice of which projects are supported in their hands.
“It’s a very democratic process which is why I think it’s been such a long running and successful scheme.
“It’s lovely project to be involved with and you can directly see the benefits from the funding in strengthening our resilient communities.”
Assistant Chief Constable Sacha Hatchett said: “This money includes cash from assets seized from criminals under the Proceeds of Crime Act. This is a particularly vital message as through the professionalism of North Wales Police Officers and with the support of the Courts, we are able to hit the criminals where it hurts – in their pockets.
“Our operations target all types of serious criminality including cross border crime, armed robbery, criminal use of firearms as well as drug production, importation and supply.
“Those who are involved in serious and organised crime often live well beyond their means, drive expensive cars, live in large houses and frequently holiday abroad; they may well be living lifestyles on the proceeds of crime.
“Our communities continue to play a part in this success with local intelligence information given to our officers that help us to bring these criminals to justice.
“It sends a really positive message that money taken from the pockets of criminals is being recycled. This is turning bad money into good that’s being used for a constructive purpose.”
For more information on the work of the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner go to https://www.northwales-pcc.gov.uk/en/home.aspx