By Denise Barkley, freelance writer and volunteer

Witney Gazette: Denise BarkleyDenise Barkley

WITH fresh funding now in place, youth work in West Oxfordshire is back on track with a number of exciting projects.

It’s great news for the community and for Witney and Carterton-based charity Got2B – a not-for-profit community interest company set up a year ago by local youth professionals Julie Edwards and Marion Harley.

“There was a massive need for good quality, anti-oppressive youth work before Covid, and now it’s greater than ever,” said Julie.

“Even if the Covid rules are eased, young people have nowhere to go and nothing to do. To say they are bored is an understatement.

“Covid has impacted on their existing problems in a big way, especially with things such as dealing with emotional relationships. We are here to listen and support, however we can.”

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Now with the schools closed in a third lockdown, the services of Got2B are needed more than ever.

“Young people are reaching out to us via our Instagram page, to arrange one-to-one mentoring sessions because they are feeling isolated again,” Marion explained.

“And parents are emailing asking for guidance on how to support their children through this difficult time.

“We have offered a checking-in service to schools and we plan to visit identified families and check they are okay – this may mean signposting to local services or offering emotional support.

“We are also offering ‘walking and talking’ and online mentoring.”

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The charity also has an exciting online art project planned for the coming weeks.

In Witney, Got2B’s funding for two years has come from the Youth Opportunities Fund and will be used to employ two part-time youth workers in the town.

Additional funding from Witney Town Council and Oxfordshire county councillor Laura Price’s priority fund will be assigned to a parent buddy mentoring project which will offer a supportive space in which parents of teens can talk about worries and concerns.

Carterton will be providing the same as Witney through Carterton Family Centre, funded by the Armed Forces Covenant Trust for three years and – for a year – by Carterton Town Council.

Witney Gazette: Marion Harley & Julie EdwardsMarion Harley & Julie Edwards

“It makes sense to deliver youth provision to Witney and Carterton jointly,” Julie explained.

“Young people travel freely and have friends in both places, making good use of the regular buses, so it’s good to have a co-ordinated approach.”

While youth clubs remain on hold until Covid restrictions are completely lifted, support work is now underway at Wood Green and Henry Box secondary schools in Witney and at Carterton Community College.

Subjects the youth workers provide support with include sexual relationships and health, family and friendship dynamics including bullying, drugs education and the risk of drugs exploitation, anxiety and self-harm, mental health, abuse and neglect, anti-social behaviour, understanding emotions and dealing with emotional relationships, risk of school exclusions, gender issues and managing ADHD and autism.

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“There is such a massive need – at least half of the approaches are self-referrals, no-one is ever forced to come,” Julie revealed.

Julie and Marion are the driving force behind Got2B, having worked together since 2006 as youth support workers and attaining honours degrees in Youth and Community Work at Oxford’s Ruskin College.

They were delighted when initial funding allowed them to run a weekly drop-in session for youngsters at The Coffee Shed in Witney towards the end of last year, but when Covid hit, Julie and Marion were furloughed for six months.

With a new batch of funding, they returned to work last October.

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“We aim to engage young people by providing an alternative to anti-social activities – giving them a space and voice with trusted adults, leading to an increased feeling of safety within the community and hopefully reducing crime,” said Marion.

Both Witney and Carterton have suffered with youth centre issues in recent years.

Base 33 in Witney closed three years ago, whilst the Allandale Youth Centre in Carterton was rescued from closure in 2012 and is now gearing up for a brand new era of youth work in the town after a huge fundraising campaign raised half a million pounds to refurbish the building.

Via its strong links with RAF Brize Norton, Carterton also has Airplay, providing youth sessions funded by the RAF Benevolent Fund.