LAST year, children’s charity the Brathay Trust took over the running of two Wigan Council-owned outdoor centres in the Lake District.
With more than half a century’s worth of experience inspiring young people to engage actively with their community, the trust’s staff were the ideal candidates to continue the traditions of the council’s celebrated centres.
But in addition to their residential courses, Brathay offers opportunities to children on the verge of “slipping through the net” of mainstream education.
And their staff at the Wigan base of their North West operation - located in the Investment Centre - are keen to stress the dual role the charity plays and that their services are there for those who need it.
“We want to build on what those places give to the people of Wigan,” said business development manager Karen Day.
“This is my home town and I went on one of the residential stays when I was at school. I think everyone in Wigan did.
“That’s the legacy we want to maintain. It’s what got me into youth work in the first place and we want to keep it going through Brathay.”
Up until last year, the two outdoor centres were run by Wigan Council, giving the borough’s schools access to outdoor pursuits against the backdrop of the picturesque surroundings of the Lake District.
Thousands of Wiganers will have had their first outdoor activity experiences at Hinning House and Low Bank Ground in their youth. And for many, it will have been their first opportunity to visit the Lake District.
Giving young people the chance to visit the National Park dovetails perfectly with the reasons behind why the Brathay Trust was established.
Trust manager Mark Bushell said: “Brathay has been working with young people since 1946.
“We carry on the tradition set by Francis Scott, an entrepreneur who purchased a country house on the side of Lake Windermere to benefit young people from the North West.
“He realised that youngsters from these traditional mill towns may not have had the opportunity to visit somewhere like the Lake District. We think everyone should have access to places like that.
“So we deliver programmes all over the country for children to come and have residential courses in the Lakes to broaden their horizons and help with their education and development.”
The Trust also offers programmes to children with troubled backgrounds, who may be immersed in gang culture or who may be involved in anti-social behaviour.
Mark said: “A lot of the schools, like the ones in Wigan, who come up to the centres will do outdoor activities to help the development of their children with perhaps leadership skills or working as a team in a fresh environment.
“But we also do a lot of work with children with behavioural problems. Sometimes a change of scenery and surroundings can have a significant effect on their state of mind.”
And while the Trust is keen to make organisations and local authorities aware of their services, it is not their philosophy to impose themselves where they feel they are not required.
Instead, their courses to help young people engage with their communities are on offer for housing associations, schools and councils should they feel them to be necessary.
In the North West, Brathay has programmes set up in Preston, Warrington and St Helens, although they are keen to keep developing links in Wigan.
Karen said: “It’s about not muscling in on locations where good youth work is already going on. Especially in today’s economic climate. That’s not the way we work in setting up partnerships.
“Wigan’s got some good work going on at the moment, especially with the Youth Zone about to open. Morally, we need to be careful not to just parachute in.
“We’ve started linking up with the Youth Zone and other organisations in the town, we want to build these relationships.
“We truly and passionately help young people reach their full potential. If we are looking to build a partnership with an organisation or school and they think they’re all right but will keep us in mind, that’s fine.
“We want people to know that we’re there if we are needed.”
For Mark and Karen, the opportunity to play a positive role in the development of young people is one which makes them show particular pride in the work for the Trust.
Mark said: “We have 50 to 60-year-olds coming up to our centres in the Lakes saying they were here decades ago and tell us that their experiences were significant moments in their lives.
“That’s incredibly rewarding, and I’m sure it’s the case for the people of Wigan who have been to Hinning House and Low Bank Ground.
“Working with these young people who have been part of gang culture or have they dealt a really bad hand, seeing them turn things round: that’s why we do it.”
Karen said: “I feel blessed. I think working for Brathay is more than a job and becomes part of you if you’re passionate for helping young people.
“To design a project from start to finish with one of our partners, securing the funding, and then seeing the impact it has on the young people is very rewarding.
“Whereas in the past, Brathay would traditionally parachute young children into a residential stay, we now have the support network set up for them when they return to their community, through our tailored community programmes.
“Before, the people who have these inspirational experiences in the Lakes would then return to their old surroundings and after a while the effect would wear off.
“Now we can help them actively engage with their community and ensure the residential course has a lasting effect through their lives.”