Potential to beat the odds

The UR Potential community interest group for young people at the Claremont First Steps centre, Blackpool.  L-R Debbie Terras, Meree Nicolau and Linda Markey.
The UR Potential community interest group for young people at the Claremont First Steps centre, Blackpool. L-R Debbie Terras, Meree Nicolau and Linda Markey.
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Linda Markey is out to leave her mark on a generation of youngsters who might otherwise be – wrongly – labelled no hopers. You have potential, she tells them, from her new base in Claremont First Step Centre on Dickson Road, North Shore.

There are a million young people, aged 16 to 24, out of work, and rapidly running out of hope right now.

Linda’s impressed by the fighting spirit of such as Jody Martin-Roberts, former care worker, who hopes to develop further skills to work with vulnerable people with special needs or mental health issues.

To date, he has racked up 460 job rejections since last March.

Or Charlotte Kalthoeber, 18, who, two years ago, secured funding to protect a youth project in South Shore, and now wants to be a specialist youth worker, after several years of voluntary support. The pity is many schemes set up to support youth are fighting for funding in order to continue fighting that corner.

Linda’s been there herself, made redundant from at least two specialist youth posts.

Rather than take it personally, she’s set up a new community interest company, UR Potential, with fellow expert in the field, Deborah Terras, who are both qualified youth and community workers.

They have 40 years’ combined working experience within voluntary, statutory and private sectors. They can draw upon qualified trainers, delivering courses for young people, children and families, from drugs awareness, safeguarding and health safety, through to the all important employability.

The pool of expertise, including voluntary support, is enviable. Others involved include Pat Naylor, who set up and developed Blackpool’s V Involved for three years, and has 17 years’ experience of managing and working with adults and young people with disabilities, Meree Nicolaou, who specialises in learning support, and Jan Aitkenhead, who has worked in local hostels, and managed youth volunteers.

Together they have also set up a new volunteering programme, Fylde Coast Be Involved, bridging some of the gaps left by the loss of Millennium Volunteers and V Involved.

The network includes specialists with fantastic skills, effectively edged out of work they love by cutbacks but who wish to continue, because – as Deborah puts it: “It’s a vocation, a labour of love.”

Linda led the Fylde’s Millennium Volunteers for eight years until push came to shove. MV was Tony Blair’s Big Idea, pre-Cameron’s Big Society, to encourage disenfranchised youth, kids falling through society’s safety nets, to realise inherent worth through charity and community work and other projects developing potential. It worked well, too, well, until funding and impetus ran out, and Linda, and others, got their marching orders. Another job, and another redundancy, in a similar field, followed.

So Linda became her own boss. Community interest companies combine the best of both charitable and profitable worlds – able to make money, so long as the cash is ploughed back into enterprises which benefit the community they serve.

UR Potential is said to be the only Fylde coast-accredited training community interest company offering such a wide range of courses with those crucial certificates as the outcome.

The team has been commissioned to carry out a child poverty research consultation for Blackpool Council, in a town so high up the social deprivation league it nosebleeds alongside blighted inner city districts in Manchester, Liverpool and beyond.

“That’s why you can’t walk away from work such as this,” says Linda. “You can’t let redundancy stand in your way, because this town has real issues, and the only way to resolve them is keep on fighting for people who can’t fight for themselves, equip them with the skills to make their own way and realise their worth. Times are tough, people need all the help they can get.”

Linda and Deborah have “up-skilled” more than 100 staff and volunteers working with young people across the Fylde, and have trained Blackpool Young Carers. “When you walk in a young carer’s shoes, it gives you goosebumps at what they do,” admits Deborah.

They also offer Youth Work certificates, Women-Only Employability courses, support a young person’s peer support drama group, Drama Queens, which, with Prince’s Trust funding, is on with a knife crime production with youngsters in Brighton to raise awareness in seaside resorts.

The last word goes to Ben Simpson, 21, who was living in an hostel, until bribed, with pizza, by Deborah, to help make a homeless DVD and explore his potential to become a youth worker.

“It was ham and pineapple,” he admits. “Maybe the coalition Government should consider a pizza policy...”