Home from home

Aspirational Leisure Activities (ALA) provide assitance to youngsters at Kensington Lodge. Pictured is Chance Bonham and Nathan Richardson.
Aspirational Leisure Activities (ALA) provide assitance to youngsters at Kensington Lodge. Pictured is Chance Bonham and Nathan Richardson.
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FOR some children, it is like entering a magic place where they can find a break from conditions at home.

From the outside, Kensington Lodge, on Whitegate Drive, Blackpool, might look like an average detached Victorian house.

But inside is a different world – providing children and young teens with somewhere to go to get away from problems like addiction, mental health issues and domestic violence, which they may experience and witness in their family home.

There are brightly-coloured activity rooms, toys, activities, musical instruments, books, quiet places to go and sit, and a kitchen, because sitting down for a meal is one of the most important parts of the day.

The ‘haven’ is run by Aspired Futures – part of Aspirational Leisure Activities (ALA), a community interest company and non-profit making.

It is totally dependent on the help of many local organisations for its survival.

The Kensington Foundation provides accommodation at Kensington Lodge free of charge. There are no paid full-time staff at ALA.

Carmen Conquer, who set up Aspired Futures and has 20 years’ experience working with vulnerable youngsters, said: “We are one big team. What we do is like putting a child in a pool of loveliness.

“When they spend time with us at Kensington Lodge, they see what home can be like when things are calm. We work with children who live through tough circumstances. We work with very complex families.

“But we believe if we get involved early enough, we can help reduce the problems that lie ahead.”

Carmen was a manager for Home Start in Blackpool, part of a national charity which provided family support in Blackpool, but in September last year, the council decided to take the work in-house.

Half the staff went to work for the council, but Carmen and other colleagues decided to continue their work independently, on the Aspired project. But the charity is looking for funding.

And for the youngsters who use the service, it’s clear what a huge difference it makes.

Nathan Richardson, 15, who lives on Grange Park, has been coming to Kensington Lodge since October.

He had to stop going to school after suffering panic attacks, and his anxiety causes him to not venture out on his own.

Nathan said: “I’ve been excluded from other social groups because I had to leave school.

“I was suffering panic attacks, but coming here has massively boosted my confidence.

“It helps give you life-skills, you can help the younger ones because you understand what they’re going through.

“I like the fact it is a nice, relaxed environment, everybody knows what they’re doing.

“And for me, the fact there is transport here, I get picked up in the car is amazing.”

Chance Bonham, 15, from Cleveleys, has been using the centre for about a year.

He said: “It gives me something to do. It’s good to interact with different people.

“We can help the younger ones by giving them advice, and volunteering is a good thing to put on your CV.”

Keenan Foran, 14, has been going to Aspired for four years.

He said: “It’s like a big family. I used to be really shy when I first started coming here, but not any more.”

Anyone who could help Aspired or who would like to sponsor one of the youngsters can email aspired.futures@yahoo.co.uk or call (01253) 769755.