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Chloe Rutherford from Cramlington has been one of Children North East’s brilliant Peer Mentors for two years. The service matches young people with a trained volunteer who will help them to look at their difficulties and helps them to come up with solutions to their problems.

Chloe spoke to us about why she wanted to work with young people in the region and what she gets out of the experience.

After dealing with issues of my own I wanted to use my experience to somehow guide young people through their experiences and show them that things can get better.  Since being young I have helped people when needed and I grew up in a chaotic family.

A few years ago when looking at my life and my aspirations I realised it was to work with young people so I looked into volunteering in the area and Children North East jumped out at me.

“They flourish before your eyes”

To be a peer mentor is to give a small amount of your time weekly to meet with a young person over a couple of months to help them reach some goals that they want to work on.

The young person can come from any background and may have some additional needs. You can do activities with the young person to build a rapport with them and guide them with issues they may be experiencing in life.

My most rewarding experience is to see how much the young person grows in a short amount of time you are mentoring them. They flourish before your eyes and the feeling that you have contributed to that is very rewarding.

“You learn a lot about yourself”

With anything you do it brings challenges and mentoring can definitely have its challenges. This may come from the young person not wishing to part take in the mentoring, or the issues that they could be experiencing might not be in your comfort zone.

With that being said, this for me brings more passion to the mentoring and I strive off it. You are always supported with any challenge you experience.

The main thing I get out of being a mentor is confidence and achievement. Just by spending a couple of hours of my own time to help someone else and the impact that can have is something that will stay with me for life. Mentoring has a very positive impact for the young person but you also learn a lot about your self that you would never expect or get from anything else.

Chris Griffin spent a year and a half sleeping on a computer chair and might well have become homeless had it not been for the 25-year-old’s perseverance and the support he received from Children North East and Your Homes Newcastle.

Last month he finally got the keys to his own housing association flat and his future has begun to look brighter.

The debts grew

When Chris’ grandma passed away, he took on the tenancy of her social housing flat. She had brought him up from being a small boy and her home had always been his.

However after losing his grandma, Chris had a spare bedroom, which meant he became liable for the bedroom tax. A mix up about the amount needed from Universal Credit to cover his rent led to Chris getting behind with his payments and his council tax.

Chris recalls: “I was piling up arrears for about four months and ended up with a total of over £3000 in debt.”

Stress and anxiety

He decided to give up his grandma’s flat and move in with his mum and step-dad who were already living in cramped circumstances, which resulted in Chris sleeping in his computer chair at night because there was no bed.

Thankfully a lady at the Jobcentre, who was aware Chris was suffering from stress and anxiety, suggested he approach our Young People’s Service for help.

Fantastic counselling

Chris began working with one of our counsellors, Fiona, at the service’s Graingerville North premises on Westgate Road, Newcastle to find coping strategies.

“I found the counselling fantastic. It meant I could talk to somebody about my frustrations,” Chris explains.

Friends are fine, but in my case I find it easier to talk to someone who knows me less – there’s no judgement then.

 

Chris was also offered mentoring through our CAN (Confident Adults Newcastle) project, funded by players of People’s Postcode Lottery and the European Social Fund, which addresses social isolation amongst young adults.

 

His CAN mentor, Ricky, helped Chris obtain the necessary identification documents in order to open a bank account and took him along to Newcastle City Council’s housing advice centre.

He was advised to apply for a debt relief order or DRO and thanks to our fundraisers, Children North East was able to pay the £90 fee required to arrange it.

Getting his own keys

Getting the DRO not only took away the stress of the arrears but enabled Chris to be considered for rehousing through Your Homes Newcastle. Clare and Sasha from Your Homes Newcastle’s West End Housing Services office sorted out his tenancy agreement and ensured his utility bills were transferred and everything was in place financially.

In July Chris finally got the keys to his own flat in Newcastle. It has its own garden, which Chris is looking forward to planting up having learnt a lot about cultivation down on the Children North East allotment.

Chris really appreciates the help he’s received from our charity and from Your Homes Newcastle. He says: “It’s been so worthwhile. I don’t think I could have asked for a better service.

 “Moving into my flat means I finally have room to breathe and I can be far more organised than I ever could before” 

Kim Ross is a volunteer with our CAN (Confident Adults Newcastle) Project and has made a life changing difference to Omar Akram.

 

Kim, who has a son and daughter and three grandchildren, is studying counselling.  She had completed a year at North Tyneside College when she heard about mentoring for CAN and feels volunteering has helped her skills.  The Project was aimed at addressing social isolation amongst young people aged 18-25 who aren’t in education, training or employment, perhaps because they either lack a reliable support network or have mental health issues.

Omar Akram, who’s 24, found moving out of his parents’ home into a one-bedroom housing association flat difficult until CAN volunteer, Kim Ross, came along.

Omar explained: “It was stressful – there was a lot of hard work to do at the start. For example, I didn’t know how to operate the washing machine when I first moved in.”

But volunteer, Kim, was on hand to help Omar settle in and learn how to live independently by meeting up once a week over three months.

“It’s a really nice experience to know you’ve helped”

She said: “Omar had recently got his own place but he had never looked after himself before so he wasn’t sure how to cook. I helped him learn how to make a stir fry, to do pasta and even chicken dinner.

“I also explained the washing machine. Omar brought the instruction leaflet along to one of the sessions and I underlined the bits he needed to know. He’s a really nice lad. He was desperate to get a job so some of the sessions I went round town with him handing in his CV and we’d do fun things too like going bowling, having a coffee or seeing a film.”

Both Kim and Omar were delighted when he got a Christmas hospitality job at Gosforth Racecourse. Kim added: “It’s really nice to see how the young people progress. They might be starting from a place where they feel stuck and can’t move forward and then they make these little steps – it’s a really nice experience to know you’ve helped them in that way.”

Omar added: “I’m getting used to living on my own now. Can you imagine if I didn’t move out until my forties and still didn’t know how to operate the washing machine!”

Our Newcastle Youth Link Project is supported by Children in Need and players of People’s Postcode Lottery.  This Children in Need day, we wanted to show you how much your support helps young people across the city.

Robson Steele, aged 21 and a recent graduate, has been a Peer Mentor for just over a year.  In this time he has supported two young people; here he tells us about what it’s been like as a Peer Mentor.

Why did you become a peer mentor?

I became a mentor because I loved the idea of helping other young people and being a positive role model.

How did you feel about working with the young person you were paired with?

I have loved working with two mentees over the last year. It’s been really rewarding seeing them both increase in confidence and come out of their shells.

What kind of activities did you do with the young person?

For the first few sessions, I took Ben* for a kick about so we could get to know each other and find out what activities he would like to do in the future. Since then we have been to different restaurants, the cinema and a museum, which have all been exciting and useful in their own way.

Why did the young person need a Peer Mentor?

Ben was referred to Youth Link because he lacked confidence talking to people and wouldn’t access public transport by himself which made him quite isolated. As part of the support, we travelled to the activities by bus and metro, which helped Ben gain confidence in travelling by himself. Gradually Ben became more chatty and outgoing, and now attends the FAB Group here at Children North East as well as taking up other hobbies.

*Names have been changed for safeguarding reasons