Building resilience through arts and recreation – support for disadvantaged young people in Somerset

Image courtesy of STAR

From time to time, West Country Voices highlights the work of a voluntary group that is making a real difference for people in the south west. The article below, describing the work of Somerset Trust for Arts and Recreation (STAR), was contributed by its chair, Maggie Forkes. If you know of a local group or charity that is doing good work, and deserves a little extra publicity, please get in touch.

The main aim of Somerset Trust for Arts and Recreation (STAR) is to enable Somerset’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged children and young people to access recreational activities. For the youngest we support activities such as ‘baby swim’ and toddler groups. For older children our funding helps provide access to sports clubs, arts, dance and music groups, youth clubs and uniformed activities, such as scouts and guides. These activities, which many more affluent young people take for granted, remain out of reach for others locked into poverty or dysfunctional lifestyles.

The STAR Charity was launched in 1999 by a small group of social workers and other like-minded professionals. They recognised that a high proportion of the anti-social behaviour, poor educational outcomes and diminished aspirations displayed by disadvantaged young people were linked to a lack of opportunities to access out-of-school activities. The streets were their only playgrounds.

Move forward 22 years and the situation remains the same. In some areas in Somerset it has become worse. Austerity and Covid have meant that many services for children and young people have disappeared or become too expensive for the disadvantaged to access. Entry fees for out-of-school clubs, or activities such as swimming or horse riding, have risen considerably, putting them out of reach for many.

Alongside the cuts to services, STAR also recognises that many youth workers have been made redundant. This has limited young people’s access to positive role models. Nevertheless, STAR is still able to work in partnership with other Somerset organisations providing support for the disadvantaged – for example, Young Somerset, Route 1 Advocacy, Promise Works and Somerset County Council. These organisations are represented on STAR’s board of trustees.

The mental health and wellbeing of young people have been seriously affected by austerity and the pandemic. For the most disadvantaged, the impact is even greater, and we owe it to them to ensure that STAR can continue to meet funding requests.

During the year 2020–21, despite the pandemic and lockdown, STAR still granted 109 awards, representing over 596 lessons or activities. STAR also supported eight group activities, in which 85 young people took part, and paid the entrance fee for ten young people not in education, training or employment to participate in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme.

The impact on many is huge. In one case, STAR funded a young care leaver to attend the ‘Tall Ships experience’. Before attending, this young person had extremely low self-esteem and rarely left her accommodation. During the activity she blossomed, taking on leadership roles and working positively as part of the team. The experience changed her life and she has returned to college, looking to develop a career.

In another example, three young siblings living with an alcoholic parent were funded to attend a summer school. This not only enabled them to have respite from their dysfunctional lifestyle but also gave them the opportunity to have new experiences and learn new skills. As importantly, it allowed them to have fun and enjoy the summer holidays alongside their peers.

Local authority grants are no longer available to STAR. This, together with increasing demands, means that the trustees have to work extremely hard to ensure the charity’s survival. We rely on donations and small funding opportunities. As STAR does not deliver activities itself, but funds young people to attend those offered by others, it often does not meet the criteria of the large funding organisations, such as Children in Need or Comic Relief. This makes it even harder for the charity to seek funding. The sums we require are not large: just £5 per week will enable a child to go swimming; £30 will support a gym membership; and £50 will pay for eleven young people to access a uniformed activity, such as scouts or guides.

November saw the BBC Children in Need campaign. It was also the month that STAR launched its new website highlighting Somerset’s own children in need. Please spend five minutes visiting the site to see how STAR supports Somerset’s most vulnerable children and young people, and contact us if you’d like to know more, or to book a talk about the charity.

Email or call: 01749 822802