Dorset groups: The Dorset Youth Association
Isabella Eastwood and Jennifer Palmer reflect on the DYA, whose motto is ‘Inspiring young people in the community and the community in young people’
Published in November ’13
Since its creation in 1943, the Dorset Youth Association (DYA) has inspired young people to work as a unit for the benefit of their community and to see themselves as members of that community. Its programme of informal education, positive participation and volunteering promotes personal and social development and has had a significant impact on the lives of thousands of young people across Dorset. Over sixty clubs and groups have profited from a wide range of support over the seventy years of DYA – an anniversary which was celebrated at a garden party with HRH The Earl of Wessex as the special guest – and it is a continuing process. Leslie Phillips, President of Dorchester Youth Club (one of the affiliated clubs of DYA), says, ‘We’re now even seeing grandchildren of members who started out at Dorchester Youth Club. These young people are so important to Dorchester.’
DYA was established in 1943 by the ‘great and good’ to provide activities for World War 2 evacuees and young people living in Dorset’s many communities. Wally Gundry, a vice-president of DYA, was one of those evacuees and has worked for the organisation for over fifty years. He told us about the interclub competition, Quicksilver, which involved clubs participating in challenges in order to gain points and win the coveted trophy. Challenges included ‘pushing your leader up the High Street in a bed’. Wally played a key role in the building of DYA’s current HQ at Lubbecke Way in Dorchester and was a very popular activity leader, spending most of his weekends taking young people to DYA’s former Outdoor Education Centre, Baggator on Dartmoor.
Pam Seaton, the President of DYA, played a lead role in establishing Routes Advice Centre in 1997 and explains how important it was in helping many young people who asked DYA for support to see their way forward. She adds that she is ‘very proud that some of the youngsters who came to Routes are now leading secure and positive lives and some have gone to university.’
Young people from the Weymouth Young People’s Union, staff and volunteers at STEPS, members of Dorset CC and DYA worked together and successfully raised over £3 million to develop the new STEPS Youth Centre in Weymouth, and this centre is now open to support young people seven days each week.
DYA has developed the services it offers through necessity and financial imperative and continues to believe in the importance of supporting small voluntary youth clubs, but it also now attracts the funding to deliver large-scale projects that support some of the most vulnerable young people and families in Dorset. The Dorset Young Remembers project, for example, explored the simple but important story of youth clubs over seven decades of DYA. Twenty young people worked for an aggregate of 1400 hours over the fifteen-month project (supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund Young Roots Fund), producing a range of multimedia, a visual timeline, fascinating artefacts and comic-style graphics and videos to exhibit the story at the Dorset County Museum.
At the end of the project, young people were determined to develop further opportunities to discover more about the heritage of Dorset. Supported by Project Officer Lorna Johnson, the group raised £40,000 to deliver an exciting new project, ‘Walking in their shoes’, part-funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The core group used the skills that they learnt in the previous project to help other young people and communities to discover more about their local heritage and to focus on the interpretation of heritage in a fun and creative way. The end result will be an interactive GPS trail from Salisbury to St Aldhelm’s Head, walking in the shoes both of World War 1 soldiers and of the first Bishop of Sherborne, the Saxon monk St Aldhelm.
Loders Youth Club members were asked why they attend youth club and what they enjoy the most about it. They presented brightly coloured posters, the majority of which displayed one of two single words – ‘FRIENDS’ or ‘FUN’; without these, a youth group could not survive. Nor indeed without their inspirational leaders. Tina Cornish has played a significant role in providing fun and friendship by leading youth groups for over thirty years. Douglas Barrett decided to become a volunteer at Routes because ‘It’s fun and I get to meet new people.’ Liz Silk has been an adult volunteer for two years and has been ‘very impressed with the level of expertise that the staff have’, as well as the young volunteers who are ‘a delightful group who share their many skills and support each other.’ Ray Seymour has been working with young people for over seventy years and his inspirational work and determination has been central to the continuity of DYA. He ran Bere Regis Youth Club for many years and did a sponsored walk to raise the money to buy the old Women’s Institute hut, which was used to house the club.
Today, DYA’s network of youth clubs offer a huge range of activities to benefit young people, from hiking to drumming to boxing. Smart Cookies are a mixed-ability group, all with a collective enthusiasm for making food. They particularly enjoyed catering at the garden party this summer. They have produced a recipe book full of tasty treats and meals, allowing everyone to replicate their culinary successes, and these are available at many of the cafés in Dorchester.
Fresh Start is a three-year, lottery-funded programme where staff help 15-19 year olds who are currently not in education, employment or training by giving them the skills to get into these sectors. Project worker Ian Handscomb explains: ‘We offer activities such as rock-climbing and conservation to improve confidence and raise self-esteem.’
Dave Thompson, Director of DYA for ten years, says that the hard-working staff are a multi-agency team which includes qualified youth workers, teachers, social workers and historians. Last year the team raised over £600,000 to support young people, with £40,000 left to raise this year. Dave emphasised ‘the real need for support from local people’ and is keen for anyone to get involved.
DYA will continue to develop with the introduction of two new initiatives – the Family Link Worker Service and the Strengthening Families programme. For more information on these programmes or the DYA’s work, email DaveThompson@dorsetyouth.com or call on 01305 262440.