Life choices and chances are about having the support and tools to move forward and develop options and opportunities. It seems a basic right to have choices — but for lots of young people this is not the case.
Leaside provides young people with choices and chances — it ‘opens doors’ and sows the seeds for ambition, it provides an escape and gives ideas. Standing on the bank of the canal watching young people canoe off down the River Lea, shouting with excitement, you almost forget that we are in one of the most deprived areas in the UK. But standing on the bank we could be anywhere and the young people canoeing off or riding over the marshes on mountain bikes are just kids.
For some of the users of Leaside this is a hobby, something that they can do on a Saturday and Mum and Dad can come down to watch — but for some this is their lifeline. This is the part of the week that they are not the carer, provider, trouble maker or thief. This is their freedom. For some they are no longer kids who have been picked up by the police because they are persistent offenders, they are no longer failing students from failing schools — they are just young, energetic and free.
Jason came to Leaside at the age of 12. He was living on a nearby estate, caring for his disabled mother. Jason attended a local school and was painfully withdrawn and shy. A couple of years earlier, his eldest brother was murdered and his father had recently died.
Coming to Leaside was Jason’s outlet – he found that he excelled at canoeing and gradually started making friends. Thanks to Leaside’s Back to Basics programme, today Jason is a Level 3 Coach and he used his qualifications firstly to become a leisure instructor and then for a supplier to the 2012 Olympic Games. Jason still cares for his disabled mother and volunteers at Leaside in his spare time.
Luke is 14, he is shy and very modest — but he is a fantastic canoeist. Luke lives and attends school in Tower Hamlets. Luke is not an academic student but he has organisational skills and the instructional skills of an adult. In conversation he is quiet, preferring to say nothing but on the water he talks about the group — not about himself — but the group, about group safety and group awareness.
‘I came to Leaside with my school, once I had been a few times the staff said that if I wanted to join I could come down regularly. I really like it down here, nobody expects anything of me and so I can just be myself and when I am out on the water I just forget about everything.’
Anna came to Leaside at the age of 13, she was an introverted local girl who blossomed at Leaside. She went on to complete a degree at University and now works as a teaching assistant and hopes to become a fully qualified teacher. She volunteers at Leaside in her spare time, working in particular with our young female members.