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YMCA Norfolk celebrates a night of inspiration

It was a night of celebration and inspiration followed by a word of warning at YMCA Norfolk’s annual celebration and awards event at Open in Norwich city centre last night. Keith Morris reports.

The celebration and inspiration came from the winners of the YMCA Norfolk Your Voice Awards and the heart-felt personal stories of YMCA clients, told in person or via video.

The word of warning came from YMCA Norfolk CEO Tim Sweeting and chairman Richard Pennington, who both warned of the negative impact of new government policies on the young people the Christian charity works with.

The evening began with inspirational stories from YMCA young people, including 19-year-old Rob who spoke passionately about how YMCA had helped him after he became homeless and attempted to take his own life at the age of 16.

“My support worker Daisy really supported me with my sexuality worries and family relationships,” Rob told an audience of around 150. “Despite still not really speaking to my family I’m still looking to build a positive relationship with them over time.”

CEO Tim Sweeting spoke about the last year saying: “YMCA Norfolk works with over 260 young people in housing settings, in addition to the hundreds who we support in schools, youth work settings and in family homes. We are a community of people, passionate about serving others in our local community. We love seeing lives changed for the better and that is what spurs us on.”

Tim spoke about projects on parenting, helping provide affordable accommodation for young workers and providing positive developmental activities and training for its residents. This work has helped YMCA see over 100 young people get into employment and 90 into training and education over the last few months.

Host for the evening, former YMCA resident Taylor Grant Fordham and who is part of the Your Voice project, went on to present the Your Voice Awards, which aim to recognize the efforts and progress of YMCA clients, volunteers and staff.

The Young Achiever Award went jointly to Thomas Hannant and Liam Hall; the Young Volunteer of the Year Award went to Dale Starbuck and Rachel Crawford; the Healthy Living Award went to Toby Hardesty; the Tenant of the Year Award was presented to Stacie Ryan and the Inspiration Award went to Kendall Cullabine, who contributes to the community, provides an inspiration to others and has seen a personal transformation over the last year.

Music for the evening was provided by band Gameplan and young people from YMCA

Addressing the YMCA Norfolk AGM, held straight after the celebration event, Tim Sweeting said: “Unfortunately, the implementation of new government policies had presented a number of threats to our work. Our public sector rent levels will go down by 14% against the previous government rent agreement over the next four years. Automatic entitlement to welfare benefits will be removed for 18-21 year olds and local government contracts will be ending as a result of the £111m cuts they are required to make.”

Chairman Richard Pennington echoed these thoughts, saying: “The real concern I have for the future is about the availability of housing benefit for our young people, the receipt of which enables them to take the first steps along the path of establishing themselves with a base so they can then contribute and thrive. It will inevitably also affect our own ability to meet the needs of the young people.”


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