Waterside Centre in Newbury run by Berkshire Youth is a safe space for young people and the wider community
The newly reopened Waterside Centre in the heart of the town is providing opportunities for young people and giving them a voice.
Youth and community manager Kelly Leach oversees everything that happens in the Waterside Centre and says that the vision for the newly-refurbished building is that it becomes a hub for all those who need it.
“The beauty of this centre is that we can support lots of different types of young people, lots of different characters, provide lots of opportunities and interests,” she said. “We have a little bit of everything and if we don’t already do it, we are either looking for ways that we can or for partners that are already doing it that we can signpost young people to. To create those connections and those networks within the community.”
Every young person has aspirations and the team at Berkshire Youth are working at the centre to allow these young people to tap into their inner talents, use their spare time for good and begin new friendships.
Kelly says that it has been amazing witnessing their journeys from growing as individuals to reaching that moment where they discover their true capabilities and potential.
Here’s what they had to say about their individual experiences.
From summer holiday fun to a dream career in lifeguarding
Milla Brereton, 14, has dreams of becoming a lifeguard in Australia and says her time at the Waterside Centre has helped her acquire the skills she needs to achieve that goal.
After seeing pictures of a Berkshire Youth summer camp on a friend’s Instagram, Milla joined the summer programme.
She said: “I came down and everyone was nice and friendly and I just really enjoyed the sports and activities they did, like kayaking, paddle-boarding, rounders and all of the stuff we can do in the sports hall as well.
“In the summer holidays you just didn’t have much to do, because of Covid there’s not really a lot to do as well so I thought I would come down and try it and I absolutely loved it.”
When summer camp ended, Milla joined a paddle boarding club. In winter she started rock climbing – something she has always wanted to do, but never had access to. It was in these clubs that she found friends and a new-found confidence to push herself to new heights.
She said: “I definitely made lots of friends, it’s boosted my confidence and given me more opportunities. I have done volunteering as well.”
Volunteering was offered as an additional experience for Milla and quickly became a growth opportunity. She began working with younger cohorts, of ages five to 11.
“It was really fun. It was different as well. It was a bit scary to start with as I didn’t know what to do, but then you’re mentored and you’ll know what to do.
“You help with activities, organising them and just making sure everyone is okay. I would definitely do it again.”
She is now due to begin volunteering at the Waterside Centre’s community larder.
She said: “I just love helping out really. I am just more open now, it’s been really nice.”
She hopes that her volunteering, along with kayaking and paddle-boarding, will help with that end goal of becoming a lifeguard down in sunny Australia.
A safe place to stay on a good path
Ashton Duncan, 15, began boxing at the age of 10 when his older brother encouraged him to take up the sport.
Since then he has entered national competitions, reaching the final of the Junior Championships not once, but twice.
Ashton, from Thames Valley Boxing Club, came over to the Waterside Centre last summer when he was in need of a new space to continue with boxing.
“The [Thames Valley Boxing Club] has been moving quite a bit as we’ve not been finding a place to stay, because we just couldn’t afford it.
“It was always hard to get back into boxing and get motivated, but now that we’re here, it’s quite easy to remain motivated.”
He says having a solid safe space to practise has helped him remain focused.
“I found it disciplined me a little more, it helped with my fitness. To be honest, it made me less of an angry person.
“You take your anger out on the bag and still control your temper.”
Ashton says that the sport comes with many misconceptions.
“Some people look at boxing as just fighting or wanting to beat people up, but it helps you physically and mentally.
“It’s helped me quite a lot through that. It can help people get off a bad path on to a good path.”
He says that since coming to the Waterside Centre new relationships have been built.
“I have met quite a few new people and with new coaches, you just get on really well.
“I’m helping them with stuff and they’re actually helping me with stuff that I’m not confident on.
“There can be one thing that they noticed when I’m sparring – they’ll say hey, keep your hands up or move your head a bit more.”
The young boxer has also encouraged those who feel like boxing – regardless of their experience.
“We have all been there. When I started I didn’t have a clue.
“I didn’t really watch boxing or anything, but once you start and keep going you’ll eventually get better at it.”
The sporting hopeful has big ambitions.
“I want to carry it on and, hopefully, this year win the national championships. After that I want to box for England and eventually go pro.
“A few boxers from around here have gone really far in the sport and succeeded quite well. It makes you feel like you can do it too.”
For now though, he is going to stick around at the Waterside Centre, focus and perfect his craft.
“I want to go to a sports college and that would help get my career up.
“I’ve been learning different ways that people box and now can perform better.
“My confidence built from experience really. It’s really put something in my head that no matter what, if you lose a fight it doesn’t matter, you can still succeed and build up.
“You can look back at a fight see what you’ve done wrong and work on it.”
A place to boost confidence and meet new people
Mostyn Isaac, 14, became aware of what the Waterside Centre had to offer a year ago when Kelly paid a visit to his school.
“They told me about it and I came down. It was somewhere fun to meet new people, be safe and make new friends.
“Through boxing and rock climbing I have been speaking to people and you just get along with everybody. It’s so fun.”
The shared interests of his companions has meant that conversing has been made easier. “When you go climbing, everyone is there and they’re all just talking.
“It’s helped me at school. You talk to people who you don’t normally talk to, you don’t feel judged.”
“I had done the climbing before, but I didn’t do boxing. It was definitely fun. I like sports, but I didn’t know how much I would enjoy boxing.
“The first session was fun, you just get involved. I came in summer for a couple of months. Now I would give more events a go.”
Sports like boxing can offer young people a release of whatever stresses and worries may be building up within them.
“It helps me quite a bit keeping my anger under control,” he commented.
“Just give it a go the worst thing can happen is you won’t enjoy it, but on the flip side, the best thing could happen and you could make new friends, it’s a nice fun place to be.”
He needed someone who really understood him
Mamadou Barrie, 15, considered giving Waterside a try when he met Colin Leslie, a Berkshire Youth youth worker who noticed he was struggling at school.
Colin became a mentor and confident for Mamadou, who he felt needed to fill his spare time with something positive and so he invited him to give boxing a try.
Mamadou said: “The first time I came over here I just wanted to get a feel for it. I had always watched boxing, but I didn’t realise how intense it was going to be.
“But there were people a similar age, I did a one-on-one with someone and we got on. I really enjoyed it.”
Mamadou is now rolling with the punches and Colin said he sees him going on to amateur boxing in the long term and wants to push him to harness his boxing skills.
He said: “I think he will do really well, so much so that he’s already helping us to train the younger ones.
“Right now he is still concentrating on himself, but he’s had a little taste of training others.
“He has learnt a set of skills and now he is using those skills to help those younger ones.”
Mamadou also said Colin has allowed him to understand himself more.
“When I tell him stuff he can relate he can understand. The first time we met, he understood what I had been through other people don’t get me, I just don’t get the same vibe.”
Colin is proud of what Mamadou has achieved: “It’s all about having representation. I have been where he has been.
“I have an understanding and can say I know what you are going through.
“There is nothing I wouldn’t do to help him if it means him excelling, keeping out of trouble and staying in education for as long as he can, being the best that he can be.
“He is a smart kid. He hasn’t been allowed to flourish, it is about keeping in contact with him, keeping him positive and making the right decisions.”
Mamadou said he has always had school friends and never struggled academically, but he never seemed to enjoy school in the way that other young people do.
“School’s not for some people. I was smart, I had friends I just didn’t like school. I don’t know why but I just didn’t like it.”
Despite these struggles, he has aspirations for the future and is considering university.
“First of all I have to go to college or sixth-form. For A-levels I am thinking of taking English language, English literature, and business studies. I have always been good at English. I used to read in primary – kids would be on phones, but I was that kid who used to be reading.”
Colin has also noticed a shift in Mamadou’s behaviour and overall mindset.
“He’s come out of his shell and is more confident. He is more adaptable to certain situations, meeting people and his narrative has changed now.
“He’s still young, he’s still working on himself.”
The doors are open so pop in for a coffee at Colline’s Kitchen and have a chat with a member of the friendly members of the team to hear about what they have to offer.
For more information about the Waterside Centre, Waldegrave Place, Northbrook Street, Newbury, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (01635) 018500. Or visit their website
The Waterside Centre is open to all and offers opportunities beyond sports for young people – it is the home to a newly adapted community larder and is an open space for other community groups to engage and socialise.