By Angela Kelly

BOLTON Lads and Girls Club has been leading the way in offering individual help and support to often troubled youngsters for more than 20 years.

In that time, 3,152 children and young people have benefited from the club’s award-winning Mentoring Service. Today – National Mentoring Day – provides an opportunity to highlight the benefits it gives to scores of local youngsters every week.

The service was started by BLGC’s current CEO Karen Edwards OBE who was instrumental in developing the programme. She realised that more and more young people in Bolton were in need of one-to-one support to enable them to tackle specific problems in their lives.

The volunteer mentors donate their spare time, usually an hour or two each week, to meet their mentee, for about 12 to 18 months dependant on a young person’s needs and situation.

As Karen explained:

They become positive role models for young people. They give them someone to talk to who will listen without judgement or criticism whilst encouraging the young person to experience new activities through safe and fun environments.

The mentors provide advice and guidance and work with the Mentoring Team to signpost to specialist agencies and partner organisations where appropriate.

The volunteers are all ages and from all walks of life. They are vetted, police-checked and given comprehensive training before being paired with a youngster. Then they meet them out and about in the community or at any BLGC site.

Mentors can help their mentees tackle issues head on,” added Karen, “whether it’s dealing with lack of boundaries and routines in order to feel safe, their family dynamics or to help them cope with their emotions and how to deal with them.

“For many, mentors are a positive reinforcement to help build their confidence and resilience to help them make strides towards their own personal goals.

The mentor receives support and supervision from the Mentoring Team and there are also events for mentors and mentees to go to.

Ollie Birchall is a local businessman who wanted “to give something back.” For the past 10 months, he has been mentoring Tom, aged 14.

Ollie takes Tom to various places and he has noticed how his confidence has developed over time. “His carer also says his behaviour at school has improved – especially on the day he’s seeing me!” added Ollie.

He realises that Tom has a long way to go but feels he has already changed to some extent. Ollie enjoys the mentoring experience –

It can be challenging but there is always someone at the end of the phone to talk to.

There are a lot of kids in unfortunate situations and it’s not their fault. There’s no point sitting at home questioning society without doing something about it.

For Looked After children and Care Leavers, mentoring offers an opportunity to build a trusted relationship with someone outside the care system and to be a listening ear.

Lincoln is 20 and has been mentored for the past year and a half by Jackie Lord who actually works at BLGC. He was in care for five years and felt in need of the extra support that mentoring offers. “I suppose I wanted someone to talk to,” he explained. “I also wanted to do stuff with them and Jackie has been great.”

Lincoln is transgender and, since he came out just over three months ago, Jackie has proved helpful in finding specialist support services and attending with him. “Yes, it has made a difference – it’s given me more confidence,” added Lincoln. “And we just get along anyway.”

Commented Jackie:

Lincoln is great and I’ve learned so much with him. I strongly believe in the Mentoring Service and it’s really satisfying to see the difference it makes to the young people.

Bryan is 12, from a large family, and has been seeing his mentor Cathy Pilkington regularly since March. Bryan chose to go on the scheme because he thought it would be nice “to have someone to talk to and to go out and about with.”

That has taken the chatty pair to the cinema, cafes, car showrooms and airports. “I let Bryan drive what we want to do at our weekly meetings,” explained Cathy, a businesswoman with three children. “He’s very interested in cars and planes so we’ve gone to quite a few places including Manchester Airport and Barton Airport.”

Cathy believes mentoring “gives a lot back to mentors – it’s very rewarding”. Bryan enjoys the time when someone focuses just on him and his personality now shines through.

There is, however, always a lengthy waiting list for youngsters referred to BLGC’s Mentoring Service. The club is looking for 50 volunteers to mentor some of the most vulnerable young people in Bolton.

•To find out more call 01204 540139 or go to www.blgc.co.uk

Caption 1: EASY RELATIONSHIP – Mentee Lincoln with mentor Jackie Lord

Caption 2: FUN OUTINGS – Cathy Pilkington chats to her mentee Brian