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Gillingham Youth CollectiveTwo organisations have won a joint bid for £350,000 of lottery money to fund a five-year project helping youngsters aged ten to 19 in Gillingham.

The charity The Rendezvous and Gillingham Youth Club secured the ‘huge’ funding from the National Lottery Community Fund late last year to pay for a ground-breaking partnership in the town called the ‘Gillingham Youth Collective’.

Key aims of the programme include boosting ‘well-being and self-confidence’, ‘interpersonal skills’ and ‘life and employability skills’ among the town’s young people.

‘Everyone’s delighted that we have brought so much money in in to the area, I’m really thrilled. I think Gillingham deserves it,’ said Helen Da Silva Wood, who runs The Rendezvous, which already oversees a successful outreach project in the town funded by Gillingham Town Council.

The core project will consist of a programme of workshops and activities, an annual summer celebration, a young leaders training programme and a media-makers research and documentary team working with professional film-makers and communications specialists.

‘We will be encouraging the support and engagement of the local community, bringing professionals into the youth work space to share skills, have fun and raise aspirations, making connections across the local community with artists, film-makers and other creatives, community group leaders, health and sporting professionals,’ said Helen Da Silva Wood.

‘It is our ambition that it should become a sustainable project that can continue long after the funding comes to an end in December 2026.’

Ultimately the aim is to have a programme run by the young people of Gillingham for the young people of Gillingham, she said.

‘The grant provides us a tremendous opportunity to try new things and not only do we want the project to make a difference to the young people we work with but also to the town of Gillingham itself.

‘We want it to be part of the annual fixture of the town, part of making Gillingham a fantastic place. We want people moving to the area to think, yeah, this is a really great place to grow up as a family, and that young people have got things to do. That’s so different to many other places in the country!’ Helen Da Silva Wood added.

The first stage, which starts in April, will involve young people consulting with their peers to identify what the project’s activities should be. Supporting and managing the activity will be the project’s part-time communications and administrator, a role that has been ring-fenced for a young person aged 18-23.

Helen Da Silva Wood said that the idea for the programme came during the Covid pandemic and lockdown and witnessing the impact these had. ‘We could see from it that young people were really struggling and that they’ve lost all these other opportunities that they would normally have had, so there was a big gap,’ she said.

As a result she began talking via video calls to Gillingham Youth Club and the project – which she says will be inclusive and cater for a variety of needs – grew from there.

Helen Da Silva Wood, whose organisation is based in Sherborne, also paid tribute to the way Gillingham and its town council had backed its outreach work – which will carry on – something she says was crucial in developing the new programme. ‘We are incredibly fortunate to have such a huge amount of money. It’s only been made possible because we have been made to feel welcome and supported here,’ she said.

The new Gillingham Youth Collective will be officially launched at an event at its new headquarters at The Studio at the Slade Centre in The Square, Gillingham, on Monday 21 March at 6.30pm. The initial aim is to find groups, organisations and individuals who are willing to get involved.

For more information email [email protected] or consult this online document: Getting involved form

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