Spotlight on: Soapbox
In a new series, we explore Islington’s youth hubs and the vital role they play in supporting young people. This time, we spoke to James Dellow, youth centre manager at Soapbox Youth Centre
What is your role at Soapbox?
I am the youth centre manager, which involves overseeing the delivery of programmes, safeguarding young people’s welfare, fundraising, and coming up with innovative ways of engaging young people.
Soapbox’s specialism is providing digital, media, and technology opportunities for socially excluded young people, so I would also describe myself as a ‘digital amplifier’. We’re very excited about the possibility of connecting young people to opportunities within the digital and tech industries.
What sorts of services and activities does Soapbox offer?
We run a programme of 41 activities each week and most of what we do involves a digital element, so we’re really bringing youth work into the modern age.
For example, on Mondays we run after school clubs for young women, offering a range of activities including game design, coding, filmmaking and dance. On Tuesdays we run Soapbox Live and Soapbox Live Lounge. These are weekly performance opportunities for young people to gain skills around event organisation, marketing, and live and recorded performance.
A big part of our mission is to provide young people with experiences that prepare them for the world of work that they may not otherwise be exposed to. For example, we run a work experience program for six young people with autism to learn about music production. We also run a supported internship programme with Mencap and are currently supporting two young people with severe learning disabilities with paid online work placements. In the UK, only five to seven percent of people with learning disabilities are currently in paid employment, so this is probably one of our standout projects.
Who are they aimed at?
Our programmes are aimed at socially excluded young people, aged between ten and 25 years. Our goal is to open all manner of possibilities and avenues for them to explore. We dedicate Mondays to young women, for example, because women are still massively underrepresented in the digital and tech sectors.
It’s about broadening young people’s horizons and helping them to realise that they don’t need to be defined by anything other than what they want to be.
How can people get involved?
The beauty of youth work is that it is based on the principle of voluntary participation, which means that young people choose to walk through the door and choose what they take part in here. Some young people will decide to come here for specific work they want to engage with – they might just come to use the music studio or our virtual reality equipment, for example.
What are the benefits?
Throughout their lives, young people get told “this is what you can do, this is what you can be”. What we try to focus on is providing young people with opportunities that speak to who they are, what they’re interested in, what they want to get out of their time here, and try to match that with our direction of travel as an organisation. We involve young people in decision making, so that they shape and direct what they do here.
What’s the best part of your job?
One of the things we are blessed with is the ability to constantly expose young people to new opportunities and ideas. It’s incredibly exciting to be constantly looking for the next thing young people might be interested in.
Another great part of my job is being able to showcase young people’s skills, talents and abilities, and to push back against the idea that young people are engaged in negative behaviours. That’s something that gets lost when you try to label young people, but we have the ability to counter that narrative.
The work we’re doing at Soapbox is the most valuable thing I’ve ever done in my career, and I’m incredibly proud to be a part of it.
Visit the Soapbox website to find out more