A sense of frustration led Cheshire businessman Bill Holroyd to take an outstanding Bolton youth club and scale it up as charity OnSide Youth Zones, now serving around 20,000 youngsters across the North West of England. Holroyd, who has developed more than 25 companies in the last 15 years, says: “I was frustrated that here was a fantastic youth club with 21st century facilities that everybody wanted to see expanded to other areas and yet no one was doing anything. I felt I had the contacts and skills to do it.”
Holroyd says he was ‘deep-ended’ when he was first asked to be Chairman of the Bolton Lads and Girls Club. “When I walked through the doors I was struck by two things; firstly, it was full of the sort of children that scare the living daylights out of you and you walk across the road to avoid; secondly, how happy kids are when they are in the right environment.” “It was staggering. There was no compromise: the facilities were excellent and I thought ‘why doesn’t every child have this?’”
Holroyd’s aim is to build 100, 21st century youth centres across the UK, giving young people quality, safe and affordable places to go in their leisure time. There are currently six OnSide Youth Zone centres across the north including Manchester, Blackburn, Oldham, Wigan and Carlisle. Each centre costs £6m to build and £1m a year to run. Around 50% of running costs are donated by the local community and grants with the rest coming from income raised from the yearly £5 membership fees and 50p entry cost, and from local authority funding. The impact of the centres is profound: in each area that an OnSide Youth Zone centre has opened, local youth- related crime and anti-social behaviour has fallen by 50% says Holroyd.
Two years ago the charity launched a mentoring programme aimed at addressing the NEET (people not in education, employment or training) issue. Mentors support young people in their first few years of work when they are vulnerable and most likely to quit.
In its first year 200 young people were supported, 430 in the following year and the aim is to support 800 newly- employed young people in 2015. With mentoring support more than 80% have remained in employment. Holroyd urges others to “chuck themselves in at the deep end” and give back to their communities. “I am glad I did. Some days you feel you are bashing your head against a brick wall but seeing those kids happy is worth it. It is overwhelming in all senses. What is particularly rewarding is seeing communities solve their own problems. When they do, they care more about them. It’s a whole different game. We have 1000 volunteers across our centres and a waiting list of 100. The centres are prized venues.”
Holroyd says OnSide Youth Zones shows the ‘gearing effect of philanthropy’. “Philanthropists can lead the charge and unlock the amazing power in a community.”