Friday, February 24, 2012

Waterfront Crew

The coolest club for young people in Falmouth

“It’s amazing the stuff that’s dropped onto Falmouth waterfront,” says Mel Bailey, Student Manager at Falmouth School. “We’ve found a gold watch, an entire toilet, a set of false teeth, countless trolleys, stereos, TVs and chairs. On the Roseland we’ve done cleanups by canoe which have been very successful. It’s fun and reaches areas you can’t reach by foot.”

Mel’s talking about some of the work undertaken by the Waterfront Crew, a group of youngsters who work out of school hours to help clean up Falmouth waterfront. In return they receive meals, go sailing or kayaking and learn to work together, so they feel included. As Mel explains, “It's a very simple idea – it's about earning your reward and having fun with it.”

The idea was pioneered in 2007 by Falmouth School in conjunction with Falmouth Police, Falmouth Town Council and local businesses. “We wanted to show the good work that young people can do, make that higher profile to give a boost to their self esteem, and so that the community got to know about them in a balanced way,” explains Mel. “It’s also about a sense of belonging – feeling part of something with others. The bond that has developed between the young people is immense.”

Police Community Support Officer, Sean McDonnell adds, “The waterside area in the town centre looked neglected and no one seemed to take ownership of it, so we thought why don’t we tap into that fantastic natural resource, and clean it up? If we can assist youngsters in trying to take ownership and take care of their own environment we’re helping them develop into good citizens who will want the best for their town,” he continues.

The businesses in the town have been supportive and delighted at what the young people have done, and the cleanups are rewarded with fish and chips, canoeing, sailing, kayaking etc. “From early on the youngsters’ perception was that the town was helping them and providing something, and out of that has come contacts and even employment,” says Sean.

Mel targets young people that she thinks would benefit from the experience, but the selection process is delicate, as she explains: “It’s normally around 20 young people, complemented by extra referrals from the community, the police force, and we blend it in with a mix of other students so they become part of something like any other activity.” It’s all voluntary so it takes place in their own time, after school or at weekends.

Sean adds, “It’s important it’s not seen as a naughty boy reward scheme. So we go for a mix of achievers, some who are vulnerable, young carers, and they grow as a friendship group which has been refreshing to see.” From the policing side, Sean sees other benefits. “It’s built an awful lot of bridges. It’s a great leveler if you’re out trying to kayak or windsurf.” Mel laughs. “They see us fall in the water which happens regularly and that’s a huge barrier breaker.”

The Waterfront Crew have worked with the National Trust, Cornwall Marine Network, Eden Partnership, amongst others, and in 2010 they focused on the gateways to Falmouth to encourage visitors to return. “We cleaned the Dell station, Falmouth Docks cruise ship terminal and also the police station gardens,” says Sean. “The head of Devon & Cornwall Police was stunned and recognized our work as a way forward of embracing young people in the community.”

It’s the youngsters who tend to come up with ideas of where to clean. “They start coming up with ideas for a clean up and select a reward and we see if we can make it possible.” Mel laughs. “The clean ups are as much fun as the rewards which is an unexpected result.” There tend to be 6-8 clean ups in a year, mostly in spring and summer, and in winter they estate cleanups inland in the Falmouth area. But neither Sean nor Mel realized what a huge success this would be. “It’s surpassed my expectations,” says Sean. “We’ve had offers to make it a national blueprint but it wouldn’t work because you need to keep it small or you’d lose that personal side.”

The nurturing aspect is the shared part of the role between Mel and the police. “After the first year, we’ve said if the young people wish to continue and work with younger people, we are more than delighted: it’s good for them to work with other age groups. There’s a huge waiting list now.”

So the plan is to continue as they are, looking after Falmouth, the waterfront, and most importantly, the young people of Falmouth. “It’s about giving consistency to those who don’t have much,” says Mel. “We aim to be there as much as we can for them.”

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