The first step is always the hardest

Yes, the first step is always the hardest. Especially if the first step means having to cram five weeks of excitement, struggles and other ups and downs into one single blog post!

With all the new impressions pushing in on me like a wave, I can only remember most of it in a blur – Apart from the day of my arrival, I remember that one vividly!

My plane landed in what would be my new hometown for the next twelve months on 19 May, a very rainy Friday afternoon. By the way, thanks for the warm welcome, dear English weather.

I spent my first weekend in Newcastle unpacking, food shopping and just generally exploring the area – All with the help of my Italian roomie Chiara, thankfully. Who knows where I would’ve ended up with my great orientation skills, otherwise.

And then, with Monday coming up, my first week as an EVS volunteer started. Though it turned out to be much less busy than I expected! I signed all kinds of documents and agreements, was given my bus pass for local travel (Fortunately fully paid by the hosting organisation) and applied for my DBS to be checked – Safe Guarding isn’t a matter to be taken lightly when working with young people, after all! But still, I was only needed an hour a day at my coordinating organisation’s office for all that and usually got the rest of the day off. Which was totally fine by me, as the weather apparently wanted to redeem itself for its improvable welcome and blessed me with an untypical week of sunshine and summery temperatures above 20°C.

Anyways, after a week of lazing in the sun in Leazes Park or enjoying a coffee in one of the many cafés’ outside seating areas, the highly anticipated moment came. My first visit to my actual project place, YMCA Newcastle’s SPACE2! My coordinator Travis took me to the youth centre on a Friday and I met the two main youth workers and therefore my bosses Jonny and Maxine for the first time. Though calling them my bosses feels odd! They are genuinely the friendliest and most relaxed people I’ve met so far, so although I’ve only known them for a couple weeks yet, I already feel very comfortable with them and know that I can count on their support with any problem I might have. Especially on Maxine’s. Because no matter if you’re 19 or 39, she’ll probably be your second mum before you even know it!

But back to the story. Jonny showed me around SPACE2 and although I admittedly only understood like 50% of his explanations – I’m still kind of at war with the Geordie accent –, I was completely fascinated by my future workplace. They had everything a creative teenage head could possibly wish for. They do not only have a ping pong and a pool table, a dartboard and two Playstations in the main area. No, they also boast a kitchen, a giant IT-room with a sewing machine, and my two personal highlights, a big dance and a music studio. I’ve never seen any comparable youth centres in my hometown in Germany, so I might or might not have followed Jonny around with my mouth attractively hanging open all the time. Oops. But I just couldn’t believe how creative and ambitious all the kids coming to SPACE2 were! It seemed like there wasn’t a single one of them who wasn’t part of either a dance or music group professionally performing on parties, developing their own clothing line already giving off small profits, or planning their independent events with up to 200 guests. Or doing all of that at once, in some cases?!

And with hearing all the stories about the kids regularly coming to the youth centre and getting a glimpse of all the support they get there, be it emotionally or materially, I couldn’t help but thinking of the community at SPACE2 as a big family – Which I think turned out to be true during my weeks at SPACE so far!

But naturally, entering a workplace where everyone has known each other for several years, some even from the cradle, it can be tough to become a part of this community. Particularly since many of the young people coming to SPACE grew up in troubled circumstances or experienced violence during their upbringing and therefore take a long time to warm up to strangers.

But fortunately, other than gradually getting in touch with them by playing ping pong or pool together, SPACE’s activities and excursions always help me integrating. For instance, with the general elections on 8 June, Jonny and Maxine signed up for workshops where some of the youngsters could first work out several questions in themed groups and later on ask them to representatives of five major parties in a panel. Logically, we joined the ‘young people’ group and almost immediately, a lively discussion developed. To my surprise exclusively concerning mental health issues and what the government does – or rather doesn’t do – to help those affected. I can call myself lucky to have never struggled with my mental health before, neither do I know anyone in my close environment who did. Consequently, I was entirely taken aback to find out how common these issues obviously are amongst young people and the more so to hear reports about how little acknowledgement and support the current British government offers. Many of the teenagers described how youth centres like SPACE2 were the last place to turn to for support and advice. So again, I’m drawing back to my beloved simile of SPACE2 being like a big family. Or as one of the girls at SPACE put it: ‘A big dysfunctional family’. At least a supportive one!

Throughout the entire debate, I listened attentively. There was no way I could’ve participated given the speed and all the back and forth of the heated conversation. As I said, I’m still trying to bury the hatchet with the Geordie! But the things I learned really impacted me a lot and in a way broadened my understanding for the problems some of the kids have to deal with.

After that, I felt like I was finding my way into the SPACE-community a little bit more every day. Because once you come up with a way to initiate a conversation – which is usually the hardest part, to be honest –, they are all in all very interested and want to know more about you and your home country. And with some of them having recently found out about my interest in design and photography, they even approached me and asked to help with their fashion and event businesses a little.

So … I guess you’ll have to stay tuned for that!

Stay up date with Lena's year at SPACE2... by reading her blog which she updates monthly.