According to recent government statistics, out of 8 national regions, the North East and the West Midlands still have the highest numbers of young people who are Not in Education, Employment or Training https://www.gov.uk/neet-statistics-quarterly-brief-october-to-december-2017, they are, what the government term NEET young people. What’s more it is believed that young people who fail to get their foot on the first rung of the career ladder are permanently disadvantaged when it comes to future employment prospects.

LEADING LINK is a Registered Charity based in Northumberland. It was established in 2011 to tackle this very issue, and provide real life opportunities for our local young people. By offering a diverse range of activities the Charity aims to increase aspiration, maximise opportunity and increase potential across the region. Youngsters are encouraged to develop key skills, such as creativity, being organised and articulate, and learn skills such as team work. All of which increases self-confidence and self-esteem, and has a knock on effect, helping them achieve future success in education, training and employment.

Some young people however come from backgrounds where they have very little support and may have other complex issues to deal with. Youngsters such as these are often the ones who slip through the cracks, so to speak. So, for this reason the charity has developed a uniquely supportive 1-1 mentorship scheme.

To discover more about this programme, I recently spoke to Richie, who is a Leading Link volunteer mentor. He is currently working with two local young men who have difficulties with school and relationships. Richie has been mentoring for two years now and takes the young people he mentors for outings, or meets up with them individually at least once a week. He encourages his mentees and supports them in their interests, describing what he does as “just being a listening ear really!”. Richie said his goal is to build up relationships and his background meant he found it relatively easy to build a connection, or rapport with young people.

Richie is now retired, but used to work for Social Services as a care worker in a residential community home for people aged 11 to 16 years old. When the community home closed he took up a post as a teaching assistant and took part in sessions supporting youngsters with learning difficulties.

Not long after retiring Richie found he was getting very bored. But then, when visiting an exhibition at the Tall Ships event in Blyth, a couple of years ago he came across young people manning the Leading Link stall. He was very impressed by what he discovered when speaking to them and subsequently got in contact with Lynne the manager and Paul, a co-worker, who “over a cup of tea and a sandwich!” encouraged his involvement with the charity.

Richie says he was made very welcome, found it easy to fit in, and as the organisation relies on volunteers he felt his time was greatly valued. Although he had some valuable key transferable skills and expected his background and experience would be put to good use, he also feels he has developed due to new experiences and training. Indeed, he was given an induction when he started and has received other training since, including personal safety and safeguarding training.

He feels very supported and can just ‘pop in’ for a chat with Lynne, his manager, or email or phone her whenever he has an issue. Being given a mobile phone to use for his own personal safety during Home Visits also gave Richie some reassurance and a real sense of security.

Finally, when asked what the most positive thing about volunteering has been, Richie said “Oh, self-satisfaction, definitely”. Indeed, “many young people experience their home and their lives very differently from other young people and problems, including relationship problems may only be identified gradually. The answer sometimes is as simple as having someone to talk to!” He went on “it’s not been plain sailing by any means, with lots of ups and downs. But it is very rewarding. Even small improvements to a young persons behaviour or their thinking, gives me a lift!”

As a charitable organisation, Leading Link is always looking for dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers of all ages, who are willing to try new things and help support the work they do. In return, volunteers will receive valuable experience in several different areas including working directly with young people, general administration and event management, facilitating workshops, as well as in some cases gaining accredited qualifications. Volunteering at the charity could be a fun and rewarding experience - so for more information, get in touch via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Alternatively, you could also visit our Volunteer Connect database http://www.northumberlandcva.org.uk/volunteering/volunteers to start exploring other volunteering opportunities available within the county.