How I gave something back to the community

YOUTH work is all about giving back to the community for Nelson Community Centre’s Mohammed Arshad.

The 45-year-old was in trouble as a teenager, but with help he turned his life around, and for the past 21 years, has been involved in shaping the lives of future generations.

He said the skills he and his colleagues had were needed more than ever now, as pressures in the community grew.

He said: “I got involved in anti-social behaviour and knocking around on park benches because I was bored and there was nothing to do in Nelson at that time.

“But when I went to the community centre, I got good impartial advice of people who weren’t from the mosque, weren’t teachers, and weren’t my dad. The youth workers were the only people who listened to me.

“I looked up to those people and wanted to give something back.”

Mohammed began volunteering at the centre as a 16 year old, then formalised his interest with a diploma in youth and community studies from St Martin’s College in Lancaster in the early 90s.

He now works four nights a week at the centre in Bankhouse Road, organising activities and trips, as well as providing a mentoring service for eight to 22-year-olds.

A key aim of his work is encouraging youths from different ethnic groups to mix.

He said: “When I was a kid, you’d knock around with white lads and there wouldn’t be an issue, but now the communities are very much more polarised.

“You’d have thought that people would be used to integrating by now, but things out of our control, like international politics have created problems.

“You will get pockets in this area where white kids won’t go, and areas where Asian kids won’t go.

“But with initiatives like football games, the Duke of Edinburgh Award and performing arts, we’re trying to break the segregation down.

“Failure is not an option. We’ve seen what’s happened in Bradford and Oldham, and we don’t want to be another statistic.”

Children choose to take part in the centre’s activities, but are also referred by the probation service. Mohammed and his team work with the police, careers advisors and council workers to give tailored help to individuals.

He added: “We have to work with the youths and listen to what works for them.

“We won’t hoodwink them into something.

“I get a real buzz from the work we do. I received a lot of help, and now I’m putting my two pence back in.”

Anyone interested in being a youth work volunteer is asked to call into the centre.

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