Richard Hay understands, better than most, the importance of young people having somewhere to call their own.
The 44-year-old joined his local Double Six Youth Club, in Woodseats, when he was 11 and described it as a sanctuary - somewhere kids like him could go to meet friends and socialise.
“On a basic level, it was somewhere warm we could hang out with our friends,” says Richard.
“But on another level, it was anything we wanted it to be - a place that offered support, if we needed someone to talk to or ask questions of, or if we were looking for a job reference or help writing a CV.”
Double Six Youth Club officially opened its doors in 1966 in the same former Methodist Church, on Scarsdale Road, that is its home today. The church building was donated to a group of Woodseats trustees to be opened as a boys’ club. Singer Frankie Vaughan, a prominent supporter of boys’ clubs, was at the opening ceremony and Double Six became part of the National Association of Youth Clubs. It finally opened its membership up to girls in the late 70s.
Richard originally joined the club in 1983 and then, as he got older, he began volunteering there, working alongside lead youth worker Mick Fidler.
Richard explains: “Mick was a terrific guy and had been a big influence on me as a kid, becoming an important person and role model in my life. I enjoyed volunteering and working with the kids and hoped that, perhaps one day, I could be to them what Mick had been to me.”
And Richard got his chance in 2005, when Mick retired after four decades with the club, and he was offered the opportunity to take it over.
“It was a turning point in my life,” says Richard.
“I was a bit of a tearaway at school and left with no qualifications at all. Suddenly here was this opportunity and it filled me with determination.”
Richard applied for a place at Sheffield Hallam University, graduating with a degree in youth and community work so that he could accept the job offer. Under his guidance the club has gone from strength-to-strength and now, in its 50th anniversary year, it welcomes 120 young people through its doors every week.
“We’re delighted with how things are going,” says Richard who, as lead youth worker, is contracted to do 60 hours a month at the club, delivering five sessions a week.
“Each one of our sessions attracts between 40 and 50 kids, and we run regular activity and sporting sessions, as well as offering advice on issues such as child exploitation and internet safety. We have a targeted girls’ session that looks at issues of self esteem and staying safe.
“We also have a great six-week cooking course for six young people at a time that has a six month waiting list and is incredibly popular.”
Richard reveals the club is also inundated with volunteers.
“So many of the kids who rose through the ranks themselves come back to us wanting to volunteer,” he says.
“Once you’ve seen for yourself how important a place it is and what it can offer, I think people are keen to stay involved. We never turn helping hands away, as these could be people who, as a result of their time with us, are inspired to go into youth work themselves.”
And Richard is keen to quash any youth club stereotypes, of kids sat around playing ping pong all evening.
“Of course we do have ping pong, and table tennis, but there’s so much more going on here,” he insists.
“Kids today seem to have so much more on their shoulders; they have more information, and more pressures than we did. This is somewhere they can be supported - whether that’s talking to somebody, spending time with their friends away from school pressures or home pressures, or even just spending some quiet time alone.”
The club currently receives funding from Children In Need, the Awards For All Lottery Fund, the Sheffield Town Trust Fund and the Harry Bottom Trust.
In spite of this, money is still tight and the club charges kids between 50p and £1 per session.
“It’s essential that prices be kept low, as cost can be a big barrier,” says Richard.
“Especially with the prices of buses in Sheffield being what they are.
“ It’s a sad thing when a child can’t come and take part in activities in their own community because they can’t afford the bus fare to get there.
“We wouldn’t charge the children a penny if we could manage it.”
But despite the obstacles, Richard says he’s so pleased that the club, which has faced an uncertain future at times, is still here and as popular as ever in its 50th year.
“Clubs like this are about developing communities and bringing people together; I think we’ve all lost a bit of that over the years, but at this club that’s still going on every single week, and that’s something to celebrate.”
Visit www.double6youthclub.co.uk if you would like to donate or find out more about the club.