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Youth Cafés boom thanks to Olympic kick start

The 2012 Games have been the catalyst for an explosion of a new style of drop-in centres for teenagers UK-wide ...

The 2012 Games have been the catalyst for an explosion of a new style of drop-in centres for teenagers UK-wide.

From an almost standing start, some 200 2012 Youth Cafés have burst into life. They offered hundreds of teenagers a place during the 2012 Games to 'turn up – drop in – hang out'.

Typical is the Youth Café based at the modern Aylesbury College. Here, young people fluidly move from pool tables to games consoles, from watching Olympic events on a big screen, to just sitting and chatting.

There’s a warmth and a buzz about the place, with orange tee-shirted Junior Volunteers – JVs – making their fellow teens feel welcome and relaxed.

One day there was a photo-booth with an Olympic torch as a prop. An energetic and engaging photographer coaxed a performance out of the young people as they posed in turn with the icon.

Youth Cafés have been simmering for some time though the work of Aylesbury Vale Youth for Christ in Buckinghamshire. Over the past seven years, under its director Dave Rollins, about 20 had come to birth – including the one at Aylesbury College. But now, fuelled by the 2012 Games, the concept has truly come to the boil.

Over the past six months more than 300 potential cafés have registered for resources on Dave’s Youth Café website. The interest has been stimulated by his link with More Than Gold, the agency helping churches make the most of the Games.

As a result, Dave is confident at least 200 are now up and running during the Games. This includes the new Youth Café in Witham, Essex. Here they saw almost two hundred young people pass through during the week they opened. Most came just because they heard something was going on.

The Youth Café model puts an emphasis on giving leadership responsibility to the teens themselves. At Witham, there were 16 such young leaders who had significant responsibilities in making the Youth Café work.

A Witham spokesperson said, "It was amazing to see them getting so stuck in and it’s a great way to invest in their future. To see young teens stepping out of their comfort zones and trying new things was amazing."

The emphasis on small is beautiful, and giving responsibility away to young people, is hardly surprising seeing that Dave Rollins has a degree in International Development. He says, "Development is exactly what we are doing. Helping young people find their potential and to take responsibly for their future."

The cafés also have a very clear spiritual agenda. They are open and welcoming to those who are not part of the church, with the young Christians who share in the leadership expected to be living examples of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Asked the reason for the remarkable growth in Youth Cafés, Dave said, "It’s because they are simple and meet such a need. People can see a working model, access our resources and then just do it. And we’ve seen this approach give churches confidence that they can engage with young people and become youth friendly."

In the same way that a dog is not just for Christmas, the Youth Cafés are not just for the 2012 Games. Rather, they are at the heart of a strategy to see churches engaging with young people who would normally not give them a second thought.

Though it is not only churches who have seen the value of the Youth Café approach. The West Midlands police are considering them as a way to engage with young people. Says Dave, with a warm smile: "We told them it would be a good move to find churches they could partner with."

The Youth Café resources are available at www.cafe2012.info
 

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