As with many children, the end of Calvin’s junior school experience was marred by the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. He began secondary school low in confidence after a long period of home learning and, knowing only one other person in his year group, found the enormous change overwhelming.

“Everything was new – my school, getting the bus, having no friends,” explains Calvin, 15. “I remember feeling so worried, isolated and unhappy in those first months.”

Calvin’s mother, Stephanie, says:

“Both my husband and I have long term health conditions and sometimes it isn’t possible for us to do with Calvin everything that other parents do with their children. I struggled to find ways to help as, like many boys, he often didn’t want to talk to me. We were close to changing schools for him at one point.”

Things changed for the better two years ago, when Calvin heard about the YMCA Youth Club in Merstham from someone in his class.

“I was nervous before the first session. I thought they might not like me, but instead I felt so comfortable,” says Calvin. “There was a great range of activities and everyone was friendly. I used to spend my time sitting at home, feeling anxious, but now my friend circle is massive. I go out more and I’ve had so many new experiences through the youth club.”

YMCA East Surrey delivers 12 sessions of youth clubs a week funded by the National Lottery Community Fund and Geoff Herrington Foundation, providing a safe environment where young people can develop, learn and have fun.

Calvin has particularly enjoyed the residential trips offered by our youth workers, taking part in outdoor activities at Lodge Hill Centre in West Sussex, sleeping rough in freezing temperatures for our YMCA Sleep Easy in March 2023 and climbing Snowdon in June.

“The Snowdon trip was incredible,” says Calvin. “Getting to the top took determination and courage. It was a completely new physical challenge for me, but I found it so inspiring.”

He has also joined YMCA East Surrey’s Youth Forum, where young people can have their say about the issues affecting them and make a positive impact on what happens within our youth club settings. While doing his Duke of Edinburgh Bronze award, Calvin chose to volunteer at junior youth work sessions to help support staff and plan activities.

YMCA Youth Worker, Marlon Williams, says:

“I see a huge difference between the young man who first walked into the youth club and who Calvin is now. He’s much more confident and talkative. He’s polite, mature, wants to get involved and he’s encouraged numerous friends to come along too. He should be very proud of himself.”

Stephanie, says:

“Over the summer holidays, Calvin attends the free YMCA holiday programme. This helps give me peace of mind that he is being active and social, and not hanging around on the streets. I suffer with anxiety but knowing that Calvin is in a safe place with trustworthy people puts me at ease.”

“He’s become so social and he isn’t worried what other people think about him anymore. I believe Calvin sees the Youth Workers as friends and, if he had any worries, he would feel confident in talking to any one of them.”

“The youth club has helped shape Calvin into the teenager that he is today and I am forever grateful for this.”