BaptistCare HopeStreet’s new Youth Space has officially opens its doors to young Australians, including some who are living with disadvantage in and around one of Sydney’s most diverse inner city neighbourhoods.

BaptistCare HopeStreet’s Youth Space in Woolloomooloo has been established to assist local youth and will provide a much-needed safe space for people aged between 10 and 17 to hang out, meet positive role models, exercise their creativity and receive any support they need to pursue their educational or personal goals.

The program is being designed for youth, by youth, and initially the centre will be open three days a week from 3pm-6pm. Each day will have a specific focus from supporting school homework to programs designed specifically for students in both primary school and high school, such as mindfulness activities and job readiness.

The centre is the result of significant consultation undertaken by BaptistCare HopeStreet with local residents, schools, social workers and Police, in order to understand the needs and challenges of young people in the area. NSW Council of Social Service data, mapping economic disadvantage in NSW, shows that 17% of children living in the Potts Point/Woolloomooloo area who are under the age of 15 experience economic disadvantage.

The consultation found there is a significant opportunity to engage the youth of Woolloomooloo, and create something that supports their education and social needs, while allowing them to be proud of something they are creating.

The project has been jointly funded by BaptistCare and the state government which contributed more than $100,000 through the My CommunityProject and Community Building Program initiatives in 2019.

“The community put their hands up and said this is what we need, and BaptistCare HopeStreet is delivering. The Youth Space is being led by young people, who will build an engaging program of activity based around what matters to them from their education, to social and cultural issues and support. It’s great to have a place that will help young people in the area build a strong support system and help them break any cycles of disadvantage and poverty they are experiencing in the community," said Member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich MP.

Rob Ellis, General Manager for BaptistCare Community Services agrees that the approach will have a positive outcome for the local community as a whole. 

“From the outset of our planning it’s been clear that socioeconomic disadvantage is impacting youth access to education and social networks – two foundational resources in the development of children. We see that bullying and even exposure to violence changes how youth are able to build on their strengths and enjoy their teenage years, so building a safe, coordinated environment, where young people can speak up and be heard, and are supported to develop life skills, is a really vital activity.” he said.

“Working with the Woolloomooloo community to develop this Youth Space that will inspire creativity and encourage education has been a rewarding and humbling experience. We cannot wait to see the impact this will have – not just on young people who will come into the Centre, but on the broader community," said Mr Ellis.

For BaptistCare HopeStreet Community Development Worker, Cherry Johnson, there is a real excitement about this space.

“The young people in this community are incredibly creative, clever and resilient - it’s a real privilege to connect with and support them as they go through their formative years. I can’t wait to see them using the space, making it their own and achieving their goals,” she said.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, careful consideration has been given to minimising the risk of infection and BaptistCare HopeStreet is adhering to strict guidelines as advised by NSW Health. This includes limiting the number of people in the centre to 20 people on any given day, recording details of all visitors and having the centre thoroughly cleaned at frequent intervals.

While the program is currently being finalised, there will be an emphasis on building creative skills and supporting young people’s wellbeing, such as developing effective mental health management strategies. Through the centre, youth will have access to homework help/tutoring, group work, holiday programs, leadership development programs, mentoring, a local hero program, mindfulness activities, creative programs such as art, dance and design, life skills education including cooking and job readiness programs and referrals to other services.