A former Blackburn high school student who dropped out of college has hailed the power of youth work and local youth clubs in helping her forge a career providing support and advice to children.

Kayleigh Wainwright, who attended St Wilfrid’s CE High School, and Blackburn College for a time, has built a career in the sector after being inspired as a 14-year-old attending a youth club near her home.

The 38-year-old, who is originally from Rutland in the East Midlands, began going to Kaleidoscope Youth Club, run by Blackburn with Darwen Youth Service, when her family relocated to Blackburn when she was a teenager.

Lancashire Telegraph: Kaleidoscope Youth ClubKaleidoscope Youth Club (Image: Google Maps)

She said: “I moved in the middle of my GCSEs, and it was quite hard for me to make friends at school, because I was moving into the last year.

"It was also a huge change moving from a rural setting, in a small secondary school, to an old industrial town.

“There was a lot of new housing development going on where I lived, so there were a lot of youth workers out and about on the streets.

“I can't quite remember how I got involved. I just remember there was a bit of a green and a few of us used to play football there.

“The youth workers started to engage with us and over a period of time we started going into the youth club.

"It opened two or three nights a week and that's how I got settled and made friends.

“It gave me access to loads of opportunities and is essentially what led me to what I'm doing now."

Lancashire Telegraph: Kayleigh and some of her youth groups friends on a Tall Ship trip which she helped fundraise for while attending Kaleidoscope Youth CentreKayleigh and some of her youth groups friends on a Tall Ship trip which she helped fundraise for while attending Kaleidoscope Youth Centre (Image: UK Youth)

Kayleigh is now director of youth sector innovation at national charity UK Youth, whose vision is that all young people are equipped to thrive and empowered to contribute at every stage of their lives.

Through her work she is developing new projects to help transform the pipeline of youth workers into the youth sector.

She went on: “At the time it was somewhere to go and something to do and a place to make friends.

"At school, my grades were okay, but I didn't ever really know what I wanted to do.

“I went to do graphic design at college, but just wasn't really feeling it.

"However, at that point I was doing more and more in the youth club and became a young volunteer, so they basically gave us loads of opportunities. We used to go on residential trips, for example.

“I became part of a local youth forum, so started to get involved in lots of youth voice activity.

"We used to present our views to the council, opportunities I never would have had.

"I was really shy as a young person, so never would have gotten up and spoken in front of anyone without the youth club.

“We used to go on trips to London, to the Houses of Parliament, and we fundraised for our own trip to go on a tall ship.

"The area I was living in was quite deprived and we did all of our own fundraising to make that happen.

“At the time, the youth club was somewhere to go, something to do, but as I got more into it I really enjoyed it and I met so many different people.

“I started to think I wanted to do more. I dropped out of college and my youth worker at the time helped me figure out what I wanted to do.

“I just knew what I was doing through the youth club I really liked, in terms of helping other people and working in the community.

“I became a young volunteer and ended up going to university, to St Martin’s College in Lancaster, to do a degree in youth work.

“At the time when I was studying, I had an opportunity to take up some paid youth work, through Lancaster Youth Association, one of UK Youth’s original members at the time.

“They supported me to set up youth projects in an area in Blackburn in partnership with the police and a housing association.

"It was three old maisonettes and we made it into a youth club, mainly working with young men, so I just had like the opportunity to do things.

“When I look back, I'm like, ‘who trusted me to do this?’ I was 19.”

Lancashire Telegraph: Kayleigh with her partner Mike, and dog RubyKayleigh with her partner Mike, and dog Ruby (Image: UK Youth)

Kayleigh’s story comes as newly published research shows youth work equips young people with skills for life.

It is just one of the findings of the government-funded study, backed by UK Youth, which has identified a wealth of benefits from engaging in youth work, many of which last into adulthood.

The research into the long-term impact of youth work, commissioned by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, has found a clear association between participation in youth provision and positive outcomes relating to physical health and wellbeing, pro-social behaviours and education.

There is also strong evidence these outcomes are sustained over decades and remain more positive than peers who did not access youth provision.

Last year, Blackburn with Darwen Council secured £8 million through the government’s Youth Investment Fund for four projects across the borough.

It was the largest amount of money awarded to any one single place in the country in the August round of announcements.

The majority of the money is being spent at the Blackburn Youth Zone area and Darwen Youth Centre.

Shadsworth Hub is to receive £800,000 as part of the Newground Together bid, where Together Housing Group is investing almost £20m in plans to improve community facilities, outdoor spaces and homes in the Shadsworth area.

A planning application submitted by the council for Audley and Queen’s Park Children’s Centre will see a £1m transformation of the facilities.

Additionally, BAE Systems has invested £500,000 in Youth Zones across Lancashire in the last 12 months, including Chorley, Preston and Blackburn.

In Blackburn, the company is supporting the Youth Zone’s Eco-Lab which educates young people on climate change issues and how they can take an active role in contributing to a greener planet.

Just last week, Mims Davies, minster for disabled people, health, and work, was the guest of honour at a recent careers fair held at Blackburn & Darwen Youth Zone which was attended by almost 200 youngsters, and offered insights into apprenticeships, training and development, and job opportunities.

The event was built on the existing collaboration between the DWP and Blackburn and Darwen Youth Zone and included contributions from a wide range of businesses and training providers offering an array of opportunities, including work placements, skills development, apprenticeships, and specialised courses.

Lancashire Telegraph: Blackburn Youth ZoneBlackburn Youth Zone (Image: BwD Council)

Kayleigh, who now lives with partner Mike, 43, and their dog Ruby, in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, asserts the belief people had in her as a young person, that she could achieve something, has helped her ever since.

She said: “Youth work helped me, with my confidence and understanding who you are as a person and not feeling judged for how you show up.

“It was also the networks and opportunities it opened up, the social side, the diversity of people met, the trips I went on, all of that.

"I wouldn't have been able to do that through school because my mum wouldn’t have been able to afford to send me and I just wouldn't have had those social opportunities.

“It was being able to meet and engage and interact with like loads of different people, with an open mindset and without judgment.

“I'm from Blackburn, which is quite a culturally diverse town, and there were different youth clubs around the town, but we used to do a lot of stuff together, so we got to learn a lot about people different from ourselves in terms of religious background, race or ability, for example.

“My mum always says to me, ’I couldn't do what you do and stand up and speak’, but if I hadn’t done that as a young person, I wouldn't be able to now. It's only because of someone being ‘oh, you can and it’s fine if you fail, you can just carry on’.”

Lancashire Telegraph: What Darwen Youth Zone will look likeWhat Darwen Youth Zone will look like (Image: BwD Council)

Unsurprisingly, Kayleigh urges young people to engage with youth clubs and youth workers.

“Find something you enjoy and go to a place where you can do that and get support in doing that,” she said.

“You might be interested in sport, games or whatever, and through that you'll be able to learn so many different skills and meet different people.

“Youth workers are essentially like the glue that can bring a community together. They see young people as a strength.

"Often young people are seen as a problem to be solved, but actually they're an asset we should be supporting.

“We know youth work reduces crime, improves health, improves young people going into jobs.

“It's because a youth worker listens to young people and is able to back them and support them and be that person who listens to them and helps them navigate through all those challenges, but also youth clubs provide spaces where they can just be young people and have fun.”