A HUGELY successful drop-in hub which has helped transform the lives of countless local youngsters is hoping to swell its coffers with a fundraising drive.
Xtrax, which is based in Harold Place, acts as a one-stop shop for young people, offering advice on a range of issues, entertainment, cheap food, laundry and shower facilities and general support and guidance – often for some of the most vulnerable youngsters in Hastings and St Leonards.
Fundraising gets under way today (Friday) when Mayor Alan Roberts heads out to 13 local schools with his costumed sidekick Mufti the Monkey to kick-start a campaign aimed at raising some much-needed funds for the project.
And all eyes will be turning skywards tomorrow for a balloon race from Hastings beach. A batch of balloons will be released into the air at 4pm carrying numbered cards with the Xtrax email address. Whoever owns the balloon (available for a donation) which is reported to organisers from the furthest distance away will win £50. The rest of the cash will go towards funding the vital work carried out by Xtrax.
But what makes the scheme so successful? Twenty-year-old Lisa, from St Leonards, spoke to the Observer about her experiences with Xtrax.
She first visited the project aged 17 and in the three years since has developed a close bond with the group, taking part in a number of the sessions available at its town centre base. She recently found work and puts much of her success down to what she learned at Xtrax – in particular on a the popular Skills Xtrax course which helps young people looking to make serious changes to their lives.
It covers subjects like creative writing, art therapy, life skills, music making, video production, textiles and personal development and is a shining example of the continued work being done by staff and volunteers.
“The Skills Xtrax course gave me the confidence I needed to get a job,” explained Lisa. “I now have two – one with Asda and one as a target youth support assistant.
“I came here three year ago and they helped me with a number of issues, and now I am able to go out and help other people.
“In the future, I want to work my way up in youth work and follow a career in it.”
Xtrax has been helping people like Lisa since for almost two decades. It was formed 18 years ago after the tragic suicide of a young, homeless man who suffered from mental health problems but was unable to find out-of-hours support.
Horrified by the death, local social worker David Harris formed Xtrax to act as a youth drop-in centre which would open at times when other social support is difficult to access.
Now Xtrax is open Monday to Friday 9am and 10am for breakfast and between 3pm and 10pm Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. It is also open on bank holidays and Christmas Day.
Andrew Batsford, who has been a youth worker at Xtrax for 12 years, said: “Since it has been running it has developed into being a bedrock of youth provisions in Hastings.
“We help young people who do not have a base. If your foundations are made from sand then it is very difficult to build a solid base on that. The aim of this project is to give young people the stability and consistency they need.
“A drop-in centre that young people could rely on was needed; a centre that provides young people who are living on the margins with the stability and consistency they need, so that no matter the time they can come in with whatever issue someone will see them. It is about trying to work with the people opposed to them working with the system.”
Over the last 18 years the Xtrax team has managed to secure funding for an array of different projects, including Sweat: Perspire to Aspire - a new fitness class which is hoped will help young people feel better about themselves both physically and mentally.
This approach, Mr Batsford explained, is what Xtrax is all about. “This is the holistic approach of Xtrax,” he said. “If you are feeling physically fit and well, then the likelihood is that you will psychologically too. We have gone from having no physical exercise at Xtrax to having four non-physical boxing fixes a week. And we’ve gone from having no participants to around 30.”
Xtrax has a large open plan space on the first floor in Harold Place. There is a large, full-size, pool table positioned in the main area next to a set of sofas. A wide screen TV is set on the wall and towards the end of the room is a dining and kitchen area, where a large dining table sits.
Mr Batsford continued: “A lot of young people who come here are lonely and anxious. We want to build self-esteem and confidence in these young people, and we hope that they can leave here feeling fed and clean. These are all of our children.”
The environment at Xtrax is relaxed and welcoming – something important as it encourages people into the building where, once there, they can access vital information and support services.
One such service is the charity’s Fuel for Thought scheme, which tries to help young people find the best rates for their utility bills, as well as offer advice on how best to manage their incomings.
Sam Thomas, Fuel for Thought project leader, said: “We inform them on who their cheapest energy provider is and help them get the cheapest tariffs. We also teach them how to budget their money so that their bills are paid on time.”
With funds donated from Scottish Power, the group purchases rugs, throws, fabrics and stuffing from Ikea and then gets creative over a series of textiles sessions. The soft furnishings, cushions, curtains, draft pillows and throws that are made are then gifted to the new home owners, who Xtrax has worked with and helped into housing.
Sam continues: “A textiles teacher came down and held classes on how to use the sewing machines. We have helped two young families to enjoy their new home a little more.”
Lynette Golnaraghy, who helps run another project called Snoop Kitchen, said: “A lot of young people who come here have grown up in care homes and are now 18. Once you are 18 and have left care you are considered an adult and the care finishes, but young people still make mistakes. 18 – 24 are difficult years.”
Snoop Kitchen is a soup kitchen with attitude that began its life with the intention of providing the homeless youth population in Hastings with food. It has developed into a weekly service whereby youth community in Xtrax members take food to the homeless of any age on Monday evening between 6pm and 9pm in Hastings town centre.
“It is chance for the guys here to give something back, and to feel like they are helping someone opposed to feeling helped all the time,” explained Mr Batsford.
That idea is central to Xtrax. The project does not patronise or prop up. It helps empower young people to stand on their own two feet, to develop skills and confidence and make something of their lives. And, as its many users will testify, it is about helping each other and providing mutual support.
The hope is now that the community at large can lend a hand during this latest fundraising campaign and allow the town’s most vulnerable youngsters to continue helping themselves.
For more information, or to donate, visit www.xtrax.org or call 01424 722524.