A comment from a Youth Worker
“I am so proud of Gemma for how much she has opened up and shared parts of her life that I know she struggles to talk about, it doesn’t seem like it here but it takes a lot to get Gemma to share how she’s feeling and the way she’s spoke about her experiences here just shows how much she’s grown as a young woman.
I’ve known Gemma for over 4 years now and have seen her rollercoaster of a journey, she has faced many challenges early in life that people wouldn’t normally have to adjust to but she’s done it all without a thought to what she could be missing out on, she’s an incredibly selfless young person and always looking out for everyone else around her.
I worked with Gemma a lot during her Autism diagnosis and not once did she appear scared or anxious that her diagnosis might mean changes for her. We created a safe environment for her to ask whatever questions she wanted and spoke about it like it was just a part of who she is. I’ve seen Gemma begin to understand why she might act differently than other people since getting her diagnosis and use this as a platform to help other people with disabilities. She is an incredibly resilient young person and anyone who takes the time to get to know her will only be better for it.”
Tell us about yourself and tell us about your journey at Wigan Youth Zone:
“I am Gemma and I’m 17 years old I stared Wigan youth Zone as a junior and have progressed through to the seniors. Before I went to Wigan Youth Zone, I didn’t really have anything to do and I didn’t really know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I didn’t really have any hobbies or skills but Youth Zone helped me find my passion for helping children with additional needs and music.
One of the main reasons I joined Wigan Youth Zone was that I had a lot going on at home with my siblings in and out of hospital all the time. I needed an escape and somewhere where I could take my mind off everything going on, so one of my mum’s friends suggested I go to the Youth Zones open day.”
How did you feel when you first started? How do you feel now? Why?
“When I first started attending the Youth Zone, I was quite nervous because the only time I ever left the house was to go to school where I would get bullied so I was scared if people wouldn’t accept me. However, I then joined the drama club APAA while I was in juniors my confidence started to boost with every show that we did.
When I was transferred to Senior my confidence went down and my anxiety started to get quite bad as I felt like I had lost all my new friends. However, after a couple of sessions I found out about a room called The Den which helps members with additional needs or people who feel like they might need some extra support. This room helped me find my passion for music again as we had an inclusive music session where we would all go into the music room and have a good time. It also taught me different coping mechanisms for my anxiety, The Den also helped me find a group of friends who would help me overcome my anxiety.”
Describe any challenges or obstacles you have overcome thanks to attending the Youth Zone, and how it has helped?
“There have been a lot of challenges in my life including problems at home and my mental health. I have a busy home with all siblings older than me who are all older than me who all have had their different challenges; including my sister with severe mental health issues so I have had to care for her all my life.
With all this going on I struggled with socialising because I never really left the house or went out with people much. The Youth Zone gave me an escape as I could go into Music or The Den and just chill out without the stress of caring for my sister. I also faced some personal challenges this includes anxiety, panic attacks and self-harm, The Den and The Staff helped me find different ways to cope better. They would also help by opening up The Den as a calm and quiet space me and my friends could go to calm down and chill out before going back to the main Rec area.
Another thing that the Youth Zone Inclusion staff helped me with was my Autism Diagnosis all throughout the process they were there to support me and give me advice on how I could deal with it at home and how to overcome the stress of the process.”
What do you like about attending the Youth Zone?
“There are many things that I like about the Youth Zone, the main one is probably going into The Den as we learn sign language so everyone feels included, and we also do many different activities like art, baking and game nights. But there 2 main thing I look forward to each year and this is the Inclusion and President’s cup, because it makes me feel like part of a team and it’s almost like my team is my second family. I love how all the Inclusion Cup games are adapted so anyone can play them. I also like how we get to meet other people from different Youth Zones and we all compete against each other for the trophy.
Another thing I enjoy doing while I’m at Youth Zone is going into music on a Thursday night and doing confidence karaoke this is a closed session and it allows you to work on your music skills and performance skills without the fear of being judged by others around you. The confidence karaoke led me to become more confident and I ended up doing many different performances with large audiences including Patron’s Dinners, Pride and various performances at different Christmas Markets.
Another project I did whilst at Wigan Youth Zone was Young Enterprise, this was a national competition in which you came up with a business idea and you would show it to a panel of judges and they would decide whose idea would progress through to the next round. This helped my confidence grow massively as we had to go out to different markets and sell products and we also had to talk to people we didn’t know and try and convince them that our product was the best. It also helped increase my math and IT skills as we had to build our own website and workout how much money we had to spend and ways that we can get more money. We did this course with Mike and he made sure that it was enjoyable all the way through and he always brought a good vibe whenever he walked into the room.
I also enjoy the support you would get from different staff as they all have a different amazing personalities who would never fail to put a smile on my face even when I’m going through a rough time. They would always make time for me to speak to them and provide amazing advice.”