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Gemma’s Story


Gemma’s, 16

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.”

Ebony has worked with young people with impairments for 6 years now. Always striving to make things more inclusive, she ensures every young person can feel part of the youth zone. From climbing, to dance or music, or the rec area Ebony loves to get involved and support young people. She lives by the quote “Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress and working together is success.”


As a mum and family lawyer, Charlotte is keen to go the extra mile with making positive changes in her community, ensuring that young people living locally have access to crucial provisions and resources at the Youth Zone. Charlotte said: “Hearing from our members helps bring home what we do as a board and what we are doing on a day-to-day basis for children living locally. My involvement goes a little way to help give something back.”


Former volunteer at the Youth Zone, Jay has been working with young people for over 14 years and is responsible for planning, overseeing, and directing the operations of our lively recreational area, whilst also delivering a range of specialist training to other clubs across our network.


  • Robert brings over 15 years’ experience working in senior management roles within large charities and helps to put the paramount views of young people, parents and key stakeholders at the forefront of everything we do. Rob said: “The culture and belief in every young person is truly inspiring.”


As an artist herself and a long background of working creatively in the community, Catherine delivers a range of workshops and sessions at the Youth Zone, offering a calm and productive space for young people to create art and learn new skills. Catherine said: “I love my job at Wigan Youth Zone, it gives me a chance to empower young people and make them believe in themselves!”


Dave joined our team in 2016 through the Wigan Athletic Community Trust, having completed a degree in Community Football Coaching and Development. As a qualified sports coach and experience of working with Watford FC and Oxford United, Dave oversees an exciting range of indoor and outdoor facilities at the Youth Zone and manages a variety of action-packed activities and games for young people to enjoy.


With experience of working with young people for over five years now, Amy joins the team as our dedicated Pathway 2 Participation Coordinator, inspiring confidence and encouraging engagement with the Youth Zone. Amy works to support the mental and physical wellbeing within the local youth community, and said: “My passion is having a positive impact on young people and helping them to have a positive outlook on life.”


With experience of working in informal education for over 15 years and a Masters in Educational Leadership, Anthony is always looking out for new ways to help support and empower young people in Wigan and Leigh. Since taking up his position in 2017, Anthony has been eager to build on past successes to further raise the profile of Wigan Youth Zone on a local, regional and national level (and has taken the organisation through a series of changes to help accomplish this.)


Over the past five years, Liz has worked with Onside to develop and deliver a bespoke leadership and management programme that supports managers within Youth Zones across the UK, helping them to achieve their full potential. Liz enjoys contributing to the safe and effective running of the Zone and credits the more unusual requests she gets to always putting a smile on her face, such as singing along in the Christmas video!


Avid local sports fan, weekend triathlete and Chartered Accountant Paul lives with his young family in Shevington, and as a born and bred Wiganer, is keen to lend his professional skills and time to helping others in his community. Paul said: The biggest value is seeing the continued great work of the Youth Zone for the young people of Wigan and Leigh and the resulting growth and development of our members. It gives me great pride to be able to tell people I am involved with the Youth Zone.” 


Susan’s career as a Regeneration Professional has spanned over 35 years, working around the country on a diverse range of projects. She is passionate about ensuring that young people are listened to, helping to provide them with the skills, opportunity and support to both recognise and exceed their potential. Susan said: “The partnerships that we have formed and strengthened over the last couple of years provides so much hope for the future of our borough and our young people.”

Former volunteer, Kim joined the team full-time in 2014 after completing a degree in Youth and Community Work, with years of involvement within her local church youth club behind her. Currently assisting with the coordination of enterprise and employability, Kim helps young people get on the right path by developing their skills in business and entrepreneurship. She said: “I do it because I really love it. I’m working in my dream job!”


Wigan enthusiast Gary has enjoyed a long career working with some of the biggest brands in the UK and has been with the Youth Zone right from its roots, establishing the business as a founding patron. Gary said: “Right from the outset, I believed in what Wigan Youth Zone was seeking to deliver and the potential positive impact it could have on local young people, something close to my heart.”

After serving in the Royal Air Force and working in joinery and construction, Graham joined the children’s services in Wigan Council, where he has worked for the past 26 years. As a qualified social worker, he is Service Lead for the targeted Youth Support and Start Well services and joins us as the council’s dedicated representative. Graham said: “I value the opportunity to support and shape a range of opportunities for young people, helping them to develop important life skills and become positive members of society.”


Richard, owner of Network Space, a commercial property business in the north of England,  joined our chair in 2019, having been a patron for some years before. His charitable work is focussed on trying to help young people realise their full potential. A keen advocate of continuous improvement, Richard ensures that the youth zone is always looking to enhance the services it provides by listening to feedback and suggestions from our members.

As the owner and Chief Operating Officer of a large law firm, with experience of working as a commercial lawyer for 20 years prior, Jonathan advises the Youth Zone using his expert legal background and has been working with the charity since the beginning of its development. Jonathan said: “After becoming a member of the board, my middle son was diagnosed as having Autism Spectrum Condition, so the importance of supporting young people who face challenges in life is something that I have experienced first-hand. It is a privilege to be part of such a fantastic project.”


As a qualified Youth Worker and the Network Director of OnSide Youth Zones, Helen is passionate about serving as a Trustee and values the opportunity to stay connected with the Youth Zone offer, which she represents nationally. Helen said: “I love the creativity and can-do attitude of the team at Wigan Youth Zone- I know how dedicated they are to giving young people great opportunities and the support to succeed.”


Jackie Salt brings a wealth of digital marketing skills as Commercial Manager of Wigan-based agency, ATTAIN. Since joining the board in April 2019, Jackie has advised on fundraising, events and marketing, as well as becoming heavily involved in Wigan Youth Zone’s Young Enterprise programme.

Gill has worked in local government for over 30 years, managing a range of front-line services as a Corporate Director and addressing important issues within her community. Now running her own business, Gill provides leadership and management training, qualifications and business coaching. She said: “I value being part of an organisation that helps to make a difference to so many young peoples’ lives, to enable them to develop new skills, gain confidence and to have the amazing opportunities the Youth Zone provides.”

Born and bred in Wigan, Nigel joined the board in 2018, having originally supported Wigan Youth Zone as a patron. Nigel brings a wealth of HR expertise, having run his own consultancy for 12 years. Nigel said: “I remember feeling how overwhelmed I was when I visited the site for the first time and seeing all the work they do. Who wouldn’t want to get involved and help those who change the lives of many young people!”

With over 12 years experience in the corporate world, Lynsey joined us back in 2019, bringing a wealth of skills and knowledge with her. Lynsey loves connecting local businesses with the Youth Zone and as a proud Wiganer, is honoured to be raising funds, so that many other young people can go on to achieve their own dreams. Lynsey is a keen runner and is often seen out and about pounding the pavements to help raise the pennies!


Kate has been working with and for young people for over 15 years and has carried out various roles for us since 2013. She believes that the volunteers have an immeasurable impact on the Youth Zone and is passionate about the professional development of the team. Being a part of the community and fundraising events has given Kate some of her career highlights.


Ian encourages creativity to run wild at the Zone and has worked with bands and instruments for over 20 years. With experience of working in youth centres for over a decade, Ian ensures that there is something for every young person to try out, from guitar and drum lessons, singing and song-writing, DJ-ing skills and much more!


Hayley is passionate about supporting young people and oversees various safeguarding responsibilities at the Zone, as well as working with our counselling partnership. She enjoys getting out and about on our community outreach programme and is a huge supporter of female empowerment. Everyone at the club knows Hayley for her love for animals, dance…and cheese!


Karen ensures that everyone has access to a healthy meal at our café and has a wealth of experience in catering, previously working as a cook for 24 years before joining us. Having also led her local church youth group, Karen supports our mission to make the Zone a positive and supportive environment for any young person to feel welcomed into.


With experience of volunteering in holiday clubs during her school holidays, Louise advanced to achieve her college qualification in Nursery Nursing and a degree. Louise loves getting creative, thinking up new exciting ideas and themes for our holiday clubs, and is always busy providing an assortment of entertaining activities for everyone to come and enjoy!  


Chris has been working in the outdoors since 2005 and leads a variety of action-packed activities for young people to enjoy, managing our specialist equipment and facilities, whilst also overseeing our DofE programme. Chris is a trained mountain leader, rock-climbing instructor, paddle sports coach and first aider, and is always looking forward to the next exciting trip out!


Steven oversees our range of amazing facilities that we offer to local young people and is responsible for managing the health and safety here at the Zone, keeping everyone safe and sound! Steven can also often be found organising a variety of fantastic internal and external fundraising events, such as the yearly Reet Good Beer Festival.


Sharon enjoys arranging a wide range of fundraising events for Wigan Youth Zone and brings 15 years of corporate experience to the table. Sharon is always on the lookout for new partnerships, helping us to maintain vital relationships with many local businesses across Wigan and Leigh.


We first met Andy in the summer of 2013, where he was selling ice creams for us at an open day! A keen fundraiser, Andy has pedalled around the country for us and works closely day-to-day with youth participation, listening and closely involving our members in everything we do, as well as engaging with local schools and community projects.


With a background in secondary school education and experience as a Football Coach, Steven now leads as the Senior Club Manager and never has two days the same at the Zone! Steven said: Everyone here is always so welcoming and willing to go above and beyond on a daily basis in order to deliver the best experiences possible for the young people of Wigan!”


The first of many smiling faces you will see, Chris has been with us since we first opened, starting part-time on the reception desk and progressing his way through to management! A key member of our busy team, Chris said: The best part of my job is seeing our young people coming through the doors to enjoy the activities that we have on offer seven days a week.”


Jack has worked with Wigan Community Trust since 2015 as a school sports coach, but is based right here at the Zone as our dedicated football officer. Jack relishes the opportunity to make a difference to the lives of young people through the power of sport and is keen to get more people passionate about football.


As a qualified teacher with a specialism in music, Mike has worked with young people for the past ten years in a variety of settings, from young offenders institutes, to pupil referral units and behavioural schools. Originally working in the music department, Mike now heads up the Youth Zones’ mentoring programme, recruiting volunteers to match with and support our local young people.


Nikki is passionate about providing young people with great experiences and opportunities by overseeing a variety of inspiring youth work. With qualifications in Media and Communications, Mental Health First Aid and British Sign Language, Nikki is always looking to expand her skills and try something new.


After training at college and stage School, Joe performed around Spain, eventually returning to his roots to teach dance for us, with previous experience of coaching behind him. Joe said: “I received offers to go back to Spain and go around the world on a cruise ship, but I saw an opportunity to develop here. I want the next generation of Wigan to be passionate about dance!


With more than 15 years of experience in HR, Lisa joined us back in 2013. She is passionate about ensuring that the health and wellbeing of the whole team is at the heart of our work and is committed to our mission of providing young people with the brightest futures possible- even taking on a tandem skydive, despite her fear of heights, to raise funds for us!


Previous office and admin volunteer at the Youth Zone, Steph formally joined our team back in 2014 and now looks after our day-to-day bookkeeping, taking on the important role of looking after payroll and accounts.


Mike has spent the last seven years on the streets and parks of Wigan. Before that, he was a lot warmer, especially during his eight years in Slovakia! With successes as head teacher, sales manager and computer games designer, working all over the UK and beyond, Mike eventually returned to his roots to eat pies, watch rugby and help young people in the borough by pounding the pavement, running transport to the Youth Zone and delivering local youth groups.


Since 2016, Hannah has helped to coordinate and run an exciting range of external projects, such as Get Out Get Active, EmpowHER and Feel Good Fest, a disability festival themed fun day held every September. Hannah has even learnt British Sign Language through the Wigan Deaf Society and can usually be found in ‘The Den’, chatting about Harry Potter and Disney films!


Daniela joined our team for a short fix term, but loved it so much and has stayed ever since! Daniela brings over ten years of experience in data and systems coordination, whilst also overseeing various HR tasks. She said: “I love how we make a real difference and I try to help when possible, running to raise funding and even taking a tandem skydive!”


With over nine years’ experience and a degree in Events Management, Charlotte joined the team in 2019 and is passionate about sharing the amazing stories and memories that Wigan Youth Zone help to create, as well as working as an inspiring mentor for young people.

Siky has attended and enjoyed youth clubs himself since the age of ten and has 15 years of experience as a youth worker. Joining us back in 2013, Siky’s mission is to help us ensure that we offer the best services for children and young people in Wigan.



As the Director of a Licensed Insolvency Practice, Lisa has spent the last 25 years providing critical advice and support to those who find themselves in financial difficulty. Her passion for helping others doesn’t stop there, as she is keen to use her time and skills to make a difference to the lives of young people in Wigan & Leigh. Lisa said: “At the heart of all the decisions we make, we should always keep the best interests and focus on the young people we are trying to support.”