'Without CATCH I'd be out in the streets': Meet the inspiring young volunteers giving back to their Harehills community
From cleaning windows, litter picking and packing food parcels to mucking out a farm - the young volunteers at Leeds charity CATCH put in a hard graft.
Community Action to Create Hope, CATCH, is a youth project nestled in the centre of Harehills.
The charity puts young people at the heart of everything they do with a busy programme of volunteer activities, sports clubs and even an educational farm.
As the Yorkshire Evening Post's Saving Lives After Lockdown campaign looks at preventing an upsurge in knife crime post-lockdown, the diversionary work of CATCH is more vital than ever.
Being involved in CATCH is like a "conscious on your shoulder", the charity's chair of trustees Ian Short said, giving young people a sense of belonging and helping to build positive relationships within the community.
Ian told the Yorkshire Evening Post: "We’re aware of people who may have got into trouble through the pandemic and the door is always open for them, whether they want to talk to an adult or one of the volunteer leaders.
"We're there to catch them."
Ian said young people often fall into gangs, knife crime and serious violence through a lack of identity, driven by peer pressure or what makes them popular.
Through the raft of volunteer activities, and by providing a safe space for young people, CATCH creates another group for them to feel a part of - in a positive way.
Ian added: “In your teens, you come to a big fork in the road. You can go the right way, which may be the harder route and uphill, or you can go downhill which is the easier route, but the consequences stay with you for the rest of your life.
"There’s no hierarchy at CATCH, everyone is the same as long as you’re prepared to put in the work.
"You’re removing children from the street who would normally be out in the evening - even if they are out with their mates, their involvement with CATCH is like a conscience sat on their shoulder."
CATCH turned into a food bank overnight when the pandemic hit, recognising a need when some of the city's food banks were forced to close as elderly volunteers went into shielding.
Providing food from a double-decker bus donated by First Leeds, CATCH has been one of the biggest food hubs throughout the pandemic.
17-year-old George is a senior worker at CATCH. He gets up at the crack of dawn on Saturday to head down to the food bank, packing parcels and delivering food in a "military operation".
Without CATCH, George fears his life would be very different.
He told the YEP: “I’m proud that we can hand out food to other families, a lot of them can’t afford it - especially during Covid times.
"Without CATCH, I’d probably be in the streets messing around, I’d probably be locked up. I used to hang around with bad friends and smash cars, I got put in custody in 2018.
"CATCH has supported me with those issues and helped me out. I’ve learnt communication skills and it’s built my confidence. I wasn’t much of a confident person before."
Kevin, also 17, volunteers at the food bus four days a week.
He said: "I start working early in the morning and sometimes I finish at 11pm."
CATCH has been transformed over the last few months, with the young people doing much of the renovation work - plumbing, painting walls and plastering.
Ian added: “There’s all these tangible benefits that give people life lessons. It's not something you can sit in a classroom and learn, it’s not something you can read out of a book, you have to experience the journey.
“It really is humbling to be a part of.”
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