A magic wand?

This is the continuation of the BYTES story (see The false gâteaux)

Mark is still clearing up in the kitchen and so as not to inconvenience him too much I suggest I wire him up, attach the microphone to his apron and pop the tape recorder in his pocket. While tackling the pans, he says his background is working with marginalised young people, mostly 16-24 year-olds but sometimes younger. He’s supported those in the criminal justice service, those in secure care or excluded from school. Until now he’s been employed by local authorities or by national organisations with local contracts. BYTES is the first time he’s helped set up an independent project from scratch and, he admits, he’s finding it very exciting.

“When Ayrden came to me with the idea last summer I wasn’t motivated to do much, certainly nothing new. He came round one evening and said, have you seen this? We should do something. He explained his idea and we stayed until two or three the next morning writing the proposal – it was due in the next day – and BYTES was born out of that.”

“Aryden said you wouldn’t mind him saying that your relationship hasn’t always been straightforward.”

“Not at all.”

“Tell me something about that.” Mark hesitates, thinks where to begin.

“Just after Aryden turned 18 it got to the point where it was difficult for us both to be under the same roof. I was living with my partner at the time – we’ve since separated – and two of my other children. We were a family of five. After a couple of incidents we sat down and I said it was probably a good idea if he found somewhere else to live because I didn’t think the situation was going to get better in the short term. He agreed and since then has not lived at home.

“Our relationship went through a very difficult patch for about a year after that, very difficult, but since then I think it has got a lot stronger and him coming to me with the idea of working together on BYTES has been inspiring.”

“As a dad, that must have felt good, that he came back and suggested the idea to you?”

“Yes. It’s actually turned things around for us both. For the last five years, since he left home, he’s been the one who has sought motivation from me but this time he was so enthused by his idea he has motivated me when I was at a low point. I was still adjusting to the fact that my family had broken up completely around 18 months before: my partner had moved to Australia with my eldest daughter and I was at home with our youngest son. Things were very different for me and I was still adjusting to that… and Ayrden came in the door and injected some enthusiasm and energy into my life, so we went for it.”

“Mark, tell me about BYTES.”

Mark switches from personal to professional. “BYTES is a connecting point for young people to talk about their direction,” he says. “It’s not necessarily employment focussed, or vocationally focussed. It’s about supporting young people to find some direction, to start believing in themselves. We meet a lot of young people who don’t have any self-belief and don’t really know what’s out there for them.”

I play devil’s advocate. “But what can you offer them? I’ve heard employment prospects are limited in Brixham. Have you got a magic wand?”

“No, no, I don’t have a magic wand but people have said they have seen a real change in young people after talking to me or working with Ayrden. They are more positive, more excited about their prospects.” Mark is getting passionate now about what they can achieve. “The magic wand is community, the magic wand is the open door, the acceptance of people for who they are, that’s the magic wand. It’s not about anything I do or say. It’s this place, the people, the whole combination of things.”

This project has only been established for five months, the first two saw Mark and Ayrden get to grips with what BYTES was going to be about, setting aims and objectives, putting the word out.  The first attempt at promoting themselves, directly to the young people, was not a success. Since then they have changed tack and now coordinate with third parties who refer their clients to the kitchen at The Edge.

“We now have over 20 young people on our books, getting our support, accessing vocationally-based training, coming here to improve their numeracy and literacy skills, building their self-confidence and making themselves more employable.

“Ayrden is the hub of what happens in this kitchen,” Mark is now saying as he dries his hands. “Next month he’ll be running his NVQ food prep courses and I’ll be taking the helicopter view of where BYTES needs to develop: putting out feelers and making connections.”

The second half of Mark’s story is on Friday at 2pm.

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