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Courtney Giles

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I am the Change - Saving Epsom Phab

Posted: 12/12/2012 15:17

Epsom Phab is a youth club for able bodied and disabled children aged 8-16 and it is where I have been volunteering since I turned 16 years old. We meet in Epsom every Friday night and the club runs for two hours. The main ethos of our club is inclusion. Everybody joins in, regardless of their ability. We offer a variety of activities each week such as table tennis, football, art and craft, drama, unihoc, circus skills, a radio station, table tennis, and much more. We also do trips and residential holidays. Epsom Phab has been running for 35 years next year and there are over 100 members and 40 volunteers.

I first heard that a decision had been made to sell the Youth Centre we currently hold our club at, the Linton Centre, on December 17th 2011. Straight away we were all angry. Angry children, angry volunteers, angry parents. There are obviously many members at the club and the club does so much good for so many people I think you can probably imagine the mass of anger. It wasn't fair, why us, what could we do to stop this.

We were all angry, but knew that wasn't going to get us anywhere. Then by chance whilst browsing the NUS website to get a Topshop discount code, I saw an advert for an NUS competition called 'I am the change'. 'I am the change' is a project which encourages students to make positive changes and where others can vote for which change they want to make. Little did I know that day what a huge difference the five minutes I took to fill out the online form would make. I wrote out my change which was 'A purpose built youth centre in Epsom for use by many different youth groups including disadvantaged individuals such as those with disabilities. Would have many accessible facilities which could be used by the community to have a positive impact', I then told my family and friends they should vote for it, and left it for a while. To be honest I could never guess that anything would come out of it, for me it was just something constructive to deal with my anger, a little bit of hope that someone might care. I was quite worried about my change because in comparison to others wishes of world peace and reducing university fees for the whole country, my change seemed small and insignificant. Yet I found so many people felt the same as me, and I was overwhelmed to get so many votes and to have so many people go on to make the same change as me.

The mass voting continued, with the message about "I am the change" being promoted through forms of social media such as facebook and twitter. The voting alone lead to awareness about the issues we were facing, and drummed up lots of support for our cause. Finally it got to the winner being announced and we were all ecstatic after finding out we had won! It was such a relief to know that someone was listening to us, and someone wanted to help us. The excitement that our change was important and achievable at last with the help of the NUS. Going for the campaign was definitely aiming high, but we made it. We wanted to do something constructive with the anger we had, and put the support of other around us to good use, and finally with the backing of NUS we had been given this opportunity.

Through our work with the NUS we have had continued support, we have had a campaign training day, campaign material such as t-shirts and leaflets and lots of advice and help whenever we needed it. It has been amazing to work with people that were so dedicated to our cause and really helped us to fight against the cuts that were affecting our youth centre and make a real positive change.

Finally, after 11 months, on Thursday 22nd November we heard the decision we had been waiting for. Unfortunately being at Uni, I couldn't make it home for the result, so I was sitting in my 6-9pm lecture waiting for a text to see how everything had gone. Back in Surrey, we had 8 young people go along to hear the result, with my sister, Zoe, being able to speak on behalf of Phab. They agreed to fund our move to Nescot, including one outside area, and because of Zoe's speech they also agreed to working with us to get extra funds for a larger outside area. It was such a relief to find out that our campaigning paid off and that we had managed to save Epsom Phab, and now to the task of securing the remaining funding and celebrating our win!

 
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