Pennywell Youth Project was established in 1989 as a coffee bar offering additional support to local residents.
When it moved to its current building in the centre of the Pennywell estate, it began contracting with Sunderland College to deliver education programmes to young people not in education, employment and training (NEET).
Across Sunderland's St Anne’s Ward there are high levels of unemployment. The Pennywell estate, a post-war social housing estate managed by Gentoo, has much higher than average lone parents, benefit claimants, mental health issues and children claiming free school meals, and those families in work are on very low incomes.
The project has been working with some families on the estate for generations and many of the young people do not believe they can achieve and gain employment, and are struggling to break the pattern of behaviour set by their parents and even grandparents.
Pennywell Youth Project is very much part of the local community and workers have ‘walked in the shoes’ of the young people they support. Cassandra, the project manager, started volunteering with the project in her teens, went on to complete a youth work degree and work in London before returning to Sunderland to manage the Youth Project. The workers at the centre are a living example that hard work can lead to a positive future.
The centre is open seven days a week. The building offers a safe space for young people to learn new skills, get involved in developing services and enjoy themselves. It hosts drop-in sessions as well as education programmes. On evenings and weekends it gives young people somewhere to meet and take part in structured activities as an alternative to drinking, drug use, anti-social behaviour and criminal activity.
The Foundation awarded Pennywell Youth Project a grant of £48,351 to deliver training in employability and personal social development. The Pathways Project aims to develop the emotional resilience of the young people through one-to-one work while improving their employability. The project will support young people in writing CVs, understanding job specifications and presenting at job interviews. The programme includes a six week work placement to give young people the experience of a real working environment, and the opportunity to prove themselves to prospective employers.