Success on a shoe-string

13th August 2004 at 01:00
Since 1996, the Magdalene project in Edinburgh has run 15-week programmes, including the rare luxury of a week's residential stay on remote islands.

Programmes are open to young people whose background often involves persistent offending, truancy, substance misuse, bereavement, abusive home circumstances or learning problems.

The project has had striking successes in reducing truancy and offending, improving school behaviour and local community relationships, and raising employability and self-esteem.

Yet, despite being held in high regard by community and funders, Magdalene struggles to raise funding from trusts. "Local councillors, the MSP and the Education Minister have all been down, all very supportive, yet workers are still looking to resource it on a long-term basis," Caroline Lamond, a community education worker, says. "It's hard to understand - especially when so many more kids could benefit."

The project can cope with just 24 young people a year, and often has 10 times that number of referrals.

Sam Jess, a local community police officer, says: "Every young person who has been with us has had a positive experience, and will have used it in some way to benefit their future."

Young people themselves choose to "buy in" at every stage, and their own evaluations have shaped the programme's development. Staff stress the importance of being honest with young people, showing them written reports at all stages.

"If they have been a pain in the arse we write it, and they see it," Ms Lamond says.

Crucially, long preparation means each young person's strengths and problems are identified before their week's residential stay and expedition, their "acting out" is past and they are already working as a group.

"If you went cold on an expedition," Ms Lamond says, "you would spend four days just with them testing you out."

Painstaking follow-up and feedback includes a public exhibition of videos and photographs for parents and the local community, who also then gain a stake in the project.

One valuable bonus is that many young people in need of protection open up because staff work in a child-centred way to develop trust over a long time.

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