Young people's support group applies for classroom permission

A not-for-profit organisation for disadvantaged young people could build classrooms and offices on grassland in Ironbridge, if plans are approved.

Telford & Wrekin Council will consider the application
Telford & Wrekin Council will consider the application

The Really NEET Project has applied for permission to build the wooden cabins behind an existing house on the north side of Hodge Bower.

A supporting statement by founder and director Sophie Maxwell says the 10-year-old organisation has helped more than 800 over-16s with “complex challenges” including special educational needs, homelessness, and being a young parent.

The Gorge Parish Council will be consulted and Telford and Wrekin Council’s planning department will make its decision at a later date.

Psyche Hudson, the borough’s Culture and Wellbeing Services Manager, has backed the proposal, praising the “creative and fulfilling opportunities” and “creative and hands-on experiences” the project offers.

Application documents say the Rotherham-based project plans to use the four structures as “a project office, classroom, chillout area and woodwork room”.

An existing house on the site will be moved and replaced to “allow for a wider and safer access”, writes planning agent Simon Smith, of Shropshire-based En-plan Ltd.

In a supporting statement, Ms Maxwell says she set up the project after her own experience of being NEET (not in education, employment or training) and homeless while a teenager.

“If it wasn’t for an incredible mentor believing in me and developing my own self-confidence, I’m not sure I would have turned it around to go on to graduate university and set up Really NEET back in 2011,” she writes.

“Many of the young people accessing our programmes have multiple complex challenges to engagement, alongside their special educational needs – barriers such as homelessness, being a looked-after child, mental health, being a young parent and experience domestic violence just to name a few.”

She says Really NEET is working with both Shropshire Council and Telford and Wrekin Council as part of its Midlands programme.

“We have a mentoring project planned for 2021 around skill-swapping between a group of retired men who volunteer around Ironbridge fixing gates, dry stone walling and hedge cutting, and our young people,” she writes.

“The land at Hodge Bower would enable us to build our eco-cabin classrooms which will include a practical countryside skills room, a functional woodwork shop and a maths and English classroom, as well as being able to develop and onsite allotment.”

In a letter of support, Ms Hudson says: “Having been briefed on the project and its work with vulnerable young people I know what an asset this could be to the area.

“Understanding the impact that culture and creativity has on wellbeing and community engagement, this project will undoubtedly enhance and improve the life chances of the young people involved.”

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