Hidden heroes: Youth workers up for awards

Hayley Dunn. Picture: Contributed
Hayley Dunn. Picture: Contributed
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THEY have dedicated their life and work to some of Edinburgh’s most vulnerable youngsters.

Now, seven youth workers and groups are to be recognised at this year’s National Youth Worker of the Year awards after being shortlisted as finalists.

The Edinburgh finalists range from Rachel Barr, who has been a youth worker at Portobello High School for a decade, to Balwinder Singh – who encourages girls within the Sikh community to “think big”, raise their aspirations and stay on at school.

A total of 33 individuals and organisations made the shortlist for the awards, which are run by YouthLink Scotland and celebrate outstanding achievement within Scotland’s youth work sector. The nominees have demonstrated “outstanding commitment and passion” to changing the lives of young people for the better.

There are three finalists in each of the 11 categories, and there is also a lifetime achievement award. The winners are set to be announced and presented with their award at a dinner held in Glasgow’s Crowne Plaza Hotel on March 14.

The event will be hosted by broadcaster and Forth One DJ, Grant Stott, and the awards presented by Minister for Children and Young People, Aileen Campbell, along with the
sponsors of each category.
Chief executive of YouthLink Scotland, Jim Sweeney, said: “It’s humbling to see the enthusiasm and dedication that youth workers and volunteers demonstrate day-in and day-out to so many young people.

“The work they do has an immeasurable social benefit to all of us. It turns around the lives of young people, offering the hand of friendship and vital support which can often make a life-changing difference.”

He added: “Investing in young people has never been more important as the hard economic times continue to put pressure on the younger generation and their opportunities for the future. The awards are an excellent opportunity to recognise the positive contribution that youth work makes to individuals and communities across the country.

“I hope this contribution and its equivalent ‘monetary’ value will be recognised, and government and business will clearly see the benefits of continued and increased investment in youth work organisations.”


Hayley Dunn – YMCA Edinburgh

The 26-year-old has been a youth worker for nine years, working at the YMCA in Leith since October 2007.

Hayley, who lives in Leith, said she loves her job: “It’s one of those things where I never feel what I do is work and so it was an honour to have an appreciation for the things that I do. I work predominantly in the Leith area but I spend a third of my time in East Lothian doing chaplaincy and schools work.

“You just have to walk around Leith to see the issues around poverty, homelessness and substance misuse. Some of the young people I work with have been brought up in homes where some of these are prevalent.”


Balwinder Singh – Sikh Sanjog, Leith Walk

Nominator, Khaleda Noon, said: “Being a good role model means inspiring and empowering others. Balwinder Singh is a strong inspirational woman who had to overcome the cultural oppression to gain education and employment. Working with young women within the Sikh community, she has encouraged girls to think big and to raise their aspirations and stay on at school.”


The Yard Adventure Centre, New Town.

The Yard’s practice team provide youth services for young people with additional support needs. They strive to give them the opportunity to try new experiences and interests, enabling them to form friendships, gain more self-confidence and be independent.

Nominator Celine Sinclair said: “They are exceptional people who genuinely care and know that what they do makes an enormous difference. If they are running an art session and a young person has very limited mobility, then the team will create a catapult or a pendulum to enable them to take part”


Lisa Haggerty – YWCA Scotland, Leith Walk

Lisa grew up and still lives in Armadale, West Lothian, where the Teen Parent Project is based.

Nominator Kim Smith said: “From her own personal experience, she understands the barriers young parents face in everyday life. Her warmth, humour and professional approach has made a measurable difference to some of the most hard to reach young people.”


Drummond Community High School – S6 Intergenerational Community Project

For the last four years. sixth year pupils have organised activities for residents at Porthaven Care Home in Leith, including storytelling and Hallowe’en, Easter and Christmas parties. The pupils have developed confidence, social skills and an understanding of older people’s needs, while residents enjoyed having the youngsters around and now feel “less segregated” from the community.


Rachel Barr – Portobello High School

The 43-year-old, who lives in Silverknowes, has been a youth worker since 1994 and has worked at Portobello High School for the last ten years. The mother-of-two said: “I do a whole range of work, from one-to-one sessions with young people around bullying and family difficulties, through to a mentoring programme which trains older pupils to work on issues with younger pupils.”

Nominator, headteacher Peigi Macarthur, said: “She gives young people the confidence to be the best they can be and this nomination is a thank you from the many youngsters she has supported over the years.”


Khaleda Noon – Sikh Sanjog, Leith Walk

Since joining Sikh Sanjog two years ago, which supports women and their families from the Sikh and minority ethnic communities, Khaleda has built up a youth programme which is built on inclusion, personal development and equal opportunities.

Girls from the Sikh community now have access to local groups, award schemes, support and mentoring programmes. Khaleda has provided development opportunities for these young women, who are among the most disadvantaged and at risk, enabling them to enhance their quality of life and ambition. Her team underlined that she is a “tenacious campaigner for the rights and opportunities of the female Sikh community”.