“All young people have the right to feel safe and secure in their lives, be treated with respect and to feel good about themselves. The Market Place offers space, time and information to help this happen. We support and believe in young people so that they can develop their own emotional resilience. We accept young people as individuals and encourage them to live their own lives in the way that they choose.”
This is the mission statement of The Market Place, Leeds, a charity providing free, early intervention mental health, sexual health and crisis support for young people. It is confidential and bridges the gap between adolescence and adulthood by supporting those aged 13 -25.
The Market Place, launched in 1989, offers an eclectic range of young person centred support consisting of drop in services, counselling and youth work. It advocates a holistic approach, championing the view that young people are experts in their own lives and involving service users in the continued development of the organisation through their young people’s participation group, HYPE (Helping Young People through Experience), of which I am a member.
The Market Place itself and the HYPE group are emblematic of an already established ‘Big Society’ in action. But the Market Place is in dire need of new premises due to building disrepair and no disabled access. It lacks necessary funding and its location next to a pub is hardly ideal either.
The Market Place project in Leeds, a vital resource for young people.
I am 21 and have struggled with mental health problems since childhood, predominantly anxiety and depression. During my teenage years my mental health deteriorated significantly due to bullying and I developed a paralysing form of social anxiety – also known as social phobia – which made the simplest of real world interactions difficult and rendered me unable to be around groups of people or communicate with my peers without acute anxiety attacks. This led to agoraphobia and when I first accessed services at The Market Place I was too anxious to walk down the street unaccompanied, for an irrational fear strangers would laugh and ridicule me.
At the time any future seemed unimaginable and thus it is not an exaggeration to say The Market Place changed my life; it afforded me the much needed time and objectivity to gradually work through my mental health problems in a non-patronising, informal environment through their one to one service, My Plan. My Plan is a form of one to one support offered at The Market Place which combines talking therapy with a practical ‘plan’ of action, with the assistance of a Youth Worker who is trained in supporting young people with complex mental health issues.
Andrew Strachan, 26, a member of the HYPE group who has been helped by The Market Place, says: “As a shy person it’s important that I can get to talk to someone friendly and understanding, and a means to build on my confidence.”
Last year The Market Place was plagued by inadequate funding and has had to go through a rigorous restructuring to ensure the needs of its waiting list of young people needing support are met while remaining within limited financial parameters. As a front-runner in early intervention The Market Place has always succeeded in doing more for less and alleviates the strain on the NHS by identifying mental health problems early on and preventing the need for more acute psychiatric support and spells in hospital. There is a real danger the ambiguity of future funding – particularly in relation to the perpetually underfunded youth work – will force long-term staff to seek jobs where there is more job security, taking with them years of valuable experience and expertise. Recommended by G.Ps, mental health professionals and most importantly young people themselves sustained funding is all that is required to keep this invaluable service running, offering help, information and support to young people, regardless of background, culture, sexuality or diagnosis.
“The Market Place helped me when I felt no one else could,” says Hannah Clark, 19. Many young people turn up at The Market Place experiencing acute mental distress. To them this service is a lifeline.
The director of The Market Place, Sally Dawson, is cynical about the coalition’s ‘Big Society’ drive; she emphasises that current, successful community-based services that already have working infrastructures in place should be supported before money is siphoned off into any ‘new’ initiatives.
There are a number organisations like The Market Place around the country in jeopardy due to the precarious nature of funding and I’m in no doubt some of these will have to close down, leaving vulnerable young people out in the cold and Cameron’s philanthropic vision seriously lacking.