The Connections Bus Project has been providing youth services in Cambridgeshire for over 25 years but arguable is currently experiencing its toughest period in all that time. However through adaption and perseverance the charity is surviving and hoping to thrive. Read on to hear from the charity’s Project Manager (Alan Webb) on how they have faced challenges and are moving forward.

As soon as the pandemic started (and throughout) we have sought the guidance of the National Youth Agency (NYA) to ensure our work adhered to government guidance, in order to maintain the high standard and to provide support for young people in a safe secure way. Initially it became clear that use of our 2metre wide youth buses would in no way be possible. They were quickly mothballed and have been off the road for 16 months. Our building based youth work was also not possible and 15 youth sessions a week dropped to zero in the space of a few days.

First attempts at any sort of online service clearly showed that the young people we work with were not interested in this, however our babysitting courses switched to Zoom and 5 courses were able to be run in this way.

As summer 2020 approached we took the step to train up most of our sessional youth workers in detached youth work enabling them to go out in pairs and walk through villages engaging with the young people they met. Government guidance meant that we were unable to advertise these sessions and so as autumn and winter approached, being outdoors saw less young people and the lockdown of January 2021 kicked in.

The next step was to accelerate an idea that we always hoped would happen with the purchase of our youth van, equipped with outdoor activities, games and a hot chocolate maker! This meant we could promote our session again and reconnect with young people in person, letting them know we were still there to help.

The youth van has been running outdoor youth clubs in 6 villages a week since May 2021 and has accumulated nearly 100 hours of youth work sessions. Attendance has grown over this period with a mix of a few young people who had previously attended youth buses session and a larger number of those about to move up into school year 7. Mixed weather has not helped but we are building good foundations with young people who we hope to support over the coming years. We offer a listening ear, a safe place to meet with friends, someone to play a game with, as well as advice on every topic under the sun!

With many restrictions being lifted, it is clear that our building based youth work will be able to recommence in autumn 2021 but we are still waiting to hear about our youth buses. We’ll follow the very latest guidelines in place at the time as we look to start using our youth buses again, to keep everyone safe.

We have been successful in gaining some of the funding needed to get the youth buses roadworthy again and are going ahead with one at the moment so that we can train up new drivers and be ready. The other will wait until we have confirmation. There is still a shortfall on the costs for repairs so if you are able to help please check out our giving page.

We are also purchasing equipment for the youth van and are having flight cases made so that we can use the van fully loaded with moveable equipment to run pop-up youth clubs. This will enable the use of community buildings without the need for storage and equipment on site. Everything comes out of the van and everything goes back in.

This has been a difficult period but the Trustees and staff have aimed to preserve our resources so that we can come back but with new and unique ways to continue to provide youth services in the county.

We are a small devoted team who recognise the increasing importance of open access youth work for young people who have had some of the toughest months, with little help and support. If you are like minded then we are keen to add to our board of trustees, more details can be found on our vacancies page.

Ed Cameron, who’s been a trustee with The Connections Bus Project for five years, said, ‘The pandemic has had such an impact on people from all walks of life including many of our young people. While we were very reluctant to press pause on the youth work back in March 2020, it was the best thing to do to keep everyone safe. It’s great to have found new ways of delivering youth services and being able to reconnect with young people, offering somewhere safe for them to hang out with friends, make new ones and have someone who can listen and offer advice on anything needed.’

More information about which villages we are working in can be found on the timetable.