Community Spark: Every child benefits from islands of space and time

Every day across York hundreds of vulnerable young people are living chaotic lives – victims of abuse and domestic violence, witnessing alcohol and drug abuse, subject to cyber or physical peer pressure and bullying, poor attendance at school, or living in poverty.

Each of us needs something of an island in his life – if not an actual island, at least some place, or space in time, in which to be himself, free to cultivate his differences from others.” John Keats

Joe Gardham, Spark:York Director, visited The Island children’s charity, nestled just off Micklegate, to find out more about the numerous and expanding range of services their team of volunteer mentors are providing to vulnerable young people across our City.

The Island work with 8-13 year old vulnerable young people, and 8-18 year olds with additional needs. Since 2007 they have been matching local children with volunteer mentors – providing opportunities, support and positive role models; increasing educational attainment; diverting from anti-social and criminal behaviour; and creating positive and confident young people.

“I like having a mentor because it gives me somebody else to talk to other than my mum and I need this sometimes” Young person at The Island

The transition from primary to secondary education is one of the most difficult periods in a young person’s development, without the added pressures of trouble at home. Youth clubs, a fixture of every local community twenty years ago, have almost disappeared across the City, and diminishing local authority resources are often focussed on resolving issues rather than preventing them.


The Island has a team of over 50 volunteer mentors – people like you and I – from across the city, who have a few hours to spare each week to listen, support and guide a struggling young person. Mentors are fully trained and matched to a young person with whom they meet once a week, at a mutually convenient time and place, to take part in fun activities.

Being part of The Island, and delivering such unique support, is an amazing experience. This service is really making a massive difference, in a time where our children and young people couldn’t be in need of more support” Island Mentor

Volunteers have a weekly £10 budget, and The Island team are always looking for new venues to visit. Some fantastic venues across York offer discounted rates to The Island’s mentors and young people, enabling their services to be accessed within budget.

During these sessions the young people develop positive relationships with their mentors, and often open up and talk to them about their problems, fears and aspirations.

“A mentor is somebody who takes you out and talks to you and really takes your mind off things.” Young person at The Island

Nigel Poulton, The Island’s charismatic coordinator, explains that services for young people are diminishing across the City, driving up demand; there’s currently over 60 vulnerable young people waiting to be matched to a volunteer mentor. Recruitment of volunteers is a priority for The Island, and information on how to get involved can be found at the foot of this article.


There’s a pretty even split of girls and boys from all areas of York – from the most affluent to the most impoverished. Until recently, The Island was made up mostly of boys, but this gap has closed recently, mainly due to increasing social media, body image and role model pressures on young girls.

In response the charity has set up fortnightly groups for pre-teen girls, providing a safe and confidential environment to discuss relevant issues including relationships and sexual health; drugs and alcohol; and career aspirations.

I’ve seen things I shouldn’t see, and heard things a child should never hear. Thanks to The Island I’m no longer a prisoner; the chains have been broken; I can talk to my Mum now.” Young person at The Island


The Island place the individual young person at the centre of their service design. By taking this user-focussed approach, they can ensure a flexible service which shifts with the needs of those accessing it. Based around three focus areas – self confidence, self esteem and communication – their aim is to provide an opportunity for young people to reach their potential.

By identifying need, The Island can quickly and effectively take their service into new areas. A recent partnership with a local primary school sees teachers identify pupils they believe may benefit from the charity’s support and services. Ten volunteers from The Island go into the school to work with Year 5 & 6 students, delivering 20 sessions per year. This model is having a positive impact, and the aim is to roll it out across other schools in York.

“You know, I can’t decide what to do when I’m older, if I want to be a singer or a mentor!” Young person at The Island

The Island’s successes also attract interest from local philanthropists, with one donor for example gifting a flat in Bridlington to the charity; meaning they’re able to provide free holidays for low income families across the City. For some children, this is the first time they’ve ever left York, and an otherwise unobtainable opportunity for a family to escape the pressures and routines of everyday life. This break can have a huge effect on family relationships and communication.


The Island’s biggest challenges are funding (it currently costs £123,000 per year to run) and volunteer recruitment. With over 60 young people waiting to be matched to a mentor, the need for more volunteers is critical to supporting young people across our City. If you have up to two hours per week to spare, any day of the week, please get in touch with The Island. This small amount of time could literally change the life course of a young person. No qualifications or experience is needed (Enhanced DBS checks are compulsory), and full training is provided.

The young people who visit The Island are our neighbours, our children’s classmates, and more significantly, the future of our City. Giving them the same opportunities as other children is in all our interests; creating responsible citizens and a better York for us all.


Web –

Twitter – @IslandYork

Facebook – @TheIslandMentoring

Phone – 01904 628 449

Email –

All photos © All You Need is Love Photography



Get in touch with Spark

Joe Gardham, Spark:York Director

We will be providing an array of activities for children and young people from across the City at Spark:York. My particular focus is on accessible and inclusive activities for low-income families, and those in York who don’t feel that there’s anything for their family in the City Centre.

Our vision is that money should never be a barrier to children having fun in the City. Working in partnership with the likes of YorkMumbler and York Inspirational Kids, we aim to provide an exciting programme of events for every family in York. From magic shows to coding, arts and crafts sessions to stand up comedy – all of it subsidised by Spark and on a pay-as-you-feel basis. So if you don’t have any spare cash this week, no problem! If you can afford it, chuck a couple of quid in the bucket – all funds collected are reinvested in further activities.

I’m out and about every week meeting different organisations from across the area, and have built a small team to help me do this.

If you’re a not-for-profit organisation in York, or you know of any amazing small organisations, please drop me a line. We want Spark:York to be for everyone, and we want to use our profile in the city to support other organisations.

Likewise, if you work for a business in the city, who is currently doing (or would like to do) good things – get in touch.

And don’t forget, our crowdfunding campaign is still live. Please spare a couple of pounds to help us bring Spark to life, and support even more of these life-changing organisations. It takes about 5 minutes to register and donate at


Joe Gardham
Director, Spark:York CIC
07551 008 631

Spark:York’s Communities and Partnership work is kindly supported by Rank Foundation