Volunteering at Salmon: John Baker’s Experience


During the Summer Programme, we had guests from Cambridge University who spent their time volunteering and were able to gain insight as to what it means to be a youth worker.

Here is a blog post from John Baker, who volunteered during the 6-9s Summer Programme:

Following a call to arms to help out at a youth centre in South London, I volunteered, confident that my service background and experience of IT would be of great value to teenagers not in education, training or employment. My first surprise was that the group attending that week would be six to nine year olds. The second was that there would be up to 90 of them, full of beans, excitement and shenanigans!
The Salmon Youth Centre is situated in Bermondsey, between the original lockups used by Phil and Grant Mitchell in EastEnders and more recently converted warehouses on the south bank of the Thames that demand a million pounds a bedroom. And the social, ethnic and cultural nature of the members offer an equally diverse melange. The centre is furnished with a huge and well-equipped sports hall, outdoor climbing wall, classrooms, kitchen, and a performance area complete with lighting and audio/visual equipment. There is also accommodation on site where I was well catered for throughout the week.
The first morning saw an influx of “young people”, the electrifying energy of which I had long forgotten since my own grew up. The sports hall soon became a cauldron of football and basketball games, with children charging around just because they could, and a few anxious-looking souls in need of reassurance. I began to sense that some order was required! It wasn’t long before the friendly Youth Leaders were at hand to calm and organise my new family into teams and begin some games that would quickly harmonise individuals into manageable teams.
My group for the week were, in the main, very sweet six and seven year old girls who quickly racked up points for the team by being quiet, well-behaved and orderly. But, as the week progressed and the games became more physical, so their stamina waned and their fragility became more apparent. Thankfully I had a work experience girl with me to offer the children some TLC.
Each day was well structured and I helped where I could in sports, cooking (I actually learned more than the girls!), climbing and an engineering challenge to land an egg safely from a balcony. While I had expected to thrive in the sports and the challenge, the most touching moment came in a music lesson where the children had to complete a poem template. One young girl wrote about her late granddad, wishing him well and expressing her love for her new family at the Salmon. I really wasn’t expecting that.
The days ended as abruptly as they had started, ramping down from a high octane mono-fuelled environment to calm and serenity within a few minutes. I was fed by the staff and then went out each night to take in Bermondsey beach and all that the Southbank has to offer. Back to my room and I was soothed (and rocked) to sleep by the steady rumble of trains heading out of London Bridge station.
Having my head prised out of a computer for the week so abruptly was actually refreshing and I really enjoyed the challenge and the change of environment. I would recommend it to anyone.
John Baker
Database, Development & Support Officer, Jesus College

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