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Speaking with Paul Napthine - Head of Operations at YMCA DownsLink Group

Speaking with Paul Napthine - Head of Operations at YMCA DownsLink Group


 I understand you’ve been working in partnership development, project management, and income generation for many years, what lead you into a career in the voluntary sector? 

I was fortunate enough to find a way into working in the third sector. I had been working within the Connexions service, (a UK governmental youth information, advice, guidance and support service) for around 16 years, and made the snap decision to go travelling for a year. A few months before I returned to the UK, I was contacted by someone who worked at Surrey Community Action. I collaborated on a number of projects with them in the past and they invited me to apply for a position they were advertising for. I applied and was successful and I have never looked back!


What is your main motivation for the work that you do? 

All the roles I have ever had in my career have had a strong focus on young people. They are a huge motivator for me. We often talk about how we can encourage young people in their life journey here at the YMCA, so I find it a very rewarding place to be. I also love working with people and in the third sector there are great opportunities to collaborate with other organisations. I think it is an approach that should never be feared, some of the best work I have done has been in partnership with other organisations. 


What do you see as the key problems facing disadvantaged young people today?

Across the country the challenges are becoming multi-layered. Access to the right services at the right time no matter what those challenges are, is critical. A lot of the work we do with young people is because opportunities to be proactive were missed. In Surrey we are faced with drugs and alcohol dependency, mental health issues and an increase in homelessness. Surrey also has a number of hidden challenges that are masked by its perceived affluence. If you are a disadvantaged young person, the fact you live in Surrey can make your needs appear to be less urgent than in other areas known for their deprivation.  

Surrey’s wealth also means that many people can more easily afford drugs and alcohol, making it possible for people to become reliant on these substances. 

Surrey also has the second highest percentage of family break up which can have a huge impact on young people.


What does the YMCA do in Guildford?

We are predominantly known for the housing we offer to young people. We have two buildings that we oversee. One is our large site on the one-way system in Guildford. At this site (Bridge Street) we have 110 bedrooms housing groups of young people aged between 16 and 21 years old. 

We have a group of 20 vulnerable young people predominantly from the Guildford area who would be homeless if they weren’t living with us. Since the beginning of 2017, we have also been housing a group of 9 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who are all under 18 years of age. As a registered Welcome Centre, our role is to support them, make them feel safe, and give them a sense of belonging. This also applies to the other young people in our projects.

We also house a group of students from the Academy of Contemporary Music and Surrey University. This gives us a brilliant opportunity to build a community within an evolving social mix of young people from all sorts of backgrounds. It’s important that this is seen as an opportunity rather than a challenge.  

Our second building is Guildford Foyer on Wharf Road near Guildford Cricket Club. This is a brand new building and we are in the process of housing young people here. The Foyer housing model was developed to provide accommodation for soldiers in France after World War One, allowing for a movement of people across the country who were seeking work. It provided them with a place to eat and sleep before their onward journey. This system aimed to reduce the number of homeless, unemployed youth. Today the Foyer is similarly used as a springboard for young people to stay whilst they work on their next stage in life. It’s a step towards their independence. Some of the young people we already house there are apprentices finding their place in the world of work. 

We are always looking to promote this opportunity through local businesses who may have employees from Guildford aged 18-25 years that are looking for their next step.


What does your role at YMCA DownsLink Group involve?

A year ago YMCA Downslink, which covers Surrey and Sussex, made a decision to invest in local leadership to drive forward the group’s vision for YMCA services across Surrey and Sussex. I work in the Surrey area with the team I am fortunate enough to be building for the Guildford project. I have a responsibility to develop the YMCA Downslink vision in Guildford, both operationally and strategically. I was born in Guildford so my knowledge of the area assists me in my role. I am tasked with feeding in local nuances to the group and implementing group-wide approaches and policies.


What is your vision for 2018 or the coming years (in terms of your work)? 

The YMCA Downslink group’s vision up to 2020 and beyond is focused on helping young people to belong, contribute and thrive. The role we have here in Guildford is to bring this to life. There are a number of key elements to this:

We want to continue to offer a supportive and relevant housing project to young people in both our Bridge Street and Foyer site.

We are looking to develop a range of mutually beneficial partnerships to become a hub for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We have just started running a youth club for all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children housed in Surrey on a Monday night.

We want to support and allow young people to become part of Guildford’s community. We will be doing this in two ways, getting out into the community to do conservation projects etc, and asking the community to come into the building predominantly to use our community café, which has just relaunched a new menu.

We are also developing a range of activities for young people living in the YMCA Guildford and other sites. This is a hugely important part of our work. We have recently been funded by Active Surrey to provide a boxing session which has been well-received. We also have plans to hire an allotment, do conservation sessions along the river, get a football team going and support young people to learn to cook. We also offer our Dialogue counselling sessions, alongside 1-2-1 key worker sessions.

We also need to work together to raise the profile of homelessness in Guildford and across the county/country and promote the work the YMCA is doing. A major part of that is our annual SleepEasy event (see below).


How can our readers who wish to support YMCA Guilford get involved?

One major event we have coming up is SleepEasy which is about raising the profile of homelessness and the role of the YMCA. In Guildford, we are doing this ‘sleep out’ on 16th March. So if you want to sleep outside for a great cause, please come and join us! We already have a couple of local businesses who have gathered a team together. 

We are using this as a fundraising event to fund the activities programme I mentioned earlier. My team and I will also be taking part. You can find more information here and to help fundraise, click here


If you’d like to find out more information about YMCA’s work in Guildford, just give me or any of the team a call on 01483 532555. Or you can email me at paul.napthine@ymcadlg.org. We love to talk about what we do! 


Paul Napthine Head of Operations at YMCA DownsLink Group 





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