Troubled youngsters play Santa for tots

STEPHEN PULLINGER What the Dickens! Youngsters with a troubled history were yesterday banishing their ghosts of Christmas past to make a magical transformation into Santa Claus and his little helpers.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

What the Dickens! Youngsters with a troubled history were yesterday banishing their ghosts of Christmas past to make a magical transformation into Santa Claus and his little helpers.

The loud laughter and excited squeals coming from tots in the nursery at St Nicholas Children's Centre, Yarmouth, were everything you would expect from a successful festive party.

However, far more remarkable was the fact that the youngsters happily serving the food, organising the games and dressing up as Santa Claus have all been identified as being at risk of falling into anti-social behaviour.


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The party organizers - all pupils at Gorleston's Cliff Park High School - were taking part in the Right Direction project, a scheme funded by Connexions Norfolk, a youth support organization, and delivered by Norfolk County Council and the YMCA.

Right Direction programme manager Harry Town said: “These are youngsters, aged 12 to 15, who have been identified at risk of causing anti-social behaviour during the school holidays and the aim of the programme is to provide positive activities in the hope they then develop positive activities in their spare time.”

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Mr Town said 120 young people across Norfolk were involved in the project and were given one-to-one support from key workers as well holiday activities to inspire them.

In other events taking place yesterday, youngsters from Gorleston's Oriel High School were making Christmas cards and decorations and taking them to a sheltered housing complex for the elderly in Yarmouth, while teenagers from Blyth Jex High School, Norwich, were doing the same for the elderly residents of a sheltered housing complex in the city's Stone Road.

Today and tomorrow, pupils from Earlham High School will continue the season of goodwill by helping out at the Oakwood House BUPA Care Home in Norwich, organising bingo and games for the residents.

Mr Town said one of the Cliff Park youngsters had already expressed an interest in a career in child care and he had seen many heart-warming turnarounds in the five years of the scheme.

He said: “One of the guys originally identified at risk is now a support worker on our programme, and one of my colleagues has just bumped into another teenager formerly on the scheme who now has a holiday job working in a shop while he is studying at sixth form college.”

Angie Alp, key worker for the Cliff Park group, said the party had been the youngsters' own idea as they wanted to make Christmas extra special for some children in their area - they were particularly looking forward to seeing the children's faces when they saw one of the group enter as Father Christmas.

Nursery manager Gail Harrison was impressed how the youngsters organised the whole party - from providing plates and cups to staging games - and described them as “incredibly polite”.

Cliff Park pupil Paul Ward, 13, who has been on the Right Direction programme for two years, admitted he had once been disruptive and cheeky at school but said he was now much happier - other projects he had been involved in included digging a vegetable garden and laying a patio at his school.

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