Voicebox project needs �40,000 to carry on vital work with young people of Norfolk and Suffolk

A project which has been making sure that young people in Norfolk are aware of the dangers of drink and drugs for the past 18 years is in need of help.

Voicebox, the mobile youth caravan of drug and alcohol charity The Matthew Project, needs �40,000 to replace its caravan and buy a new vehicle to tow it.

The campaign to rejuvenate the Voicebox is being launched at The Forum in Norwich on Monday when the vital work the project carries out is demonstrated to the public.

The Voicebox travels approximately 40,000 miles each year but its caravan has seen better days and needs replacing.

Esther Heybourne, youth team manager at The Matthew Project, based in Norwich, says that some of the youngsters who use the caravan have even said it looks 'like a fish and chip van'.

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Ms Heybourne is one of the Voicebox staff who takes the work of The Matthew Project out to more rural areas of the county.

She said: 'We have a mobile caravan which we can take to locations if organisations like parish councils or youth groups request it, or it can also be areas where residents have noticed a lot of substance abuse. We literally take The Matthew Project to where they live.

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'It's a really simple concept. They can come to us and have a chat with a hot chocolate or a coffee and some biscuits and there will be two Voicebox staff who will sit and listen and, if it's appropriate, offer advice.

'They can come and tell us things that concern them and it's quite organic, nothing too structured.'

The Matthew Project youth team works with young people up to 25 years of age, to help address issues identified in their particular area such as antisocial behaviour, underage drinking and drinking or drug use.

The ageing condition of the Voicebox caravan is not helping the success of the project though, as Ms Heybourne continued: 'The caravan is 18 years old and over the summer months there is a 12-week period where the caravan is being used five days a week, every week, so it is really clocking up the miles and over time it is getting a bit weary.

'It is something that is quite unique to our service and you get a real sense of enjoyment being involved with it. Sometimes it can be freezing cold and a bit damp, but you get to have real detailed conversations with people. It works because the young people are on a level field with us because it's really informal.'

Staff from The Matthew Project will be at the Forum all day on Monday to talk about the work that Voicebox does and how essential new equipment is for that work to continue.

Young people who use the service will also be present between 11am and 1pm to talk about the benefits of having the Voicebox come to them.

The fundraising campaign has already had an excellent start, with a donation of �1,000 from Aviva and over �800 in sponsorship from a member of Blackfriars Rotary Club, which has chosen The Matthew Project as its nominated charity.

Ms Heybourne added: 'We are going to be there all day between 9am and 5pm for young people to come and find out about what we do.

'It should be a really good day to really raise our profile and celebrate what has been a quite unique part of what we do, and we want to continue what we are doing, which is why we are launching this campaign.

'We just want something simple and mobile, something that is able to expand would be good. We're not looking for gadgetry or anything, we're just looking for something more modern.

'Some of the young people sometimes say it looks a bit like a fish and chip van at the moment, so something a bit more reliable and that will make the Voicebox better is what we are looking for.'

For more information, go to www.matthewproject.org, where donations can also be made to the charity.

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