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University-backed project for vulnerable children honoured by Queen

Bell Tower manager Sam Harding (right) with University Vice-Chanceller Prof Jane Longmore (centre)

 

A YOUTH drop-in centre which supports vulnerable schoolchildren in Sussex and was developed with help from the University of Chichester has been honoured by the Queen.

The Bell Tower received the prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, which is the highest accolade given to community groups. The drop-in centre, located near Chichester Cathedral, offers pupils a free and safe space to learn and play games after school.

The Queen’s Award is presented every year in recognition of outstanding achievements by community groups the UK who volunteer their time to improve the quality of life for people in need. Bell Tower manager Sam Harding, who collected the accolade, has overseen the project for more than four years.

He said: “The award recognises the work of numerous individuals who have volunteered within their community to improve the lives of so many young people. Without the dedication of these volunteers, the Bell Tower would not exist.

“I feel very privileged to lead the project and will celebrate the fact that we have received this award from the Queen with our team of volunteers from across the community. I feel particularly proud when I see many young people who have used our centre for years, choosing to come back to volunteer and give back to their community, creating a lasting cycle of positive change.”

In 2014 a survey of Chichester schools reported that more than 800 pupils spend time in the city centre each day – with as many as 360 children stating there was no parent at home after school. The Bell Tower has been well received by the Chichester community and has formed close partnerships with local authorities, schools, businesses, churches, as well as the University.

The popularity of the drop-in centre has grown steadily in the five years it has operated – as many as 40 pupils now attend sessions every weekday and more than 260 regulars across the year. The project, specifically for secondary school children, also promotes new skills through its leadership programme, where members are encouraged to become a positive influence in the community.

Dave Corcoran, Director of Student Support and Transition at the University of Chichester, is a founding member and Trustee of the Bell Tower. He said: “The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service is a superb achievement for all involved, particularly those who attend on a daily basis.

“The previous and current University vice-chancellors have been true advocates of this community-led provision and we have supported the project from its inception financially and with goods in-kind. This includes IT infrastructure, specialist expertise, trained student volunteers, and past and current Trustees.

“The centre provides a much-needed set of services that positively impact on the users who, through their attendance and engagement, benefit the wider community. This is a partnership the University is delighted to be a part of and wishes the Bell Tower continued success.”

The Bell Tower is reliant on donations and its small team of volunteers, who host gaming activities and homework sessions on the centre’s computers, donated by the University.

Year eight pupil Tommy said: “I like the Bell Tower because it’s fun and I can see my friends. If it wasn’t here, I don’t know what I would do and would have nowhere to go. I help on the young leaders programme where I help set up as I am always here early, and keep things clean when we are open.”

To find out more about the Bell Tower drop-in centre, including how it supports children in the Chichester community, go to www.belltowerchi.uk. For more about the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service visit www.gov.uk/queens-award-for-voluntary-service.