< Back to Blog

Giving young people the support to succeed Q&A

June 21, 2024 by Alistair Enser

Caudwell Youth provides mentoring support that is changing the lives of at-risk young people. As part of our tendering process and subsequent contract award with Luton Borough Council, Reliance High-Tech provided social value by financially supporting Caudwell Youth and we caught up with Karen Ironside, the organisation’s Co-leader and Partnerships Director, to find out more.



RHT: How was Caudwell Youth formed, how long have you worked with the organisation and what is your favourite aspect of the job?


KI: Caudwell Youth was launched in November 2022 after me and a group of colleagues, who had previously worked together, approached the billionaire philanthropist, John Caudwell, with a view to setting up a new charity to support at-risk young people between the ages of 11-24. John is a signatory of the Giving Pledge and has committed to donating 70 per cent of his wealth to good causes during or after his lifetime. From the outset he was keen to support us, as a result, founded the organisation which is led by myself, Charlie Dixon-Prior, Jake Brown and Lisa Ball.


In my role, I specialise in building and maintaining partnerships with key stakeholders like Reliance High-Tech, major donors, housing associations and other charities, to create funding and referral streams, as well as raising awareness and advocacy for our cause. I also lead on People and Governance, ensuring that our team of 22 staff are well supported, trained, and motivated, and that our policies and procedures are compliant and effective.


I’m fortunate to have a job that is incredibly varied, and I really value the openness of our corporate supporters like Reliance High-Tech and their willingness to help. My work also allows me to do some amazing things. For example, I recently trekked 247 miles, completing a coast-to-coast challenge to raise funds for Caudwell Youth. Starting in Bristol I walked under the Brunel Suspension Bridge on the Avon, along the Kennet and Avon Canal, the Thames River, and finally to the Thames Estuary, where I reached my destination in Kent.


RHT: What exactly does Caudwell Youth do and how does it support at risk young people?


KI: Through a person-centred volunteer mentoring model, Caudwell Youth provides support to young people. We fill the gap in statutory services that they cannot fill due to being overwhelmed by need and lacking sufficient resources to meet this demand.  By working with a multi-agency approach, we support young people who require more than statutory support, who don’t meet statutory support thresholds and / or who require ongoing support. We operate across Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Luton, and Milton Keynes, while currently expanding into Slough.


Young people are referred to us by local partners and we provide one-to-one mentoring and support to empower them to build upon their strengths and resilience. The mentoring we provide makes a transformative difference to the lives of these young people by providing them with the support they need to shape their own positive futures.



RHT: I understand that the money donated by Reliance High-Tech will help to mentor three young people. Are you able to tell us anything about them?


KI: That’s right. Corporate support is invaluable to us and the £7,500 provided by Reliance High-Tech made a massive difference to the lives of three young people and enabled them to be mentored through some difficult times. We are extremely grateful that Reliance High-Tech chose to work with Caudwell Youth – in fact the company was our very first corporate supporter after we launched.


The young people referred to us often have mental health challenges, have been through the care system, are at risk of or involved in offending behaviour and have experienced exploitation. We use our funds to enable an effective transition from isolation, exclusion, trauma, low self-esteem and harmful associations to positive choices, re-engagement with education, training, independent living, employment, building resilience and making a positive contribution to communities.



RHT: Can you explain the mentoring process and how does it keep these young people focused?


KI: Many of our young people are overwhelmed by the number of professionals involved in their life. Our volunteer mentors are a consistent voice who are there by choice and can help young people to learn to cope with everyday life.


We pair each young person with a trained volunteer mentor who has similar interests, an understanding and, where suitable, has experience of the challenges they are facing. We ask them to commit to at least a year, be consistent and non-judgemental. Mentors and beneficiaries typically meet weekly for 1-2 hours a week, but often talk or message much more regularly.


This approach has an incredibly positive impact. Every young person is different, so we don’t try to define what support looks like but rather work with the young person to build resilience and self-confidence. Our mentors help in a variety of areas including support around school attendance, developing positive relationships with parents, accessing services, and managing time and money. Some young people experience social isolation, and our mentors can help build their confidence to develop social networks.



RHT: Having recently celebrated Caudwell Youth’s first birthday, how successful has your approach been so far?


KI: We consider it vital that we continually assess what we’re doing and part of this is to ask our young people to complete their own outcomes surveys – evaluating their progress and sharing their achievements. As well as empowering them to reflect on how they’re doing, it highlights the issues they’re facing and helps Caudwell Youth to tailor our service accordingly.


In our first year we received over 275 referrals, received 275 volunteer sign ups and worked with 157 young people. So far, the results are highly encouraging. 70 per cent of young people whose presenting need was ‘at risk of offending’ did not offend whilst working with us. Meanwhile, 85 per cent have said their mental health has got better, 42 per cent said their social relationships have improved and 93 per cent of those who were high risk of exploitation when they were referred to us have lowered their risk.


As for the future, we aim to expand our work into as many towns and cities as possible. Ultimately, we want to become a national charity that will positively impact thousands of young people.


To learn more about the work of Caudwell Youth, please visit www.caudwellyouth.org.

To help change a young life and join Caudwell Youth’s network of supporters email their partnerships team on partnerships@caudwellyouth.org