XL Mentoring project to transform lives in Saffron Walden

A Level Leisure Studies students Josh Jones, George Peasgood and Jack Skellam present a cheque for £

A Level Leisure Studies students Josh Jones, George Peasgood and Jack Skellam present a cheque for £1,000 to headteacher John Hartley and baptist minister John Goddard. - Credit: Archant

Troubled schoolchildren are to be mentored by the Church under a revolutionary movement which is sweeping the country.

Six youngsters at Saffron Walden County High are expected be part of the pilot programme – hoped to be up and running by the end of the year.

It will see volunteers from the town’s churches giving guidance to young people struggling to cope with issues such as family breakdown and academic pressures.

County High teacher Paul Stuart-Turner got the ball rolling for Walden’s version of the XL Mentoring project, a thriving scheme which has gathered momentum throughout the UK since its national launch last year.

He said: “We want to do everything we can to ensure all our students at County High keep on track to achieve academically. So if there is anything we can do to help potentially demotivated youngsters stay focused, then it’s worth looking at.

“Some young people struggle at school and this can be for many reasons. The XL Mentoring project will provide these children with support, help, guidance and stability.”

When asked what the key issues were for young people in the town, Mr Stuart-Turner highlighted exam stress, family problems and the need for more emotional support.

Most Read

“It can make a big difference having an experienced adult other than a member of the family finding time to be able to sit and listen and focus solely on the student,” he said.

“The intention is for XL mentors to work initially with Year 10 students – this is a crucial year for students as they work towards their GCSEs.”

Mr Stuart-Turner added: “The XL project is about hope. To bring hope into someone’s life you must learn to walk with them, to understand their world without necessarily condoning it and to journey to a place where alternatives are possible – this is what the mentors will be helping young people to do.”

All the churches in the town are set to be involved in the project, which will be led by the Saffron Walden Baptist Church, and training of around eight volunteers will begin in the autumn.

Despite the involvement of the church, Mr Stuart-Turner made it clear the project was not “evangelical”.

“It will be churchgoers who volunteer but these are completely independent people who want to give something back to their community,” he said.

“There are some wonderful people here – men and women who have experienced a lot in life, who have seen the world, and now have a bit of time on their hands.

“Some have been parents and grandparents. Our biggest problem is people often don’t think they’d be any good at mentoring – but they would, they’d be brilliant.

“Devoting time to a teenager at a crucial stage of their education is one of the most powerful things you can do.”

Rev John Goddard, of the Saffron Walden Baptist Church, said: “Some of the students may be in a place of instability or vulnerability, so it’s about building confidence and showing they have another person in their lives they can depend on.

“We’ve never done anything like this here before but this scheme is picking up speed around the country.”

County High headteacher John Hartley will select students for the pilot programme, which is hoped will continue to grow once it gets up-and-running with the help of a £1,000 donation raised by A-level Leisure Studies students.

If you attend any of the churches in Saffron Walden and feel you have skills, talent, experience or knowledge that could support this project, contact John Goddard on minister@sw-bc.org or call Paul Stuart-Turner on 07792 664048.