6:01 am

The Enthusiasm Trust has been awarded the highest possible honour by the Queen for our continuing work with young people throughout the East Midlands and North West.

On June 2, it was announced that The Enthusiasm Trust, are to be a 2018 recipient of The Queen’s Award for the Voluntary Sector, which is the charity equivalent of an MBE.

Other notable winners of this award include British Red Cross and Age UK.

Enthusiasm Trust founder, Joe Russo, said: “We are unbelievably proud to receive the award. It is a fantastic recognition of the hard work the whole Enthusiasm team put into helping young people every single day.

“We are hopeful that the award will help us to gain a greater profile in the East Midlands area and increase our access to funding so we can continue the good work we have been doing for 25 years.”

Joe, 48, who now lives in Derby, was born in Manchester to Italian immigrant parents. Severely dyslexic, he moved in Derby in 1992 to launch his own carpentry business and it was there the idea for Enthusiasm developed after spotting some youths stealing from a building.

“When I asked one boy what his dad would say if he got caught, he told me his dad wouldn’t say anything – because he was in jail and would be for the next 10 years.

“I grew up thinking everyone had a family around them to support them, but after challenging these kids about their behaviour I realised it was not the same for everyone. At that moment the idea for Enthusiasm was formed.”

Recognising a need for something in the community for these boys and others like them, Joe drew on his own experience attending boxing and youth clubs in Manchester to launch a youth club in Allerton, Derby, back in 1992.

With the aim of providing a place of safety and support for young people in the area, Joe was soon attracting more than 100 children each week. And while he did encounter some opposition in the early days from the local authority, it wasn’t long before people started to take note.

Links were made with the local secondary school and the decreasing crime numbers didn’t go unnoticed by the local police force.

Two and half decades later, Enthusiasm is now a registered charity and still runs 14 weekly youth clubs across Derby, Nottingham and Salford. However, it also expanded its services while trying to help some of society’s most vulnerable young people reach their true potential. As well as the youth clubs, Enthusiasm delivers workshops to schools and runs a distinct one-on-one mentoring programme. In 2016 alone more than 6,500 10 to 25-year-olds were supported by the charity.

And Joe believes the need for Enthusiasm is a great today as it was back in 1992.

He said: “As a society I don’t think we do enough to support the most vulnerable young people. We are all too busy to truly see the full story and a lot of people are influenced by headlines and statistics. There is a complete lack of understanding why people behave the way they do.

“For example, a 14-year-old boy is arrested for carrying a knife. That is a terrible crime to commit, but what the headline won’t tell you is that he was carrying the knife because he has been threatened by another child over social media and he has no one to turn to. Society doesn’t always see the person, just their issues. We have no idea the kind of soup some people are swimming in.

“When people discover what we do, we get the most tremendous support. We show them the young people we are working with and then tell them their back stories. We work with children who have witnessed their parents being stabbed to death; and others who attend our youth clubs because they know they will be able to get a slice of toast and otherwise they will go hungry.

“We work with hidden children, and people don’t realise they are there in our community. Once they do, they generally want to help.”

Some of the most vulnerable youngsters to come through Enthusiasm’s doors are at a real risk of joining gangs. Joe credits the early intervention offered by Enthusiasm for showing these young people a real way out.

“We provide dedicated mentors to support young people who are either involved in gangs or on the fringes of gang association. We work in partnership with other agencies to reduce the risk of offending and ensure the needs of young people are supported and they are offered suitable education, training and employment opportunities, such as football coaching qualifications.”

“The way charities are funded is changing and in order to help more children and young people we are going to have to work differently.

“Years ago, our office was set on fire in an arson attack and for many that would be the most terrifying moment of their career. But for me what’s even scarier is that funding for charities is changing and we might not be able to continue to serve the community.

“In the past I would have loved to go into every city and set up youth clubs and drop-in centres, but we can’t do that today.

“Instead we are starting to work with local authorities, housing associations and police forces, helping them identify hidden gems of groups in their community who could help them or encourage them to start their own. We will come in and give them the support they need to help the most vulnerable children in their community. We are able to connect both the community and all stakeholders to tackle youth issues, with a long term view.

“The charity landscape is changing and we have to think and work differently to have a maximum impact where and when we can.”