In Luton, like every town up and down the country, there's a growing sense we're losing too many young people to apathy, hopelessness and disaffection from their communities. Forty-five churches in the town start a movement to do something positive. They put their money where their mouth is and create a charity to offer hope and practical help to young people. The local community rally behind them and Youthscape (then called LCET) is born.
Within a few years Luton is in the national news as rioting breaks out on one of the large housing estates over one hot summer week. Youthscape is already there – working with young people in the local school and out on the estate. Impressed with the impact, The Church Urban Fund sponsor the work and the staff team grows to three.
Later that year, as Autumn approaches, Youthscape hold a series of special events for local young people. A church lends their building and the Youthscape staff and local volunteers wait to see who will turn up. That evening over a thousand young people queue to get in and be part of what's happening. Standing along the aisles and crammed into every corner, it's clear there's a hunger for something different.
The vision expands
In a short time, Youthscape is working alongside every secondary school in Luton. The work is varied – programmes for young people facing exclusion from school for their behaviour, support for those with chronically low self-esteem, values education in assemblies and much more. The aim is to show that Christians can and should be promoting positive change in their communities and in the lives of young people. These are also years when some legendary events take place – the team make it snow (literally) in the middle of summer and hold dog-sled races for young people, plays are written and performed by local teenagers to much acclaim, and there are overseas trip to take 6th formers to the developing world to widen their experience and understanding of the world.
The team grows quickly over the next few years to over ten staff and, by 1999 it's not only time to party (thanks, Prince), it's also time to move. Funds are raised and an old hat factory in the town centre becomes the base for the work. Now there's a cafe and drop-in centre too. Specialist work with young people with specific needs, like being in care and self-harm begins to develop to respond the real needs we're meeting.
As the work expands, Youthscape becomes more widely known around the UK. Training for others becomes part of what we do and specialist national projects like selfharmUK are launched to make that possible. There's a determination to help the church offer credible support that welcomes all and every young person, regardless of their background. Partnerships with other charities, like Childline, help us develop more new initiatives and work that tackles the key contemporary issues young people face. Resources and new materials developed in Luton begin to be used by youth workers across the country – and helps us develop a new income stream bringing financial stability to the organisation.
A new home
By 2012, it's clear that Youthscape's vision far exceeds the capacity of its offices and drop-in centre. In the Autumn of that year, a plan is hatched to find a bigger and better home. Bute Mills is spotted and, despite the price tag, it's clear this is the next stage of the YS story. Our campaign begins to raise the funds needed – and it starts with every member of the Board and team raising £40,000 from their own pockets. We're serious about making a difference and we know it starts with the commitment and quality of the people at Youthscape. On New Year's Eve, in December 2013, with just hours to go before the seller's final deadline for purchase runs out, the transaction is completed and Bute Mills becomes part of the Youthscape story.
In Autumn 2015 our dedicated new hub is completed; a year later their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visit Youthscape’s new HQ and the young people we work with. In the same year we launch the Centre for Research and its quarterly publication The Story, to track the ever-shifting landscape of youth culture and better resource youth workers. Youthscape wins Small Charity of the Year at the 2016 Institute of Fundraising Awards, where CEO Chris Curtis also picks up the accolade Fundraiser of the Year for taking Youthscape from the local to the national level.
In May 2017 the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby takes on a new ambassadorial role as our official patron. That November Youthscape’s annual one-day event the Youth Work Summit is expanded to the National Youth Ministry Weekend, a Birmingham-based conference committed to investing in youth workers all across the UK.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Youthscape continues to support young people and those working alongside them. A mental health programme is developed to help young people process the experience of lockdown and more than 80,000 students complete it in schools across Bedfordshire and the UK.
In 2022 Youthscape launches Satellites, a new summer festival for young people, with more than 2,000 camping for a week of fun and activities from churches up and down the country. The project is just one one of a number of new initiatives helping churches support and serve the young people in their communities.
Today Youthscape continues to work in-depth in Luton directly with teenagers – not only for their benefit, but to develop innovative approaches, programmes and resources that serve the whole country. That way, we can make a bigger impact.
The positive transformation of young people is at the heart of everything we do – especially those facing critical challenges and issues in their lives. Our growing team at Youthscape, the many volunteers and the Board are united in our determination to take the vision of Youthscape forward into the future.