INSPIRATIONS: Community champion puts young people first

Marjorie Graham, Gerry Smith, Margaret Smith and Kylee Scott
Marjorie Graham, Gerry Smith, Margaret Smith and Kylee Scott

A ‘GENEROUS, warm and engaging’ woman who has recently won a volunteering award, has been praised for running a hugely-popular youth drop-in centre for 
ten years.

Marjorie Graham, a retired widow who runs the Snak Shak in Selsey High Street, is celebrating ten years’ service to the town.

Grand opening at the warehouse, 2008. From left: Gerry Smith, Lorna Priddis and Margaret Smith

Grand opening at the warehouse, 2008. From left: Gerry Smith, Lorna Priddis and Margaret Smith

So it is apt that she 
won the ‘Volunteer of the Year’ award in this year’s Selsey Business Awards for her commitment to providing for her community.

The centre evolved from a rusty, mobile catering wagon in a supermarket carpark with the sole priority to provide cost-price food and drink for the disaffected youth of Selsey.

“It provided somewhere safe for them to meet 
with their friends,” Marjorie said.

“Started and run entirely by willing volunteers and no paid staff, we endeavour to show the young people that by our efforts we care about them and are there to listen when needed.

First Xmas at the Van, Dec 2005.Children in foreground and volunteers in background.

First Xmas at the Van, Dec 2005.Children in foreground and volunteers in background.

“They sat outside in all weathers, and we promised to find them somewhere warm and dry indoors.”

In 2007, the volunteers received an Awards for All Grant and with matched funding, they rented a warehouse in the centre of the town, which they refurbished and furnished.

The newly-created Snak Shak Drop-in Centre opened in March 2008 and has been running very successfully since then, with support from the local police, wardens, housing associations and the youth worker, Kylee Scott.

Marjorie explained why she believed the Shak 
was so popular among the local youth.

“We are not a youth club with organised activities, but somewhere more casual to meet with their friends.

“We have found that with so many single 
parent families now, mums have smaller homes and other young children, so 
it is usually not possible 
for teenagers to be able to take their mates home.

“So they hang about the village in any lit areas and often cause a nuisance.

“The young people also are affected by divorces and violence in relationships etc, and often feel there is nobody to listen to them.

“They are also more vulnerable to pressure from slightly-older young adults to engage in substance abuse etc.

“We aim to keep them off the streets and hopefully minimise anti-social behaviour and we are always there to listen 
when needed.

“We also find that we are building bridges between our volunteers, who are mostly over 60, and the youngsters.

“Our rules are all about respect. We encourage reasonable behaviour and find that even the more difficult youngsters change over the years and we 
are always sorry to see them leave.”

Marjorie said her biggest concern was that the 
drop-in centre requires around £12,000 in annual funding so it relies on external grants.

She also worried that 
the current volunteers would eventually become too elderly to continue 
their work, but the need for the service is 
ever-increasing.

She said: “We are hoping for funding which will give stability and ensure the continuance of this worthy project, even when we can no longer run it.

“After drastic cuts to WSCC youth service, the local school youth wing and after-school clubs have now closed and youth workers withdrawn.

“Our annual rent for the premises is £8,000 and running costs just over £4,000. We are finding it increasingly difficult to raise money for these.”

Kylee Scott is liaising with the local Academy to try to develop more services for young people.