Jake’s positive VIBE helps young people to overcome challenges
Jake Henry and his partner, Karen Carswell, run VIBE Youth, a social business based in Swansea which helps young people who are facing challenging life issues. In this interview, Jake tells us how VIBE came about following difficulties in his own life.
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Could you tell us a bit about the background to Vibe Youth?
VIBE Youth was incorporated on 10th January 2017 with the sole purpose of supporting young people to become the best versions of themselves. In particular we specialise in working with young people who are at risk of social isolation and disengagement, which in turn can lead to a range of ‘Risky Behaviours’. We define a risky behaviour as any behaviour that is harmful, or potentially exposes a person to significant risk of harm e.g. acts of violence, substance misuse etc. Ultimately, such risky behaviours are likely to prevent a person from reaching their full potential.
What we set out to do is use our innate understanding of what it feels like to be labelled and reach out to young people. We want to share our journey and experiences with young people, to encourage young people to support one another and help them open up about difficult events they may have experienced. The aim is to guide young people in understanding the reasons behind their challenging behaviour, empower them to take back control, and enable more positive life choices.
Tell us about your own story. At what point in your life did your thoughts turn to setting up a social enterprise?
I grew up in Plaistow in the east end of London, raised by my mother and father on a council estate. I am one of seven siblings. As a young child I experienced physical and emotional abuse at the hands of my father. He was a negative, bitter man who drank and took his frustrations out on the people he was supposed to love. He abandoned us all when I was 7, leaving my mother to raise us as a single parent. Growing up we did not have much money and struggled daily. I was bullied throughout primary school as I was socially awkward, angry and didn’t fit in. I didn’t make any effort in school, as I didn’t believe I was good enough to have a life that the other children had. I was disruptive and labelled as challenging and naughty, I was excluded on many occasions. I left school with no qualifications, no education, and struggled to read and write.
I had no confidence, self-worth, and had no idea who I was as an individual. As a result, I joined a gang at the age of 16. I was made to feel special and was treated in a way in which I had never been treated before. They made me feel loved and I saw them as my family, I believed they would always be there for me no matter what. I was gang affiliated for 8 years. This way of life led to me receiving a custodial prison sentence of 10 years for firearm offences. It was there that I realised my life was a lie, as once I was in the prison system no-one was there for me apart from my mother.
Upon release from prison, I volunteered for a few charity organisations until I secured employment with a social enterprise. My time in employment taught me many things and I was enjoying my new way of life, but unfortunately my time went from delivering and engaging with young people (YP) to being office bound. In 2015 my mum unexpectedly passed away and I decided to start a new chapter in my life, and took the plunge and moved to Wales to be with my girlfriend.
In 2017 myself and Karen Carswell established VIBE Youth as a platform to provide a meaningful and relevant source of support and personal development for young people, particularly those considered as ‘challenging’ or ‘hard to reach’. We believe that YP labelled as ‘challenging’ are misunderstood due to their lack of emotional literacy, identity, self-esteem and inability to demonstrate their thoughts and feelings in a positive manner. From our own life experiences, we fundamentally understand the impact a difficult upbringing can have on later life choices. However, our personal journey has shown how a life can be transformed through developing an understanding of self, making a conscious commitment to value yourself and pursue more positive life choices.
"It is important to empower and work alongside communities so that social enterprise companies, and the community, create solutions to issues that young people face today"
Is the current situation with knife crime in the UK the sort of crisis that Vibe Youth could help with in some way, in terms of engaging with young people and the wider community?
It is an issue which is sensitive and serious, but we believe we have the skills, tools and desire to not only to support young people but communities as well. Having first-hand experience in regards to gang culture, knife crime and gun crime, drug dealing, we are in a unique position to educate and empower young people around the consequences of criminal activity. Not only this, we speak about being vigilant and safe and how to report criminal activity safely. Our vision is for young people to be given the support and understanding needed to break the cycle of negativity and marginalisation, so they have the opportunity to lead productive lives. VIBE Youth aims to make its service available to all local areas where need is evident, and to bring about societal change by applying a more individualised approach to societal challenges. Emotional intelligence is as vital to success as academic ability.
Why is it important that a social enterprise is coming up with solutions to a range of problems that young people are faced with today?
It is important to empower and work alongside communities so that social enterprise companies, and the community, create solutions to issues that young people face today. We mix up profitable and non-profit ventures to ensure we generate a positive return to society, especially where social, cultural and environmental issues are concerned. Our focus is more on the social impact than their financial gains, we aim to empower communities to have control over their own future and work together on positive and sustainable change, where a community doesn’t depend on you but are able to depend on themselves. When engaging with youth and looking at the issues that as a society we are facing, it is important that communities stand together not only to take control, but to offer support and positive guidance to the young people in their communities.
How has Vibe Youth benefited from Social Business Wales support?
We have had our eyes opened to the importance of looking at our venture as a business, rather than a personal project. Social Business Wales has supported us in understanding how a social enterprise should be run, the importance of what we do, and has given us belief in our venture. We have structure and vision but, more importantly, we have been able to plan out how to achieve our vision step-by-step and plan for any risk.
Our business adviser has been very supportive and has given us great confidence in our ability and our purpose. We could not thank Social Business Wales enough for their support.