Storyhouse’s Young Leaders Programme has helped to nurture the talents and hone the experience of hundreds of Chester’s young people – and now a new member of the team is preparing to take its work a step further.
Dean Ratcliffe has been appointed as the Young Storyhouse Officer, a new role which will see him guiding graduates of the programme towards the next exciting stages in their lives and careers.
The role is being funded through a grant awarded to the Young Leaders Programme by The Westminster Foundation, an independent organisation representing the charitable activities of the Duke of Westminster which helps provide sustainable help and direction to vulnerable young people aged 25 and under, as well as The Oglesby Charitable Trust – a family run trust that supports charities in the north of England.
Young Leaders is one of three strands which come under the broader Young Storyhouse umbrella – along with Young Company and the Youth Theatre – and is aimed at 14 to 25-year-olds whose background means they might be less likely to access mainstream creative activities.
It is designed to build confidence, raise aspirations, encourage teamwork, and develop transferable job skills through a mixture of mentoring by people based across all areas of Storyhouse, training and – importantly – practical opportunities.
All Young Leaders who take part in the four to five-month programme also complete work for a silver or gold Arts Award – a nationally recognised qualification.
While he may be new to Storyhouse, Dean arrives with a connection to Young Leaders through a similar support role at Cheshire West and Chester Council where he has worked with young people for the last six years.
He explains: “In my previous job I referred young people to the Young Storyhouse team. If there was someone who wasn’t in education or training, I’d arrange a meeting and see if they could meet that need.
“It means I was already aware of the ethos of Storyhouse and the programme it delivers.”
As a teenager, Dean admits he himself wasn’t sure which direction he wanted to take with his life.
Coming from a sporty family, it was assumed that would be his career path and he started playing football before moving into coaching at a young age. He finally went on to university when he was 24.
“I worked for Wrexham Football Club, doing football in the community,” he reveals of his early career. “Again, it was helping vulnerable groups – going into schools, working with disability groups and on programmes like Kick Racism Out of Football.
“I suppose I’ve always liked to help others. It was the way I was brought up – supporting everyone and being inclusive.”
The Cestrian is now relishing the chance to support members of the Young Leaders Programme who are completing their time at Storyhouse and preparing to move on to the next stage of their lives.
That support will include a range of things from assisting young people with their CVs and applications for jobs or further education, to prepping for interviews and helping them consider how the skills they have gained as Young Leaders can be transferred into different career paths. Dean will also connect with local businesses to help create pathways for the young people into employment.
“It’s about empowering them to make that transition,” he says “It’s saying, ‘let’s have a look at your options’, and offering impartial advice.
“The young people learn so many different skills that they might not think they can put on a CV. But there are things like time management and confidence building that are relevant in every sector.”
He admits that having met some of the Young Leader course graduates he’s been impressed with their enthusiasm and the varied plans they have, adding: “They’re there, they want to engage and do something. It means my role is really to help them work on the skills they’ve developed and support them.”
A new influx of Young Leaders will join the programme later in the summer, hopefully returning to the face-to-face weekly sessions which were moved online when the Covid pandemic hit and allowing Dean to work with them in person at the Hunter Street venue.
He smiles: “When you walk through the door at Storyhouse, it’s always felt like it’s for everyone.
“I think it’s one of the heartbeats of Chester, along with places like the historic walls and the amphitheatre. It’s what people talk about, so I feel proud to be on board.”
Find out more about Young Leaders here