Children North East’s young people’s peer mentoring service matches young people with a trained volunteer who will help them to look at their difficulties and helps them to come up with solutions to their problems.

Callum Thompson lives in Blyth, Northumberland and has been a Peer Mentor for our charity for five years. We grabbed a coffee with him to hear his story.

What made you want to work with young people as a mentor?

I had a tough time when I was younger. I was bullied in first school and was diagnosed with Dyspraxia which I just totally buried because I didn’t want to stand out. I found it hard to make friends and would watch the more popular kids mucking around and getting in trouble, and thought that was what you had to do to fit in.

Because of the issues I was having at school I started seeing the team at Place2Be within my school. Place2Be is a national charity providing emotional support to children in 294 schools across the UK.

I had weekly counselling sessions that helped me find my identity - who I was and who I really wanted to be. It helped me be true to myself and not to try and be someone else in order to get friends. It really changed my life.

In 2013 I got down to the final three for the Private Equity Foundation’s Young Person of the Year Awards at the Natural History Museum in London.

Then as a result of my success, the following year I was invited to be a judge on the 2014 Place2Be Awards at Kensington Palace. All the other judges were important people like Doctor Tanya Byron, so it was kind of surreal being a teenager in that position. I even got to chat to the Duchess of Cambridge who is the patron of Place2Be. She was really well-spoken, but dead down to earth and easy to talk to.

So with all this positive experience, I wanted to give something back to young people who are struggling. It’s my way of paying it forward.

How did you get started as a Peer Mentor for Children North East?

When I was 18, Children North East came to an assembly at my sixth form at Blyth Academy to talk about the Youth Link Peer Mentoring Scheme. A few of us signed up to do it, most lasted about a year, but I’m the only one still here five years on!

How does it work?

You don’t just get put with any young person, there’s a matching process to make sure you’re not polar opposites. We arrange to meet every week and we set goals for that young person.

How do you act as a positive role model?

It’s not about doing something special, it’s about spending time with that young person and just being yourself.   We do regular stuff like go bowling or go for something to eat at Subway – just giving them a chance to relax and talk.

What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had as a mentor?

The second person I was matched with was getting in trouble for his behaviour. He had confidence issues and didn’t like doing things by himself. He needed a positive role model and that’s where I came in.

We met up every week, and we’d often go to Subway for a sandwich. To start with there were subtle changes in his behaviour that showed me our sessions were making a difference.

I’d noticed previously that he’d think nothing of dropping litter on the ground. It’s not my place to tell young people what to do, but you can make suggestions. One week he’d just stopped doing it and found a bin instead. That’s not a massive thing, but I noticed it.

Then after a few months I knew he was ready to cope without me anymore. We’d arranged for him to join the Cadets. I went to pick him up and his mam said he’d already left. With absolutely no help from me he’d joined the Cadets and taken a new friend with him who he’d met independently. That’s when I knew he’d fulfilled all of the goals we’d set. I still see him around sometimes when he comes into the restaurant where I work, and it makes me feel proud.

What are some of the challenging issues you’ve faced as a mentor?

Self-harm, autism, homelessness – pretty powerful stuff but there is support and training available so we’re not completely on our own with it.

There are a lot of issues in the area with underage smoking, drugs and alcohol for young people. There’s a lot of peer pressure going on.

There’s been improvements to the public spaces in Blyth, but there’s so much more that needs to be done.

What would you say to anyone thinking about being a Peer Mentor?

It’s not always easy, I’ve actually had abuse shouted at me a few times in the street when I’m out with a young person. I think there’s a lot of stigma about guys spending time with young people, but I’d say just go for it! It doesn’t matter what people think.

As long as you’re in it for the right reasons, you have to actively want to try and help young people.  You can make such a difference to someone’s life.

Sign up to be a mentor

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