One man, one dream and a night under the stars

Project Challenge feature, Dean Clough, Halifax'Pictured with old mini-bus are Emma Graham, Lorna Butterick, Les Wilson, Tom Harnett, Peter Dawber, Guy Greenwood and Trudy McLaughlin
Project Challenge feature, Dean Clough, Halifax'Pictured with old mini-bus are Emma Graham, Lorna Butterick, Les Wilson, Tom Harnett, Peter Dawber, Guy Greenwood and Trudy McLaughlin

Two decades ago a charity was formed to help young people “at risk” in Calderdale. This week Ruth Mosalski meets the people behind the scenes

TWENTY years ago, one man had a dream to form a charity to give young people a future.

Presentation evening at The Shay Stadium, for Project Challenge Norway Nights expedition

Presentation evening at The Shay Stadium, for Project Challenge Norway Nights expedition

Ted Howarth believed people’s pasts should not get in the way of their future.

Although Ted lost his battle with cancer in 2003 his legacy goes on.

Known for being bearded, often unkempt and with a woolly hat on his head, Ted enlisted John Howe and Pete Dawber to help out part-time, and the rest, they say, is history.

Hours of graft went into setting up the charity. The week Pete and Ted spent in Scotland drafting their first expedition they slept out under the stars. Having run out of food, they had just Tracker bars for sustinence, hundreds of young people have passed through their doors.

Around 120 a year have completed the 12-week Activ8 and N’gage programmes, and 150 have completed the ultimate challenge which is the 26 week Project Challenge.

The 12 week programmes are there to reintroduce the young people to education and learning.

“It gives them time to reassess what they want to do. It stops them going into unemployment and gives them a focus,” said Lorna Butterick.

Some complete all three of the schemes, others throw themselves in the deep end and complete a 14 day trek across Europe as part of Project Challenge.

The training involves three residentials around the Yorkshire Dales, including doing night treks, and hands-on learning.

All three teach life skills, give qualifications and help restore confidence to their vulnerable participants.

When Ted first dreamed of the charity, he wanted to help 16 to 25 years-old classed as “at risk”.

Whether they are at risk of becoming offenders, vocationally unsure, have undiagnosed learning difficulties, the list of the people they help is endless.

But they are usually united by one thing - cripplingly low self confidence.

Many are taken to the offices at Dean Clough by a former graduate others are referred by Connexions but there is plenty to keep the young people busy.

The charity’s aims and methods have stayed the same over the last 20 years, but some changes have been forced upon the team, based at Dean Clough. Their funding now means they can only help 16 to 19 year-olds and instead of just offering vocational skills they used to, they also offer qualifications.

N’gage and Activ8 help teach personal, social development and practical skills like cooking and independent living skills and Project Challenge combines those skills with physical activity and skills needed for their expeditions like map reading, first aid and skiing.

“When we first started out we were all surprised at how good people thought it was. We thought it was amazing that something so simple could have such an effect,” said Pete.

Visitors from across the world have come to their offices to see how the charity works.

“It’s grown. It’s taken 20 years to get here, things have gone wrong but it’s shaped us and we’re where we ended up now,” said Pete.

There have, and will continue to be tough times. “I remember Ted took calls when we were away on residentials saying we were down to our last £100. Then he’d get another call saying ‘We’ve got funding’ and we could keep going,” he said.

Now their funding limits the team of eight staff to working with 16 to 19 year-olds but the challenges are the same. The young people are usually crippled by a lack of self-confidence with no plans of where to go, and without someone stepping in they would become another unemployment statistic.

His work is now continued by the team offering training and hands on experience.