His Royal Highness visited CATCH in the heart of Harehills – a charity which works with young people to provide education, recreation, support and direction for those who are growing up in one of the most deprived areas of the city of Leeds and also, the whole country.
The centre provides spaces for its young members as an alternative to being drawn into anti-social behaviour or crime and in addition to table tennis – where the Duke was keen to show off his skills – there are computer games, movie nights, a gym, poly-tunnels, a community café and a dozen pet goats kept on site and cared for by the young people.
CATCH has recently begun to provide weekly sessions for children who have been evacuated from Afghanistan so they can develop their English language skills and make new friends.
The Duke also learned how the young people and volunteers who are members of CATCH, which stands for Community Action to Create Hope, built the community hub themselves starting six years ago with a disused mobile cabin that used to belong to West Yorkshire Police.
HRH said: “I have been blown away by the visit. It is an amazing achievement what you have all done here. You guys, the young people, built this together. I am blown away and quite emotional about it.
“You have worked together, don’t know each other, don’t speak English and have come together – you can’t not be proud.”
He presented the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service – the highest award of its kind – to the organisation, adding: “You should be proud of yourselves”.
Dressed in blue trousers, a blue shirt, green jumper and a jacket, the Duke was relaxed throughout the visit where he spent almost an hour and a half at the centre meeting trustees, volunteers and other agencies and organisations who collaborate with the charity.
Uzma Akhtar is now a volunteer experience co-ordinator, but when she first came to CATCH she had depression and had left school with no qualifications.
She said: “Before I started I was anxious, had depression, failed my GCSEs and had no hope for the future, low confidence and not many skills. CATCH helped me build confidence which is why I am stood here talking to you and I have an opportunity to work in a school.”
The foundations of CATCH started in 2010 with the community clean-up of some land that was being used for drug-dealing, drug-taking and prostitution. As it was being turned into useable green space, CATCH started to focus on issues surrounding local young people as it was apparent there was a lack of youth engagement and positive role models. A programme of activities was created and in 2016, after having to leave the site, CATCH set up at its current location using a vacant modular building on an old West Yorkshire Police training site which was due for demolition.
In September 2016 the building was launched as ‘ARK’ to serve as a community and youth centre including a community café.
Speaking about today’s Royal visit, Ian Short, chair of trustees at CATCH said: “It is a seal of approval on what CATCH stands for and what it delivers. It is recognition of all the hard work and approval that will mean something, not just in our area, or city or county, but nationally – our footprint is out there. The afternoon was absolutely amazing. You could tell that he really bought into the ethos of CATCH and what it does in Harehills.”
Earlier in the day, the Duke of Cambridge had visited a local hotel, elsewhere in Leeds, which is being used to accommodate refugees evacuated from Afghanistan. He learned about the different roles played by the local authority, the hotel, community organisations and charities and saw first-hand how these groups work together to provide for the various needs of the refugees.
He met families who had been forced to leave behind everything they knew and loved, sometimes with just hours or even minutes notice and told them: “The most important thing is that you are safe now. You have a bright future. You couldn’t be more welcome. Thank you for all you have done for us.”