Noreen created the Equip Boys initiative in the summer of 2018 after feeling frustrated by the lack of free activities available to young boys, including her own 14-year old son, during the summer holidays. The majority of projects and events available were expensive, especially for single parents on limited incomes, she said. Noreen felt that young boys lacked confidence and maturity and needed positive role models to whom they could relate. She also wanted to find solutions to the problem of young boys joining gangs and rising knife crime in London.
Noreen was looking for a venue and activities for Equip Boys for the half term, and UEL offered rooms, role models and sports sessions. Noreen's work fits in perfectly at the University, where a key strand of civic engagement strategy focuses on youth safety, engagement and empowerment. Building a relationship with Equip Boys enables UEL to continue to build its networks in the community and to further connect with the young people of Newham.
Ultimately, 20 boys ages 7 to 15 from Newham and neighbouring boroughs came to UEL. On the first day they met with speakers including Dr Charles Prince, Director of the Centre for Student Success at UEL. Dr Prince gave a talk on education, getting ready for the world of work and exploring personal skills. The next day the boys received advice on study skills and learned about money management.
On their third day they attended workshops on life skills, CV writing and confidence building, and heard an inspirational talk from Geoff Thompson MBE, chair of the UEL Board of Governors and founder of Youth Charter, an UN non-governmental organisation and charity which has worked with young people for more than a quarter of a century. Mr Thompson pledged to work further with Equip Boys in conjunction with Youth Charter's innovative mentoring and social coaches leadership programme. On the final day the boys went to Sports Dock to speak to three students who play on UEL's basketball and football teams. The UEL students gave the young boys tips and played sports games with them.
Gail May, UEL's director of civic engagement, said, "It has been a pleasure to host the Equip Boys' School this week. Noreen and her colleagues are passionate about offering inspiring opportunities and role models and providing the boys who attend with the tools to develop ambitious goals and to make plans to achieve them.
"This aligns with UEL's mission and values and we have been delighted to meet the boys and to support the project this week. I would like to thank all the staff and sport scholars from UEL who supported the Equip Boys throughout the week."
Noreen said, "It was a great opportunity to listen to Geoff Thompson and Dr Charles Prince who emphasised the importance of a good work ethic, which starts now. The boys have also begun to understand what being in an institute of higher education means and this has broadened their mindset. We look forward to more partnerships with UEL and the Youth Charter."