Joshua Chesterman is heading for a promising career at the EU, but without the support of a mentoring project – and one woman in particular – his might have been a different story, as EMMA DUNN reports
OSHUA Chesterman has a bright future ahead of him, but he wouldn’t be where he is today if he hadn’t had a life changing experience nine years ago.
The 23-year-old, of the town centre, is now a third year student at Sussex University and puts part of his success down to the work of SMASH, which helped him when he was a teenager.
Joshua was about 13 years old when he started getting into trouble at school.
He was swearing at teachers, picking fights with students and running riot at Headlands School, where he was a pupil at the time.
“It was all an expression of what was going on at home. I was having lots of issues with my family. We weren’t really getting on,” he said.
“I was getting suspended and I was on the edge of getting into trouble with the youth offending team.
“I felt like I was on my own. I recognised that what was happening in my life at home wasn’t right and that’s why I fought for attention at school.”
Joshua’s school referred him to Swindon Mentoring and Self Help (SMASH) where he was put in touch with his mentor, Wendy Law.
Wendy, a mother-of-two, had volunteered for the project because she wanted to help young people who hadn’t been as fortunate as her own children.
Joshua, who was 14 when he first met Wendy, said: “At that point I just thought ‘this is my chance to actually do something’. I knew I didn’t have to meet Wendy or be involved in SMASH but I wanted to.
“Part of SMASH is the self help aspect – it’s about the young people realising they want to change their lives for the better.
“It’s not the young people who are bad, it’s the circumstances they live in.”
Wendy and Joshua met weekly for a year. They started with dinner at McDonald’s and gradually started meeting at other places.
Wendy also took him to the library, as well as trips to Bath and Oxford. Wendy also encouraged Joshua to get into reading.
“We talked about anything and everything. For me, it was really important that we always met on the same day,” he said.
“It was a way for me to be able to talk about everything that was going on in my life. We would come up with ways I could try and make things right.
“That year, everything changed. I started thinking about my future and I wanted to do well at school.
“I had a learning mentor at school too. I managed to get decent GCSEs – one A, five Bs and four Cs. I went from almost being permanently suspended to that – I couldn’t believe it.”
Joshua later became Swindon’s Youth Member of Parliament, which he says would never have happened if he hadn’t got involved with SMASH.
“Wendy taught me to go and grab the world. She told me I could achieve things and that I could do what I actually wanted to do,” he said.
“That’s what our whole relationship was about.”
After leaving school, Joshua attended New College where he gained three A Levels. He is now studying politics and contemporary European studies at Sussex University.
He is planning to do a Masters in September, and then hopes to work for the European Union.
Joshua currently works part time for SMASH as the administration and marketing officer.
“I always had the potential to change but SMASH gave me the tools to do it. I don’t think I would be at uni now if it wasn’t for SMASH,” he said.
“Wendy taught me not to be afraid of who I am. I was very different to lots of people I went to school with.
“I was very different to my own family too.
“There is a tendency to change yourself to be like those people but Wendy taught me that it’s okay to be myself. SMASH gave me self belief.”
‘I am a good listener, and that is what Josh needed’
JOSHUA’S mentor, Wendy Law, volunteered for SMASH after she was made redundant in 2004.
Wendy’s son and daughter were teenagers at the time and she wanted to work in the voluntary sector helping other young people.
Wendy, of the town centre, who now works as a client manager for a project coordinating services for separated parents, said she wanted to help children who hadn’t been as fortunate as her son and daughter.
“I realised how lucky I was that my children knew what they wanted in life. I wanted to work with young people and when I saw SMASH I wanted to get involved,” she said.
“When I first met Joshua he was quiet but that soon changed. He became more confident as the year went on.
“I know I am a good listener and that is what Joshua needed.
“I found it very satisfying to work on a one-to-one basis and help them to look at things in a way they hadn’t before. I love education and it is great to see someone’s interest grow.
“I got as much out of being Joshua’s mentor as he did. He would tell me about things he learnt at school.”
Wendy, who has three grandchildren and another on the way, has kept in touch with Joshua over the years.
“I am really proud of him and he has invited me to his graduation in the summer,” she said.
SWINDON Mentoring and Self Help (SMASH) gives young people the tools to improve their lives. The independent charity trains dedicated volunteer mentors and arranges inspiring activities for young people.
They are recruiting adult volunteers to spend a couple of hours a week helping 13- to 19 year-olds fulfill their potential. Through no fault of their own the young people are not getting the support and encouragement they need to get the best out of their education and life in general.
This may be for a number of reasons, such as a death or a marriage break-down, or it may be because the parents are having to work a lot because of money troubles. Growing out of SMASH’s success with teenagers is an exciting new initiative, Memory Makers, that gives children aged 11 or 12 the opportunity to work with a positive role model and explore their talents and skills.
The charity is looking for volunteer adult Memory Makers to inspire a child through visits to the library, a sports club or simply playing a board game. Visit www.smashyouthproject.co.uk, call 01793 729748 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.