TWO years ago Nathaniel Symonds was hanging around street corners with his mates. By his own admission he was up to no good most of the time.
He was expelled from school, regularly got into fights and dropped out of college. He had no ambition and low self-esteem.
But fast forward the clock and Nathaniel’s life has taken a remarkable turn for the better. So much so that on Saturday he was presented with an award to reflect his dedication to helping young people in Swindon. Nathaniel is now a local hero.
The 18-year-old, a former pupil at Nova Hreod and Stratton Education Centre, has just spent the last year volunteering for the StreetGames Swindon project, which is run locally by Swindon Council in partnership with the charity StreetGames UK and funded by the Big Lottery.
It provides opportunities for young people to take part in all manner of sports and activities and aims to develop doorstep sport in disadvantaged communities.
Not that Nathaniel was interested in such opportunities early in his teens.
“I was a little yob getting into trouble, I was sponging off my mum,” said Nathaniel, who lives in Penhill.
“I did not have any motivation and as I was a bit younger I did not really know any way other than being naughty.
“I started getting excluded and I eventually got sent to Stratton Education Centre. I did end up going to college and I passed my courses but it was not what I wanted and I dropped out after a year.”
And so there Nathaniel was, a fully-fledged NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training). That was until he received a knock at the door from a neighbour – StreetGames coach Alana Sargent – who invited Nathaniel to one of her sessions.
“Alana asked me to help out,” Nathaniel said. “The sessions were for nine or 10 year olds and I didn’t really want to get involved, but I was surprised as I really enjoyed it.
“I’ve been doing it ever since and it gives me a real buzz that the youngsters look up to me and ask for advice. StreetGames paid for me to go on coaching courses and I’ve completed my FA football course. My CRB is coming through very soon, which means I will soon be in paid employment with StreetGames. I can also then do coaching at other places.”
Nathaniel admits he has grown in confidence since joining the StreetGames Swindon project and currently volunteers for 12 hours a week – and is bracing himself for an even busier summer. He has stayed out of trouble and is comfortable leading Doorstep Sports Clubs.
As well as completing his Level 1 FA football coaching course, Nathaniel has passed courses in emergency first aid, safeguarding and child protection, StreetGames Activator courses for table tennis and handball and a Tennis Leaders award.
His levels of responsibility are set to increase still further when he becomes a father for the first time in August.
It is because of the way he has turned his life around that led him to be nominated for a Local Hero Award from StreetGames.
“My family are surprises at what I have done, but they are proud of me,” said a modest Nathaniel. “I did not expect to get an award and it was a real surprise.”