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Frenchwood man Wilbur’s 40 year journey as a youth worker at The Foxton Centre

Posted on - 8th April, 2024 - 12:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Avenham, Charities, Frenchwood, History, People, Preston City Centre, Preston News, Proud Preston
Micheal Wiltshire, youth worker of 40 years at The Foxton Centre.
Michael Wiltshire, youth worker of 40 years at The Foxton Centre.

Michael Wiltshire, also known as Wilbur, is a civil servant in Preston but also works as a part-time project worker at The Foxton Centre, making a difference in young people’s lives in the city.

Wilbur, 57, who was born in Frenchwood first started youth work at just 17 years old, when he worked as a volunteer at a youth club called St Augustine’s in Preston. During his time at the club, Wilbur organised performances, and events and started DJing to raise money.

Now, 40 years on Wilbur has not looked back, with no day being the same and describing the community at The Foxton Centre as ‘one big family’. 

Read more: Demolition begins at The Foxton Centre’s base in Avenham

One of the biggest things that Wilbur has noticed along his journey is that he thinks young people are devalued by society, which is why he thinks the youth service at The Foxton Centre is so important.

He said: “People think because young people are young, do not have anything to contribute. But you’d be surprised at how much young people can give you if you take the time to watch and listen to them. 

“I think that’s one of the biggest problems I’ve found over the years is people don’t listen to young people. I get a little bit frustrated because a lot of our young people are very, very talented, I would say without young people we would not have a future. 

“So if you don’t invest in the young people you’ve got now, then you don’t have, in my opinion, a decent future.”

Upon meeting Wilbur it was clear that he was very passionate about his work, bringing a bright and bubbly energy to the room – creating a perfect environment for young people who need someone for support. 

Meeting all sorts of people from single-parent families, and autistic children to children living in poverty each day is never the same.

Wilbur works Monday and Wednesday night with a senior group, Tuesday night with the Youth Forum Group and every alternate Thursday he runs a junior group and on Saturday he does yoga.

Read more: Broughton teenager Ava Jolliffe nominated for National Diversity Award 

The events at The Foxton Centre.
The events at The Foxton Centre from free yoga to a homework club.

Everybody is welcome and the amount of people coming through the door each day varies, although that does not come without challenges.

Wilbur said: “I’ve been abused, racially abused by young people, stuff thrown at me been spat on all that kind of stuff. 

“People ask, why do you carry on? I say because it’s their way of expressing themselves. They’re frustrated. They don’t know how to express it as at that time, by working with them gives them the tools to then be able to express themselves properly.”

However, his efforts do not go unnoticed. Wilbur meets those he has helped years down the line, with people thanking him for not giving up on them.

He said: “It is one of the most rewarding jobs on the planet.

“People come up to me years later and introduce me to their family, taking selfies and showing me their kids.

“It makes it all with it, just to know what they’ve achieved. They’ve got a house, a car, got married, settled down and they’re doing well for themselves.”

At the moment, the charity is in the process of building the new £2.2 million youth and community centre in Avenham, but their youth and community services are continuing at Unit 10, Oakham Court just down the road.

Those part of the Youth Forum which Wilbur runs on a Tuesday night, were able to help with the refurbishment plans, creating videos which described parts of the building that needed refurbishing.

Plans include a well-being room with mood lighting, music and stress toys for those who need some time out, as well as a room with game consoles and a bigger area.

Read more: Volunteers in Preston needed to teach children how to read

Wilbur at The Foxton Centre demolition.

He said: “I think us as adults or us youth workers, we have an idea of what young people want based on our knowledge and our assessment of things that go on. 

“However, I was thinking young people know what they want. And having a say, I think is the most important thing, having that voice.”

The new building is set to open in January, with the demolition well under way. Wilbur is hoping the new space will be ready by Christmas, so the group can host their annual pantomime to open the space. 

He said: “I am so proud to be part of it.

“I want the building to be their space, that they can take on for the next 50 to 100 years and be part of a community.”

Read more: 14-year-old pooch lover planning Bark Life event in Penwortham to help dog charity

Wilbur does not plan to leave anytime soon, just landing back from a one month trip to the USA he was looking forward to seeing the ‘amazing’ young people again.

He said: “They are so diverse. There’s so much fun. And I mean, I must admit, they have had me belly laughing in here.

“It’s a hard place to leave.

“It really has been an amazing journey, we have had ups and downs but we are one big family and I wouldn’t change anything.”

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