YCW Helping To Support Local Schools Project

Earlier this year the YCW launched our national campaign on Young People and Mental Health.

We were looking at reality for young people when it comes to this incredibly important issue and an overwhelming amount of our members expressed their deep concerns about the current help available to young people with mental health problems, as well as the stigma attached to it.

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Because of this concern the YCW began MIND! The Gap and have been working through the SEE, JUDGE and ACT method with our groups.

On the back of this work, we have been asked to help support a project in three Salford Catholic high schools - St Ambrose Barlow, St Patrick’s and All Hallows. Newly ordained Fr Gavin Landers is organising a programme of issues to be explored at each school - ranging from the environment to mental health - and was keen to collaborate with the YCW on it.

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Marc Besford, National Training and Development Worker, met with Fr Gavin to talk about how the YCW can help. He said: “When I heard about the initiative I thought this was something we could help support. We have been grappling with many of the issues around mental health over the past year and of course, have lots of experiences working with young people. I hope that the project goes from strength to strength and want to thank Fr Gavin for his willingness to work together on it.”

Work Progressing On New Group At St Charles, Swinton

This week the YCW HQ hosted parishioners from St Charles in Swinton who are being trained as Adult Companions in the hope of setting up a new Group in the near future.

Gill and Charles, both of whom have worked with young people throughout their lives, felt they wanted to find a new way of supporting young people to develop their leadership skills and deepen their faith at the same time.

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Fr John Marsland, National Chaplain, gave them an introduction to the YCW - from the origins and three truths of Cardijn to the recent campaign on young people and mental health. He also ran through what it is to be an adult companion, drawing on his many years experience in this role, at both a local and international level.

Gill and Charles are now planning to invite young people in their parish over the next few weeks and aim to start in October. They have already drawn up a letter that they will send to these young people and follow this up with appeals in Church. There are also plans to use social media to advertise the YCW across the Parish.

In response to the visit, Marc Besford, National Training and Development Worker, said: “It was fantastic to see new Companions coming through from our training and I look forward to visiting the new group when it gets off the ground. If anyone is thinking of becoming an adult companion, please do get in touch. We have great training on offer and a range of resources to support this essential role in our movement.”

From Billingham to Rome - A Reflection On Marc's First Year At The YCW

Following Marc's first year working at YCW we asked him to reflect on some of his experiences he has had with the YCW, including his recent meeting with Pope Francis.

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I first heard about the YCW through a Diocesan (H&N) Communication by the Youth Ministry Team and at the time I was exploring ways in which to engage the youth within my parish in Billingham. I looked through the website and the news stories about what other groups had been doing and thought this is exactly what I was searching for; a structure but with flexibility and youth-led formation through social awareness and exploring our faith.

I spoke with the National Team and invited them along to attend an open meeting in my parish where 3 young people turned up and that’s where it really got going. After that we had our first meeting where I accompanied the young people and they elected roles and responsibilities for themselves. We explored our realities and looked more deeply for their first action. The group went from strength to strength, continuing to do good works. All of this helped me develop my own role within the YCW.

Alongside all this, I was invited to observe a couple of National Executive meetings at the HQ and later asked to be Assistant to the National President and join the NEC, which was a privilege and honour for me.

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In January 2017 at an NEC I thought I was going to a normal National meeting but this would turn out to be far more important because at that meeting we discussed the future of the team and it turned out that it would change my life because it was the start of my journey to become a full time worker.

My first big meeting apart from the NEC was in March 2017 where I was asked to be a part of the European Commission. When I got to the meeting I was asked to be the future Chair of the Commission - I was petrified at the thought of this! I kept thinking, this has never happened to me - a big thing like this - and at the time I didn’t know what to say. All I can remember was everybody looking at me and waiting for me to say yes - which I did and was appointed Chair of the Commission by the International Team.


May 2017 was a big month for me as that is when the Trustees decided to offer me a job as a full time development worker. When they offered it I of course said yes but from January to May all I could think of was: is this for me? Is this what God is calling me to do? Being just a lad from Billingham I never ever thought I would leave, especially leaving family behind and relocate to a CITY! But I knew in my heart, God and my faith would see me through and I tell you what it was the best decision I ever made.

Before I left we had a YCW Race Night and at the end the group surprised me with a gift. I also got a fond farewell from the parish on the Sunday morning Mass and the readings of the day were so apt to me. The Gospel was about taking up our cross and following Jesus and with the last hymn the parish priest had a bit of fun by choosing the last hymn as “Follow me, follow me, leave your home and family”.

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So in July 2017 I moved down to Manchester to start the next chapter in my life as a full time worker for the YCW. The first couple of months were like a baptism of fire, which I thoroughly enjoyed and it helped develop my skills and talents quickly, as well as my public speaking.  Along with the work and getting to know people and the area I also got to see my favourite football team Manchester City a lot more!  I also started taking driving lessons again after 10 years since and it was an amazing feeling and sense of achievement when I passed.

I was asked by the International Team to go on their behalf to the Autumn meeting of the COMECE European Bishops Social Affairs Commission, which was held in Brussels, about the “Future of Work”. The gathering helped to prepare and give thoughts on a document that was going to the European Parliament on behalf of the Faith Community. I was asked to provide a speech detailing the situation young people face in the UK, so I prepared a speech that touched upon the issues of Brexit, zero-hour contracts and young people unable to find permanent posts, even after university. I also raised the increasing need to discuss the current state of young people’s mental health. I gained a lot from the event and it was an amazing experience, one I won’t forget.


The highlight of my journey so far, without doubt, was attending a conference on behalf of the International Team, this time in the Vatican. This was for an International Conference to mark the 3 year anniversary of Pope Francis Encyclical Laudato Si' - On Care For Our Common Home. So on the 5th & 6th July, the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development organised the event to reflect on what has happened to the environment during the last three years and how to plan for the future. During the two days, participants were reminded of the urgency of dealing with climate change, including the need to adopt carbon-neutral lifestyles and seriously invest in non-carbon energy technologies, in order to keep the global average increase in temperature below the 2 degrees celsius which was agreed at COP 21 in Paris in 2015. 

The conference followed the See-Judge-Act methodology, which is central to the YCW. My group came up with five areas for discussion at both the Synod for Youth in October 2018: Formation for both young people and adults; participation of young people; integrity; inter-generational solidarity and urgency. Young people didn’t just want to sit in a room and talk about issues they want to tackle them head on.

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On the second day we set off again to the conference where we were to have an audience with Pope Francis. In his remarks to us, Pope Francis said: “Your presence here is a sign of your commitment to take concrete steps to save the planet and the life it sustains, inspired by the Encyclical’s assumption that ‘everything is connected’. That principle lies at the heart of an integral ecology.” In his conclusion, Pope Francis expressed his gratitude for the efforts of participants. Pope Francis encouraged them, saying: “Please continue to work for the radical change which present circumstances require. For injustice is not invincible.”

After he spoke the whole hall erupted with applause and then the moment came for those lucky enough to meet the Pope personally and shake his hand. One of the conference organisers came to the back and told us that the Pope had requested to meet each and every one of us, if time allows and then protocol would kick in. I was so nervous thinking I’m going to meet the Pope, what do I say? And as I was moving more closely up the line I could see people’s faces of honour, crying, facing the reality of meeting the successor of St Peter!

All I seemed to keep doing was rubbing the sweat off my hands and brushing myself down making sure I looked alright when I got there. I moved up the line slowly, took his hand, said who I was and who I represented and he asked me to pray for him.

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I then turned to go back to my seat and don’t think I spoke until after leaving the Hall. I was in amazement that I met the Pope, a lad who didn’t think would leave my home in Teesside to being a few privileged people to get up close and shake the hand of the Pope. We then returned to the Paul VI Hall for a short break before recommencing the meeting and then I immediately rang my Mum, Dad and Sister as well as my Parish Priest to tell them all about it.     

All in all from trying to set a group in Billingham to meeting the Pope within 2 years it has been an amazing experience. I have experienced things that I wouldn’t have dreamed of, I have met new people and made friends who have helped and supported me and most of all, I have developed my skills and learnt new ones as a person and as a leader.

Billingham YCW Group ACT To Help Local Foodbank

Billingham YCW Group have again been in action to raise money for their local foodbank, following a successful fundraising effort by the young leaders.

St Thomas of Canterbury parish hosted an afternoon tea event, organised and ran by the young people of the group on the Feast of the Assumption. It came after the group had seen a story detailing how Billingham foodbank was running low on several essential items.

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The fundraiser collected over £150 for the foodbank and the young people decided to buy as many needed items with the money raised and deliver it to the foodbank personally. Items included: UHT milk, men's toiletries and other tinned foodstuffs. 

Ben Sinclair, member of the Billingham YCW Group and current National Secretary, said: "We were really pleased with the response from our parish and happy to see the amount of items we have been able to buy go to a worthy cause. It is really important that we now reflect on how we can continue to develop our Christian leadership on this and many other issues we all face."

Past YCW Members Meet At HQ

Following the success of the 80th Year celebrations, the YCW has been building stronger links with many of our past members.

These members have offered to volunteer across a range of areas in order to help support the work of the movement.

After a series of informal meetings, the past members met together at the YCW HQ in Trafford Park to get to grips with what needs to be done, as well as share their own experiences and expertise with the National Team.

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The areas that were identified included: Finance and fundraising - this is particularly important to any charity, but especially because the YCW relies entirely on donations and grants to run the entire national movement, as well as contribute to the ICYCW around the world. The group will be looking at how they can help write bids and encourage regular donations from other past members.

Communication - the National Team explained that we had recently launched a new online newsletter - to be distributed monthly - and asked for feedback about what past members might be interested in hearing about. Suggestions were made about sharing more of our work with workplaces, trade unions and those issues young people face in employment.

Supporting existing and setting up new groups - there was a discussion about how past members could support the development of groups across England and Wales. In particular, the need to find and train new adult companions to help groups set up.

Fr John Marsland, National Chaplain, said: "Overall, the meeting was a fruitful one and we would like to thank all those past members who gave up their time to attend, but also to offer continued support. We will make sure to keep up this network and build upon it going forward."

New Groups Being Developed Following Return Visit to Stockton

Earlier this year, the YCW National Team visited the North East to catch up with existing groups and support the growth of new ones. From this, 3 parishes in Stockton were approached about how they could help with this and invited the YCW to speak at their Sunday masses.

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Marc Besford, National Training and Development Worker, returned this month to Stockton to share what they YCW is and does, and how we are developing young Christian leaders. He spoke about his own experience, saying: "I first set up a group in my own parish in Billingham three years ago and I have witnessed them grow in confidence and in faith. As leaders one example of authentic Christian action they undertook using the method was to help the local foodbank.

They identified that the growing use of the foodbank was a major issue and, having done some research, found that it wasn’t just people on benefits that used it but people who were in work and on low incomes - many of whom had families and struggled to feed them.

By then looking at Matthews Gospel and the words of Jesus - “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink” - they then spoke at all the Masses over the weekend and collected items for a month. The group took the collection down personally and helped with bagging up some of them items for families and they learnt that it wasn’t as easy as people may think."

By sharing this experience, it is important for young people themselves giving witness to being leaders, inspired by the message of the Gospel. 

As a result of the talks over the weekend, the parishes identified 3 new adult companions who could lead new groups from next month.