OPEN Project's Youth-led Research Diary Part Two: Hot Chocolate Trust

Our researchers travel to Dundee to learn from Hot Chocolate Trust’s approach to creating a welcoming, inclusive youth work space.

Group photo of the research team in selfie style, all smiling in the sun

In this blog series one of the peer researchers will be sharing their research journey, what they’ve learned, what tools they’ve used and what support they received along the way.

Shannon will be speaking at this year’s YouthLink Scotland Policy Convention about her youth-led research journey, and the impact youth work has had on her – culminating in a paid research post at OPEN Project in Shetland.

More than a Youth Club 

The OPEN Space project was all coming together in June 2022, we had most of our presentation report ready to go but we wanted to speak to places within the UK that provided a successful place for young people, to find out about the journey of getting a space for young people and how they grew.  

If we jump back on the project timeline to October 2021 OPEN had a residential in Burra, giving us the chance to break out of COVID fatigue and return back to normal. Me and Akira hadn’t been hired as Peer Researchers yet, so we attended the residential as volunteers. During this residential we spoke to the Hot Chocolate Trust who run a youth group out of a massive, beautiful church in the centre of Dundee. 

 It was great to hear a bit about their journey and how long they had been going, hearing about the interaction they had for young people and how anyone can get in touch to take part by dropping in, calling up or referring themselves online. They weren’t just a ‘youthy’, Hot Chocolate was there to support young people and give them a space to flourish. 

A New Adventure 

So once Akira and I had been hired, we felt eager to go see the Hot Chocolate space in person, and we were lucky enough to get the opportunity to travel down from Shetland to Dundee when the OPEN space project was coming to a close. Flights were booked, bags were packed then on a blustery summer morning during June 2022 we were off down to the mainland to Aberdeen. We were put up in a nice hotel which would be our home for the weekend, we weren’t due to go to Dundee until Saturday, so we had a look around the shops then went back to our hotel for a takeaway, which was a rare treat as we don’t have those options available at home in Shetland.  

We were welcomed by the lovely staff at Hot Chocolate Trust and a couple of their young people. As soon as you walk in the church doors you are met with a cubby hole filled with comfy seating, old armchairs, squishy couches and puffy bean bags. The walls were filled with young people’s artwork, splashes of colour and creativity oozing out of this one small space. This is just the entrance to the building, a chill out space but instantly you knew this was a place for young people. Our professional researchers Amy (YouthLink Scotland) and Jennifer (Anderson Solutions) came soon to join us along with Kirsty from the Ideas Fund, we sat down with a cuppa after the introductions and sat down for a yap. 

Three young people standing in front of the Hot Chocolate Trust in Dundee.
Arriving at Hot Chocolate Trust, ready to learn.

Making a Space Your Own 

Once the cuppas were finished the young people took us on a tour of the building, with the young people rushing ahead of us. Following the young people up a carved stone staircase that were saturated in colours giving the impression of an oil slick from the sunshine shining through the stain glass windows, artwork fills the walls here too. Together we went upstairs to the music room to have an informal chat with the young people and staff which we recorded to gather quotes about what they felt about being a part of Hot Chocolate.  

The quotes we have gathered from the workers and young people (Tami and Bodie) were brilliant and showed how apart of the building they feel, they have freedom to do what they want, old and young mix together. Young people can pursue their interests or passions, hang out with each other just to socialise and can also get support 1 on 1 with workers if they need it. There is also a self-referral form on their website so anyone in their local area can get involved, but they are aware that word of mouth was the way young people tended to hear about them.  

After this we had lunch downstairs that a member of staff (Nicole) and two young people had made, and we ate all together communally on a table that the young people had upcycled. We had macaroni cheese and garlic bread together and just had small chat round the table. Afterwards we did an ice breaker of our favourite pudding before starting our tour of the building. 

Youth work space with seats and couches.
The comfortable setup makes it a home from home for young people.

The Grand Tour  

The stairs leading upstairs are one of the few spots in the building that haven’t been touched since the church was built and gives a rustic edgy feel to the space, which really suited the distressed artwork done by young people and all the photos dotted around the walls of young people. When we got up to the music room it had a chalk board, pool table, a lovely sitting area in the middle of the room with 4 couches facing each other. At the top of the room was a drum set, guitars, a bass or two plus a mic. There were posters of Hendrix, Bowie, Green day and more artwork and pictures covering all the walls. We were shown a room afterwards that they are going to change into another space for young people but is used for storage just now.  

Once down stairs past the cubby hole by the entrance we were shown the art room which was cosy and small, we seen some of the little lights art work that they are doing for their summer programme surrounding mental health which looked really cool and inventive, Tami also showed us her space raiders ashtray that she has been working on which we found really cool, young people have the freedom to do what art projects they want and can ask for new equipment if they need it, not just for art but for anything at Hot Chocolate.  

Young people have created a vibrant and unique space at Hot Chocolate Trust.

Next up on the tour was a massive gym hall that had loads in it. A small hut which they have previously used for cooking was there and a structure that has repurposed from a nativity set they did, covered in fairy lights with couches, chairs and fairy lights wound round the frame. There was a hammock next to it which Akira had a shot of, and I decided I had to join in too! The rest of the gym hall had a basketball hoop and general things that gym halls have as well as a clothes swap box for young people to save money but still get new wardrobes and give old clothes a new lease of life.                                               

We finished up the tour after this, during the tour young people had started coming in for their Saturday session. There wasn’t enough staff on this particular day for young people to come inside the building, so they had their session outside. When we walked outside, I was surprised to see that couches, beanbags and seats had been taken outside, music was playing on speakers, young people were playing instruments or playing games with equipment you would usually find in a garden like tether ball. They even had a cold bag packed with ice creams and ice lollies which was perfect for the hot weather. Young people still went into the building in drips and drabs but still respected that their session wasn’t indoors that day. They all seemed quite happy to be outside in their own little space they had created.   

Blackboard with art room materials written all over it.
Creativity runs free in Hot Chocolate Trust's art room.

A Fond Farewell 

We said our goodbyes to the staff and young people, took some more photos then went to go sit with Jennifer, Amy and Kirsty to discuss how the day had gone and next steps for tying the end of the project together and how to use the information given to us. It was evident that the young people at The Hot Chocolate Trust feel like the church is theirs, they feel a sense of ownership of the space and know that they can make decisions and make changes if they want too. Young people feel supported and that they can turn to the staff at Hot Chocolate when they have nowhere else to go or don’t know who can help. The Hot Chocolate Trust is owned by the young people and the staff seem very happy to keep it that way, from the numbers of young people they had and how happy the young people were, I think it’s safe to say that Hot Chocolate is doing it right!  

We knew that this trip had really shown us how much meaning a space of their own holds for young people and helped back up the research report that we had written up. As the project ended, as we presented our findings, we found that young people’s voices were on a whole well received and helped create awareness of the gaps that young people feel need filled to give them the same opportunities as other young people, a space to be without a reason to be there is hugely massive to wellbeing. We were aware that through the research that young people were being exposed to drink and alcohol culture, with no space to go, social and economic pressures that young people were feeling it made sense to research young people’s views, thoughts and feelings surrounding alcohol and other drugs. More about how this project took shape and more about what we learned next time. 

Blog Series

This blog is part of a series, if you enjoyed reading part two, you can find the other parts of the series here.