Clubhouse has crisis boys back on track

By Jessica Elgot, April 14, 2011
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Road to recovery: Go-karting is among a range of interests which help Clubhouse clients to find a purpose

Road to recovery: Go-karting is among a range of interests which help Clubhouse clients to find a purpose

Located at the side of an office block and with no signage, the Boys' Clubhouse in Hendon is barely noticeable. "Most people haven't heard of us," says programme director Ari Leaman. "But then good for them."

That is because Mr Leaman and his small team are the last resort for many families and young men in crisis. "They might be sleeping rough, expelled from school, stealing, taking drugs. If I hear of someone, I know that they will at some point hear about us.

"We had one kid here, tattooed everywhere. He had been a junior priest in the Church of Satan, with green hair and every type of piercing you can imagine. I went to his wedding a year-and-a-half ago. His mother came up to me and said: 'In my wildest dreams, I didn't think he'd be alive at 27.' The fact he lives a normal life was beyond anything they could have imagined. Now he lives in Israel and we use him as a mentor. We worked with him for about six years. We don't give up."

The charity provides activities and life coaching to at least 50 boys, at varying stages of crisis, from 16 upwards at any one time and seeks opportunities for them in the UK and in Israel, such as the army, yeshivah or working on kibbutz.

It has had its fair share of problems since being founded as the North West Clubhouse in 2001. "It was 90 per cent funded by an anonymous benefactor, who then had financial difficulties," Mr Leaman said.

"There was a girls' department, a schools' department and debt counselling. We had to close down very quickly. But we all felt we should continue. This was February 2009."

Now the Boys' Clubhouse is run as a separate charity in a building donated by the Kramer charitable trust and funded by grants from, among others, Children In Need and Barnet Council, plus some donations and a small amount of fundraising. The Girls' Clubhouse has set up as a separate organisation.

Those Mr Leaman has worked with include young Jewish boys in prison and on the streets, some from dysfunctional families and "some whose mothers could write books on parenting. Whether they are Orthodox or not, there's the same problems. Most of them don't have psychological problems. But life has gone wrong for them."

The Clubhouse works closely with other Jewish charities, like Drugsline. "Mental health issues we pass on to Jami or Langdon. With kids in crisis, the core person is healthy."

Efforts are made to encourage interests. "We do music production, football, CST training, laser quest, golf and bowling. I've become quite good at bowling over the years. They do make friends and it's sometimes good, sometimes bad. Often they know each other already. If there's trouble out there, I hear about it straight away. They are honest about what they do."

On rare occasions, they find a boy is beyond help. "It is a very hard decision and we would encourage them to come back later."

As an example of the success stories, Mr Leaman recalled "two boys whose mother had divorced twice and was remarrying. The youngest was 16 when she wrote them a letter saying: 'I want nothing to do with you anymore, I'm going off to have my life.' We looked after the boys. We sent one to university in Herzilya. He has a great job and he's now moving to Australia.

"The other went to yeshivah, he's getting married. Kids who go through a tough time and get through become more focused human beings because they have to work to find themselves. Other people don't have to do that work, they just live their lives. But these boys have to work on themselves to try to understand why they do what they do."

    Last updated: 12:57pm, April 14 2011