WHAT IS XLP EXPERIENCE YEAR?
Experience is an exciting and dynamic year long programme run by XLP in partnership with local churches, serving some of London’s most diverse, challenging and inspirational communities. Aimed at those who are 18 – 25. The year provides an opportunity for you to put your faith into action in one of the most multicultural cities in the world - it will change your life and the lives of the young people you meet. As an ‘Experience student’ you will receive expert training on youth work with applied theology and join XLP’s teams running schools and community work in the inner city including detached youth work, arts and sports activities, church youth work, lessons and assemblies, mentoring and summer camps, missions trips and much more... This unique year is designed to challenge you to deepen your relationship with God and with people. Are you ready to take up that challenge?
1. Hi, tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Paul Phillips, and I am a 25 year old children's and youth worker. I am originally from Portsmouth, but now living in the wonderful London Borough of Bromley - I miss the sea, but there's a lot more green here in Bromley! I love any opportunity to play sports or go to the gym (football, golf, and running are probably my top 3!), but my most interesting sounding hobby is doing pyrography. For those that don't know, it is pretty much making art on wood using heat!
2. So your gap year… what did you do and where did you go?
As part of my gap year I was involved in going into schools to do afterschool clubs, homework clubs, as well as one-to-one student support, and also spent time in hanging out with young people on a bus that the charity I did the gap year had! It was a double decker bus which was converted into a mobile youth club filled with video game consoles, a nail bar, kitchen facilities and more - it was fantastic! As I was based in the London Borough of Southwark, we took the bus on to some of the estates in the borough so that we could meet the young people (usually those aged between 11-18) where they were at.
3. What organisation was this with and how did they train you and support you?
It was with an charity called XLP whose vision is to help young people realise their potential. Throughout the gap year we met together as a whole team every Monday to share what had been happening in the different boroughs we were working in and receive training on how to do youth work effectively. It was a great time to learn, but also to celebrate the things that have been happening as well as support each other during the challenging times.
4. What were some highlights of the year?
In youth work you tend to realise quite quickly that not every young person will want to chat to you - however, there was this one guy (who I'll call William) who came to one of the homework clubs. William was quite shy and quiet - he just came in and got on with whatever homework needed to get done. I sat with William to help him with his homework and when we had done it he had asked my team leader if he could play games, to which they agreed William could. I cam to realise that we both had the same interest in video games and that built a great start to a conversation, as well as many competitive games against each other! By the end of the year, I had built a really good relationship with William and saw him grow in so much confidence - it was amazing to see this. I don't claim that it was all because of me, but having the opportunity to see him each week throughout the year and see that confidence grow in him, was a massive highlight.
5. What were biggest challenges of your year?
The biggest challenge started in my second week on the gap year! When we were about to go to one of the estates to do our youth work on the XLP bus, we had learnt a young man from the area had been stabbed and killed. The reality hit me of how different my life as a teenager had been compared to those on the estate. They were experiencing their friends or people that go to their school being involved in knife crime one way or another and for them it just seemed normal. And I came to realise as I was going through my gap year it almost felt normal to me too - I had to keep reminding myself that this shouldn't be normal and that we should be helping to point these young people to a greater hope which tells them it doesn't need to be like this.
6. How did the year impact your faith? How did God change you, challenge you, did it cause you to grow closer to him?
The year challenged my relationship with God massively, and so grew me closer to him. God challenged me with the reality of some of those I was working with, as I had to spend time wrestling with the question 'Where is God in all of this?' - one of the things that got mentioned a lot in our weekly meetings at XLP was that 'hope is the refusal to accept a situation as it is'. I found that to be a helpful way of seeing how God was in all of this. It gave the reminder that God hasn't given up on us - he hasn't given up on those who are facing exclusion, who are stuck in gang crime, who have lost those to knife crime. Things will improve, and be made new by God. This helped me to remember the hope that is found in my faith and not accept situations as they are.
7. Would you recommend this as a gap year? Why?
If you are wanting a gap year where you can grow, be challenged, and be part of something exciting with incredible people, then this is definitely the gap year for you. You get to work with amazing young people who will challenge you in different ways, and will also amaze you in other ways too. You are with a team of people who will support you throughout and will help you out where you need it. XLP has a fantastic vision for the young people they work with and do not give up on any young person as they believe all have so much potential.