YOUNG people from one of the most deprived urban areas of Wales are learning forestry and woodworking skills on a project backed by a police community charity.
The Friends of the Cob on Marsh Road in the heart of West Rhyl, have set up an £11,000 sawmill and are turning logs weighing over a ton each into sawn timber to transform a derelict patch of land on the outskirts of the town.
They have been helped by a grant of £2,000 from the North Wales Police and Community Trust (PACT) to provide tools and materials which have already been used to build a wooden shed to house a local food charity.
The dedicated team of volunteers running the project also plan to build a timber roof to house a traditional pizza oven on The Cob where existing structures have been damaged by fires lit by homeless people and by vandalism.
Friends of the Cob Project Manager Nicky Hodge says they already have over 20 young people from West Rhyl who are learning skills from operating the sawmill and joinery to the computer-aided design of the products they produce in their workshop on Marsh Lane.
Nicky said: “Many of these young people have issues around mental health and isolation – I call them bedroom bubble kids because they can become stuck in their rooms.
“We’re trying to get them out and involved in something and learning new skills and we get them down here, they come and sit round the fire with us and I believe it’s saved lives.
“It’s become a focal point for this town and these young people are learning important skills that can build careers for them – we’ve already turned out plenty of joiners and roofers.
“We’ve even got one young man who is brilliant at computer design and he is producing things we can make here and sell to the public.
“But we couldn’t do all this without the kind of support we have had again from PACT and many others including Denbighshire County Council.”
The Chair of the Friends, Pete Prendergast, Denbighshire County Councillor for Rhyl South West, said: “This project really helps these young kids. It brings out their natural abilities which hasn’t happened before and they have a real rapport with Nicky.
“It broadens their minds, helps them learn to cope and gives them opportunities they haven’t had before. It’s good for them and for us as a community and makes a massive difference to their home lives because they’re doing something positive.”
Among the young volunteers is 18-year-old Kyle Street, from West Rhyl, who has been coming to the Friends’ headquarters on Marsh Road for over a year and he said: “It’s been really good learning new skills here and helping out.
“I’ve been helping operate the sawmill and making things here that can be used and it has helped me a lot personally and got me into sports and other activities which has been really positive.”
PACT Chair Ashley Rogers said: “We have backed the Friends of the Cob before and from our point of view it’s great to see the evolution of this project which is of such value to the community.
“I am really pleased we have been able to continue to fund them and help in their development.
“The project is multi-faceted and cross-generational and involves so many skills from carpentry to horticulture and growing food and it’s really encouraging to see how it is continuing to develop.”
The Friends of the Cob is just one of many projects that have been supported by PACT, an independent charity launched in 1998 to support community initiatives, particularly those in which the police are involved.
In that time it has helped over 2,500 projects, investing in communities right across North Wales.
Ashley Rogers added: “For many who are involved in the projects, this is their first interaction with the police, so making this a positive experience can have profound consequences on their future life choices.
“From Gwynedd in the west across to Flintshire and Wrexham in the east, PACT continues to support projects that enable positive and sustainable community development and this has never been more important than right now.”
PACT offer a range of grants of up to £2,000 for community projects – for more details and how to apply go to https://www.pactnorthwales.co.uk/applications-ceisiadau/