Tom first came into contact with Leatherhead Youth Project in 2007, aged 11. His older brother had been attending BFree Youth Café on a daily basis as they had a difficult home-life and enjoyed the facilities on offer at BFree.

Tom had ASD and found it difficult to relate to his peers during his young teenage years. He found new situations distressing and was often very anxious about being around others. When Tom felt unsafe or confused he would often become very angry and lash out at those around him. This anger was largely something he felt he could not control.

Tom made some progress during his first year of attending BFree – he learned how to play pool and gained a huge amount of self confidence as he began to beat other young people! Unfortunately he had a number of violent outbursts over the subsequent year, and on more than one occasion BFree had to close and take the other young people out in order to calm Tom down.

After this event we had to take the difficult decision not to allow Tom to attend BFree for the time being – he had become a danger to other young people and himself. We worked with his parents and agreed to try to support him in other ways outside of BFree Youth Cafe. Tom accepted this was necessary and agreed to our suggestions.

Stepping forwards to 2011, Tom returned to BFree Youth Cafe after deciding he was ready to integrate again. We spoke with his school, Therfield, who agreed his interaction with others had improve greatly.

Tom immediately became an exemplary member of BFree Youth Café, fitting in with others well and feeling much more confident in himself. His pool skills picked up again and as a 16 year old he became a role model to other young people. Tom completed his Bronze Duke of Edinburgh award with our group later that year, which required him to learn a new skill, volunteer regularly for 3 months, and complete an expedition with our group.

During this time Tom became more aware of his condition, how to spot the danger signs and how to best cope with his peers.

Continuing to excel, Tom became a helper at BFree, meaning he had extra responsibilities and was counted on as an example to the other participants, particularly through our MTB biking project which he took a huge role in heading up, including planning cycling routes and teaching the other young people how to maintain the mountain bikes.

In 2013, we made Tom the manager of All Saints Coffee, our coffee shop open to young people during BFree Youth Café. Tom was in charge of ordering stock, managing the volunteers (14-17 year olds) who staff the café, cashing up, and running training for the team. His journey has been an inspiration to those around him, and he has gone out of his way to mentor other young people who face similar issues to the ones he did at a younger age.

In November 2013, Tom was awarded the BBC Surrey Young Heroes award for his efforts as a volunteer and his inspirational resilience. He is an example and role model to all who meet him, and we are very proud that our youth work provision played a part in his development.

In June 2014, Tom took part in an LYP activity trip to Austria which was fully funded by the Austrian Alpine Club in Innsbruck. This was another  opportunity for Tom to learn new skills and increase his confidence, and was his first time abroad.

Now in 2016, Tom is employed full time as an ICT Technician, making the most of his advanced computer skills. Tom is also a volunteer youth worker with LYP, helping to run Boys sessions and Freestyle. Tom is a fantastic example of our youth work can change lives and help young people reach their potential.

Well done Tom!