How volunteers with multiple disadvantage built a crazy golf course and found connection and purpose

Blackpool at sunset. Photo by Mark McNeill on Unsplash.

Our crazy golf course in Blackpool is a symbol of our work — not giving up on people who felt everyone had given up on them, says With You’s Ian Treasure.

If you’ve ever been on a weekend night out in Blackpool and been a bit worse for wear towards the end of the night, you may have come across Blackpool and the Fylde Street Angels. If you ever snapped a stiletto, found your phone battery was flat, or lost your group, you could approach their transit van on Queen Square for help. On different days, the Street Angels also provided pastoral outreach to people who were homeless, with food and essentials, but above all kindness, compassion and understanding. And Tenacity.

When I reflect back on the last three years of Blackpool Fulfilling Lives, ‘tenacity’ is the best way to describe everything we’ve achieved. The Blackpool Fulfilling Lives programme helps people living in Blackpool who have a combination of issues including homelessness, re-offending, problematic substance misuse, and mental ill health. Funded by the National Lottery and ending earlier this year, our aim was to present and evidence more effective ways of delivering vital services to people with multiple disadvantage.

In April 2018 when our team recruited people experiencing disadvantage to do a focus group on what help they needed, I never would have imagined that we would find, rightfully occupy and renovate, a crazy golf course and involve some of the people from that focus group in the running of it. But that is what has happened.

Blackpool is one of the most famous and historic seaside resorts in the UK. It was the first place to have electric street lighting. It’s been a destination for health and wellbeing since the mid-19th Century. The watering hole of the masses was its accolade in the roaring 1920s. Its fin de siècle decadence has been proudly restored by the council over the last 20 years along with the renovation of many of its famous landmarks, and listed buildings, as part of an ongoing programme. Just north of its most visible landmark (the tower) and the oldest (North) pier, is the Princess Parade Crazy Golf Course.

Back in 2018, following the focus group, we went out picking up litter. The 17 people we spoke to on that April lunchtime had said they were willing to do this and Paul Rawson from the Street Angels agreed to co-ordinate. It wasn’t really about picking up litter though, it was about the conversations. Do something alongside people and you find out what matters to them.

Do something to people, for example, grill them via a formal assessment, and you may find out what is the matter with them, but there is automatically an imbalance of power. But while picking up litter as an equal partner, we stumbled upon an area known as ‘the sunken garden’, and when one of the volunteers suggested it would be nice to tidy the area up, we spent an hour doing so. He also suggested it would be nice to renovate it, as it looked like a crazy golf course.

At the end of that hour, we agreed to meet again the following week. We provided some refreshments and a £5 voucher for their time, and I headed back to the office to start what was an incredible journey of enquiries, emails, applications, drawings, business plans and securing funding. I was not alone on this journey. Paul from the Street Angels kept the group out picking up litter and the Blackpool Fulfilling Lives Strategic Board listened in amazement as I proposed that in order to help people who are experiencing disadvantage we should renovate a crazy golf course. These are some of my career-defining moments.

Read the full blog post here.

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