Recent mention of the De la Salle youth group in South Shields prompted a lot of calls and emails from past and present members.
So it was great to meet up with the woman who has masterminded its success, Patricia Folland.
The 69-year-old former St Cuthbert’s School teacher told me all about De la Salle (named after the patron saint of teachers and youth workers) explaining its history and ethos.
“De la Salle began in St Cuthbert’s School,” reveals Patricia, “and has run continuously for over 47 years, with every leader having gone through De la Salle, and everyone voluntarily giving of their time for the young people of this school and the whole deanery.
“The aims of De la Salle in the 21st century are the same as they were when De La Salle was formed in 1969 – ‘to provide a safe and caring community in which young people can feel wanted and happy; where they can develop all of their talents; where they can grow spiritually, morally and socially; where they will feel part of a large, close and loving family, and which will be there to support them throughout all the different stages of life’.
“Our message to young people should be to enjoy life through loving God and letting our example shine through and touch the lives of others.
“Now we are in the 21st century these aims are even more important. In a world of total secularism; where ‘self’ is the only criteria for behaviour and motivation, it is essential that all our work is centred on meeting the needs and concerns of young people, while helping them to integrate their faith with the ordinary events of their daily lives.
“With this in mind, over the last 15 months we have resumed our monthly youth masses and activities where all ages can come together for an evening of sharing spiritually, morally and socially while having lots of fun and making friends of all ages.
“The success of these evenings has made us reassess what we do and to prioritise our work for the future.”
As a result,De la Salle has “relinquished responsibility” for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme – meaning the group is “no longer involved in any administration of the DofE”.
“Ifeel that I have done my bit for DofE,” says Patricia. “I’ve run the scheme through De la Salle for 45 years.
Going forward Patricia explains that:“De la Salle, Lourdes and all our usual activities will continue. In conjunction with the school, we will be operating the John Paul Award for Yrs 12/13.
“We hope, with support, that De la Salle will grow and enable every young person here to feel part of a large, close and loving family where the leaders and helpers are always here to support and care for all.
“At any one time in a De la Salle year, there are six separate groups, and the immediate changes we are making will only affect half of the current members.
“There will be no changes for the younger members. We will continue to offer the Mayors Award scheme for years 7 and 8 in the same way as we have always done with their Minsteracres and Castlerigg residential experiences and presentations.”
Seventeen-year-old Ruth Lloyd, who joined De la Salle when she was 11 years old, says the group has “changed my life in many ways”.
She added: “My upbringing has changed due to them. The leaders have been supportive and invested in my future and have always taken an interest in my well being and emotional happiness. But most of all I want to thank Miss Folland as she, above everyone else, has helped and guided me into becoming a better person. I am glad it has been her to lead my journey, and I couldn’t have asked for a more dedicated selfless person.”
You can learn more about De la Salle by logging on to www.delasallesouthshields.org.uk
Coming up: More photos showing De la Salle members from over the years.