Buddy Up Scheme helps WYZ’s Nathan-Jack land major creative opportunity

A Latchford teen’s creative flare has landed him a job for a major mobile network.

Thirteen-year-old Nathan-Jack Gerrard’s passion for drawing was discovered when he joined the Buddy Up programme at Warrington Youth Zone.

The concept of the programme is to allow older members of the Youth Zone to mentor and spend time with a vulnerable member who may need support in various areas with the hope of helping them gain confidence and build new friendships.

Nathan was diagnosed with autism and is a selective mute who has struggled with communication from being a young child.

He joined the Buddy Up scheme back in November 2023 and was paired with his two ‘exceptional’ buddies, Lucy Yates and Annie Broadbent – both 17 years old.

The pair quickly discovered Nathan’s love of drawing and narrations and when an exciting project came up to create some artwork for EE network’s Warrington office, he was an obvious choice for the assignment.

Speaking on the project, manager of the Buddy Up scheme, Nuvvy Sibia said: “The opportunity came with EE because they are one of our supporters. Nathan has been invited into their offices to create a stand which will take pride of place in their reception area.

“The stand will not only promote some of their products and services but will also aim to celebrate all that is great about our town too.”

Nuvvy explained that when a young person is referred to the Buddy Up programme run on the site of the charity, he will meet with the individual and their family to get to know a bit about them.

He spoke of being ‘blown away’ by some of Nathan’s artwork he was shown by the teens parents during a meeting held at the Youth Zone and how he has grown since joining the programme and working on the project with his assigned buddies.

“It has given him a lot of focus and has gotten him out of his comfort zone and into the workplace,” Nuvvy said.

“He has skill, and we just want him to have some belief in himself.”

Priestley College students Lucy and Annie both meet with Nathan every Monday and enjoy spending time with him creating artwork and doing boxing sessions in the Youth Zone boxing ring.

They were referred to the Buddy Up scheme by their health and social care lecturers Katie Jones and Collette Speed who try to encourage as many pupils as possible to join the programme as an extra-curricular activity.

Annie said in the months since he joined the scheme, Nathan has begun to ‘shine’.

She said: “It feels so wonderful to be able to provide an environment where NJ can feel confident and be himself.

“We have watched him shine through his art and grow in confidence during boxing sessions on a Monday night. At such a young age it’s incredible how talented he is.

“At the youth zone we are surrounded by support from Nuvvy and the rest of the staff which helps us all to be in the best mindset to help each other. It is always such a wonderful place to be.

“Lucy and I have enjoyed welcoming NJ as our friend, and we continue to look forward to seeing him during our time at the youth zone.”

The stand has now been completed and will soon be unveiled at EE’s call centre in Birchwood.

Health and social care student Lucy added that Nathan’s talent has inspired her to learn to draw.

“NJ is a talented, ambitious, and intelligent individual who has massively grown in confidence throughout our buddy up sessions together,” she said.

“His artistic skills never fail to amaze me and inspire me to learn how to draw like him.

“His communication skills and commitment to the Buddy Up sessions has escalated massively and is always present when we are sharing out hobbies and interests with each other.”

Touching on the weekly catch ups the trio have, she added: “I thoroughly enjoy attending our buddy up sessions at the Youth Zone with Nathan as it gives us the opportunity to watch his confidence grow and build himself into the best version of himself through the things he loves.”

Nuvvy will join Nathan and his mum to watch the artists work be revealed at the venue.

He spoke of hope that in the future the teen may be able to volunteer in helping run some of the art classes at the Youth Zone to share his talent with others.

This story was first published in the Warrington Guardian.