Callander Youth Project and Hostel

by Robin McKelvie

It is fitting that Callander – Scotland’s first ‘Social Enterprise Place’ and the site of SCOTO’s launch – is home to a brilliant social enterprise that creates life-changing opportunities for local young people, helps the town grow in ever-evolving ways and offers visitors a taste of local life. It is a tantalising taste that delves well beyond what many visitors get as they just scoot by on their drive through the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

Carron Tobin, a resident of Callander who is involved in the Callander Youth Project and Hostel (CYP), explains: “This a project where you can see a tangible benefit, the money you spend here goes straight to help the lives of local young people. Unlike a tourism tax with all the bureaucracy, the money you spend has a direct impact, and  you can sleep soundly knowing you are making a real difference to the lives of the people of Callander.” A huge difference I learn, especially to young people, but also more mature residents too as we’ll come to.

CYP has a heritage stretching back for over two decades, dedicated always to making a lasting difference to the lives of local children, young people and young adults. The hostel resides in one of Callander’s oldest and most distinctive buildings, the heritage listed Bridgend Hotel. It is unrecognisable, both since then and since Covid hit. They used the time well and the ‘hostel’ now only offers en-suite rooms – five of them – rather than just a bed in a hostel. Think a hostel, but only in name. The private rooms have gone down a treat with travellers looking for more privacy and space, especially families.

CYP also came out of Covid lockdowns with a quartet of pods that have a private car park, free Wi-Fi and a communal garden area. One of the pods is designated accessible, indeed the only fully-accessible pod with a changing places style bathroom in the national park that I know of. The project’s Patricia Kent is thrilled with the success of the pods and in particular with the accessible option, which – as they all do - has views over Ben Ledi – “It has given workable and affordable options to people who might not have had the opportunity to go on many holidays before.”

The local involvement is not just box ticking either. CYP is a charitable organisation dedicated to improving the lives of young people, whose remit refuses to be narrow, reaching out beyond Callander to cover the entirety of the McLaren High catchment area. It creates employment opportunities through the management of their two social enterprises.

It’s not just about employment. It is also about helping young people – from P6 up to the age of 29 - learn useful life skills and gain qualifications, which can be awarded in-house. Patricia is keen to look at the roles here as far more than just jobs or training – “They learn real, actionable life skills. They learn how to deal with the general public, how to decorate, how to cook and also how to live healthier lives in ways that they may not have been exposed to in a school environment, or did not previously engage with.”

Amongst the range of opportunities offered by CYP are Modern Apprenticeships. Jack Wardrope is a shining example of what the project can encourage: “The Modern Apprenticeship here gave me a great set of skills and also helped steer me in a direction that I would never had even considered before. It has been a life-changing opportunity and now I get involved in so many things, from working with kids, to helping out cooking and staging events.” Jack has gone on to not only qualify as a youth worker and full-time CYP employee, but is now involved in training other young people too. 

CYP offers a wide sweep of employability support. This ranges from individual, through to group sessions. It tackles practical elements that may be daunting to young people like creating a CV, preparing for an interview and the process of applying for college. As an accredited SQA centre the CYP can award qualifications such as the Steps to Work Award and SVQs in Hospitality Services.

CYP also offer a wide range of activities for local young people, from after-school clubs to weekend excursions. If you see some local young people having the time of their lives in the wilds around Callander it’s heart-warming to think that it is the money you spend at the hostel and the pods that is helping to give them opportunities like this.

Some of these opportunities help youngsters become more green fingered in the CYP garden. There are plans to use the vegetables grown to help supply local food banks. Another positive spin off is some of the more mature trustees and volunteers work together with the CYP, forging priceless links and contact between the community’s generations. Who knows, maybe the CYP may one day produce a professional gardener – it has already helped people into hospitality, dentistry and – in the case of Bobby – to become a full time, fully trained butcher in D. Campbell & Sons in Callander.

Another string to the project’s bow is the multi-purpose function room that caters for an impressive array of private and community events. It has hosted everything from birthday parties and wedding receptions, through to formal business meetings and council meetings. It also hosts a regular over 60s club, a cinema club and even events during the annual Callander Jazz and Blues Festival.

Whatever event you attend – or whether you just stay over in the hostel or one of the new pods – you can rest assured that the money you’ve consciously chosen to spend is going directly into the local community and changing the lives of its young people. And more mature citizens too as waves of positivity are created that ripple beyond the town.
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Callander – a town with community at its heart

Stay with the CYP and you get a window into Callander. As the hostel and pods are self-catering, make sure to visit the well-stocked local shops, where you can pick up fresh produce to cook up a storm.

A rainy day? That is great news as it will benefit the local community hydroelectric project, a pioneering one that ploughs money into community projects, including CYP. It also helps fund the annual Jazz and Blues Festival and supports McLaren Community Leisure Centre, a community-owned oasis where you can enjoy a swim or spend time in the gym.

Then there is Callander Visitor Information Centre, a community-owned visitor resource in an old bank. Don’t miss too Creative in Callander, a co-operative, not for profit venture that showcases the work of local artists. Also drop in to the great Ancaster Café in the square, an independent coffee shop operated by the CYP’s chef.