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01 October 2023

How Duke turned his life around – and now helps young people do the same

How Duke turned his life around – and now helps young people do the same

Duke-Harrison Hunter has dedicated himself to changing lives.

Duke is the Targeted Interventions Co-ordinator at the BHAFC Foundation – his job is to co-ordinate the Reboot programme.

Reboot supports young people aged ten to 17 who are at risk of being affected by serious violence and knife crime across Sussex.

Our Reboot mentors work one-to-one with young people who are referred to us by Sussex Police to help them to be healthier, happier, more independent and support them to make a new start.

Duke recently started his role here at the Foundation; he’s already met with the Reboot mentors and with Sussex Police, and he can’t wait to meet young people in the local community.

“It’s 100% important that we’re working with the police on this,” Duke says.

“Through the police we can get all the intel on the young person, and that enables us to help them in the best way.”

After going through a difficult start to life himself, Duke knows all about what it’s like for the young people in Reboot.

Duke, now 60, has walked a long and storied road to end up where he is now.

He’s been working in youth work for around 40 years now, and in that time he’s changed countless young lives.

“I’ve always been a bit of a people person,” Duke tells us, “so I started as a youth worker when I was 16.”

Due to various factors, Duke’s life took a turn for the worse and he found himself in some bad situations.

I wanted to help save their young people.

“I’m an ex-gang member myself. My life took a really bad turn, I had a very colourful incarceration. That was when I was in south London, and I got out.”

Duke’s struggles continued until he was offered a spot at a detox centre in Portsmouth – a far cry from the life he was used to in London.

After arriving in Portsmouth and getting clean, Duke knew that he wanted to give back to the community that had welcomed him.

“I wanted to use my skills for good, so I started volunteering. As part of that volunteering I trained in my youth work, and trained as much as possible to be able to reach these hard-to-reach young people,” he said.

“Not every ex-gang member can be a mentor, you have to really want to do it, and I really want to do it. I wanted to give something back to the community.

“Portsmouth saved me, so I wanted to help save their young people.”

For decades now, Duke has been on the ground helping young people.

The best thing about his job? Seeing a real desire for change with his own eyes, he says.

“I will work with any young person. The best feeling for me is when I can see them taking on my suggestions, do the work, and turn their lives around slowly.

“That’s the best thing they can do for me. It’s about seeing them want to change.”

Duke has many highlights from a long and meaningful career, but he says one case stands out in particular for him.

“A young person that I worked with a few years ago, she was quite vulnerable where she was living. Her mum was an addict with schizophrenia, she used to bring homeless people into the house and she would get beaten and robbed.

“It was a terrible situation, and not one that was easy to escape from. But this young person put all the work in with us, you could see a massive desire in her to change.

“Three years later, she started working as a mental health nurse herself, working with young people. She’s completely turned herself around.

“That’s what it’s all about.”

Several years later Duke is still in contact with her, and he sometimes gets messages from young people sharing their progress with him and sending him thanks.

The Power Of Football

After a long time working in various youth roles, Duke decided to use the power of football to reach young people. He started working at Portsmouth FC’s charity, Pompey in the Community.

“Football is definitely the biggest ‘carrot’, so to speak, to reach young people and reward them for participating,” Duke says.

“Any football club has that power of the badge.

“If we can work with young people using the stadium, using facilities around the football club, that’s one incentive that works straight away.

“Football is a catalyst for any young person in education. Some of these young people might have never even stepped into a football stadium before, so the power of football is absolutely so powerful.

He made a massive impact on young people while he was there; in 2020, Duke was honoured with a spot on the Football Black List.

The Football Black List is the biggest celebration of black achievement in UK football, and Duke was recognised for his contribution to the game at a community and grassroots level.

To be recognised with such a prestigious honour just shows how far he has come.

After a deeply challenging start to his life, Duke managed to break the cycle and turn things around – with help from some kind people along the way.

After four decades of youth work, it’s safe to say Duke has repaid that kindness in full, and now he works every day to help young people get back on the right track.

Find out more about the Reboot scheme that Duke works on.


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