Lynsey Buckle speaks passionately about the struggles facing many Carlisle children. “Poverty doesn’t look like Oliver Twist,” says Lynsey, the development manager at Carlisle Youth Zone. “It comes with smartphones and trainers.”

Behind a facade designed to hide its existence, poverty lives on in the Border City.

A study last year by the End Child Poverty coalition said that 22.5 per cent of children in Carlisle live in poverty. Youth zone workers frequently see the symptoms.

Some children who attend are so hungry they take half-eaten crisp packets from bins.

Some girls are missing school because they cannot afford sanitary products.

Some children look years younger than they are through malnutrition.

One 15-year-old had never left Carlisle until they were taken on a youth zone trip.

“We have young people who may have nothing to eat,” says Lynsey. “They’re not purchasing anything in the café but they’re eyeing up what other people have on their plates. When a half-eaten bag of crisps gets dropped in the bin, they have it.

“Some of the young people in the Junior Club [ages seven to 12], I’m often shocked at their age. To use the word malnutrition sounds a bit dramatic. But it does affect children’s growth if they’re not getting what they need. You see young people who are quite often poorly. You hear about them not going to school. Recently I saw a young person who was 11. I thought they were eight.

“Some volunteers were talking about how young girls these days don’t have access to sanitary products. I couldn’t imagine that would be an issue. I started talking to youth workers. It’s more common than you would think. Period poverty is happening across the city. You hear about girls not attending school. No girl should be thinking ‘Should I go to school today?’”

For some young people in the Senior Club [ages 12-18], hygiene is an issue.

“They come regularly wearing the same clothes because that may be the only bit of branded clothing they’ve got. They couldn’t possibly be seen wearing anything else.

“The lads, they’re not necessarily the most fragrant at the best of times! But if you haven’t washed all week it’s going to be difficult if no one wants to sit next to you at school, if you’re not invited out with people.”

These are sobering images for those who assumed that child poverty no longer existed in Britain.

Lynsey stresses that the youth zone, on Victoria Place, is open for all young people, pulling from every community and school with no segregation.

“Every week 1,500 kids come through the doors,” says Lynsey. “Of course not all of them are living in poverty. The majority are from supportive homes where mum and dad are looking out for them and want what’s best for them.

“As with any community, there’s an element who are struggling. In the 21st century things like poverty are hidden. It’s not necessarily Third World poverty. But in one of the richest countries in the world we shouldn’t have children who aren’t eating.”

As well as making young people miserable here and now, poverty can turn their lives in the wrong direction.

“These things quickly isolate young people and make them give up. It worries me that they will segregate themselves as not being good enough. If they don’t feel accepted by the community at large, if they can’t keep up with the Joneses, they fall out of favour with society. If that happens they’re going to look for family and community elsewhere. It’s why some young people look to antisocial behaviour, crime, drugs.”

The vast majority of youth zone attendees are well behaved. Staff are trained to look out for those who may be embarking on an unhealthy path.

“Our youth workers are at the coal face,” says Lynsey. “We pride ourselves on everything here being about prevention. It’s far easier to inspire a young person away from the wrong lifestyle than get them out of that if they’re already in. We want to help young people have those conversations. ‘I’m struggling - help me.’

“It takes time and persistence. That’s what our youth workers are here for. When kids first come here, it’s for fun and the facilities. There’s a big challenge to talk about issues. It’s about the young person having trust in our youth workers. It’s the simple things, like asking how their day has been and actively listening over many weeks or months.

“We can’t wave a wand. But coming here keeps them safe. And we can do something about those problems.”

Behind its visible activities such as sport, drama, and arts and crafts, youth zone staff quietly help struggling young people in a variety of ways. “When we see there’s an issue at home we always contact parents,” says Lynsey.

What kind of response does that bring? She pauses. “Mixed. A lot of the time it’s quite emotional. For a lot of families, being able to talk to somebody about what’s going on... they’ve been trying to hold the pieces together for so long. Other times there’s a lot of denial. Other times it’s anger.

“Sometimes disadvantage comes about through lack of opportunity. Parents are working hard to pay the mortgage and buy food. Perhaps they’re not in a position to prioritise leisure activities like learning to swim and buying cinema tickets. Children aren’t going to parties - everything costs money. When young people are opting out they’re being left behind.”

The youth zone has limited resources but it can advise families on such things as using food banks and making food go further. Some young people who are eligible for free school meals do not have them.

“Because of a feeling of shame, sometimes parents or children themselves are not getting the things they need.”

The youth zone provides practical support in numerous other ways. “All our girl members are welcome to access our sanitary products for free, courtesy of Dodd and Co accountants.

“When they heard about period poverty they were shocked. Within 24 hours they turned up with everything we need, and they’re still providing that. They are co-ordinating local businesses to help supply hygiene products to the youth zone on a monthly basis so that girls can access what they need.

“Last summer holiday we had a holiday club to support 125 young people. The recruitment priority was for children in poverty but every session has a mix of all children, not just those we think need it most.

“We provided breakfast, lunch and dinner, and doing something fun every day. In that time we got to hear about young people who from the age of eight were feeling rejected by society and feeling left behind.

“A 15-year-old hadn’t been on a train or even left Carlisle. How does that happen? How does a young person never go and see a farm or a zoo? If you’ve grown up like that, when you’re older you might feel bitter and resentful, feeling like you missed out.

“Our worry is, if that’s what young people as young as eight are feeling, what happens when they’re 12 or 14 if they still have those feelings? I’m always inspired to see the support young people get from mixing with their peers.

“While youth workers can intervene, the value of friendships and having experiences together is what makes the difference, and everyone wins.”