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‘He’s an absolute star’: Elgin teen, 16, recognised for volunteering over 700 hours at youth café

Riley Mclaggan has given up his time to help while balancing school and a part-time job.

Riley standing with his Saltire award
Riley received two awards for his outstanding achievements in volunteering.

An Elgin teen is paying it forward through his volunteer work at a local youth café – all while balancing school and a part-time job.

Riley Mclaggan, 16, has helped out at Elgin Youth Café for four years and has already contributed over 700 hours volunteering.

Elgin Youth Café, run by Elgin Youth Development Group, is a place for young people in Moray to come together and enjoy activities including community projects and after school clubs.

As the world went into lockdown in 2020, Elgin Youth Café did too. Riley took up volunteering after lockdown restrictions lifted, and the team then started to integrate him into a youth management role.

Riley’s volunteer journey at Elgin Youth Café

Riley in the youth cafe looking happy.
Riley has been involved with the café for over six years.

Riley said he wanted to ‘give something back’ to the community but never expected to be recognised for the work.

He said: “I started volunteering as I felt like I wanted to give back. I was doing the same thing that I was already doing with going to the sessions but just helping out more.

“I enjoy helping out with anything and everything around the café. To be fair, I come to every session and I’m basically here everyday.

“What I’ve got from this place is so many different things. I have my training, my volunteering experience and a job – all things I can put on my CV which will help for future jobs and university.

“But I’ve got friends for life as well. I’m pretty sure everyone knows me because I’m always around to help.

“Probably my favourite part of volunteering is that you can go into one session expecting to do something, and then it could change to something else. It’s the fun of not knowing what’s going to happen.”

Riley was ‘shocked’ to receive recognition

Riley and the youth team with his Saltire award.
The Youth Team went to Riley’s school to give him the award.

Last month, Riley was awarded a Saltire Award during his school’s end of year assembly.

The Saltire Awards are the Scottish Government‘s way of celebrating achievements of young volunteers in Scotland. The awards only go up to 500 hours, so a personalised one was created for Riley’s achievement.

Riley said: “I was a bit shocked to get the award. It was mind blowing to me. Last year, I was nearly at 500 hours. To see that only a year later I’m already over 700 hours is amazing.

“I’m now looking to volunteer for another hundred hours and another. I’ll hopefully get to 1000 hours before I leave here.”

As Riley enters his sixth year at Elgin High School, he has been awarded the ‘Head Teachers Award for Service to the Community’. This is the first year that someone has received the award.

“I wasn’t expecting it at all – as I’ve volunteered for so long it’s become normal for me,” he added.

“To see that my work is being recognised by my school is amazing to me.

“At the assembly, the youth team came along and gave me my awards. Their support has been fantastic.”

Riley is an ‘inspiration’ to many

Riley with other volunteers behind a stall in Asda for children in need.
Riley volunteering in Asda for Children in Need.

Riley’s mother, Leigh Robertson, said she was ‘so proud’ of her son and his achievements.

She said: “Before he was old enough to go to the Youth Café, I saw the adverts but didn’t know much about it. And then he started going and the team were unbelievably supportive to us as a family.

“I’m totally proud of him. He’s just taken this experience and flew with it.

“It’s been inspiring for me because he thinks more about other people than he does himself.

“It’s not about the volunteering hours or the recognition for him, he’s doing what feels natural.”

Riley even inspired his mother to volunteer herself; with her now spending many days working with the team at the youth café.

The 16-year-old has achieved a fully funded place for the competitive Rotary Youth Leadership Awards in the summer, with his work at the café playing a significant role in gaining the opportunity.

Member, volunteer and part-time worker

Riley at cooking club during a session at Elgin Youth Cafe.
Riley has developed culinary skills that led him to being offered a part-time job.

The cooking sessions at the Youth Café allow young people to learn culinary skills while improving their knowledge about waste management.

After volunteering in these cooking classes, Riley was offered a part-time job working at in the kitchen.

“As time passed, Riley was spending more time helping the other kids during the session,” Leigh added.

“He’s either here as a member, here as a volunteer, or here working. So he’s getting work experience while still being able to be a kid and enjoy himself.”

Youth Café team praise Riley’s ‘incredible’ work

Riley holding his award with the youth team.
Riley and the team from Elgin Youth Café.

Speaking to The Press and Journal, the youth workers at Elgin Youth Café thanked Riley for his hard work and dedication.

They said: “Riley is a huge part of our team and we are so proud of him and delighted to be a small part of his success.

“He has been involved with Elgin Youth Development Group for almost six years and has contributed over 700 volunteer hours which is just incredible.

“From helping at sessions like planning and facilitating quiz nights and pool tournaments to helping us with funding applications he is always on hand to support the youth team and is an amazing role model and peer mentor to other young people.

“Riley is one of the first to support our younger and new members when they come along for the first time. Congratulations on your award Riley, it is so well deserved. You are an absolute star!”