BILLY Penders says with a hint of apology that his last words might have sounded “quite cheesy, quite birthday-card.”

But they didn’t, not really.

“I owe the fact,” the 27-year-old had said seconds earlier, “that I’m not maybe in jail, or dead, to Kibble, because I daresay I would have been, given where I grew up, and where I was destined to live. That’s it, in a nutshell. If Kibble hadn’t reached out.”

The Kibble Group, which is based in Paisley, describes itself as Scotland’s specialist provider of services for young people at risk. Penders was a pupil here between the ages of 12 and 16 while in care at children’s residential care homes throughout Glasgow. Between 16 and 21 he was in Kibble’s supported care. He later became a project assistant at the group’s Skillzone training project.

“After a while,” he recalls, “I started working one-to-one with a kid who was quite difficult and had missed quite a lot of his education. He took to me because I’d been in Kibble, I think. Because of the success he went on to have, I was brought in as a classroom support worker, and did that for about two years. I think a lot of the teachers who remembered me were sort of shocked to see me coming back here with a set of keys, because I daresay I wasn’t the easiest guy in the world to teach.

“The job came quite naturally,” adds Penders, who today works in child and youth care at the charity. Though qualifications are essential to the role, he says: “I don’t think being a care worker, or working with young people is something you can be taught. You either have that sort of personality or you don’t. You can read all the books in the world but there are certain things that you’re either born with or you’re not.”

To Kibble’s CEO Jim Gillespie, Billy Penders, and numerous other success stories, are the reason he gets up in the morning.

Gillespie, 40, is a footballer-turned-prison officer who went on to earn a Masters in Business Administration. He joined Kibble in 2014 as an Executive Director, became Chief Executive Designate in September 2016, and took over as Chief Executive a year ago this month.

Kibble has a turnover of £30 million and employs 700 staff. There are, at any given time, 100 residents, both male and female. It’s one of Scotland’s oldest charities, with a history dating back to the 1850s, one Miss Elizabeth Kibble having bequeathed part of her wealth — she had inherited a large textile fortune —to establish “an institution for the purpose of reclaiming youthful offenders against the laws.”

In Kibble’s 2016-17 annual review its then chief executive, Graham Bell, Gillespie’s predecessor, wrote: “In the 1800s it was common to talk of rescue and reclamation – not phrases in general use today. Our purpose remains unchanged. We exist to try to help when other interventions have been unsuccessful, so there is a strong element of rescue and reclamation.”

“As a charity, we’re very much mission-led,” Gillespie says. “When we talk about expanding the business we’re trying to meet more needs of troubled young people. We support some of the most vulnerable kids that have experienced multiple placement breakdowns before they come to Kibble.

“Many of them have experienced a number of adverse childhood experiences. As such, our practice is becoming ever more trauma-informed. Each young person is closely supported by our in-house team of psychologists to help promote their mental health and wellbeing.”

The map outside the reception area shows the breadth of Kibble’s services. There are residential care houses, schools, fostering services, employability programmes, supported living, and secure care services.

The kids at Kibble enjoy the same activities as they would in the community. There’s a centre for expressive arts, a community garden, a gym with swimming pool, sports pitches, a skate park and a youth club.

The Safe Centre – Kibble’s name for its secure unit - is for highly vulnerable young people between 12 and 18 who have been referred by either a Children’s Panel or court order. It supports them in “overcoming past difficulties, open up future possibilities and re-engage with their communities.” Gillespie describes it as a “place of safety for young people who have come through the welfare system. It’s also for young people who may have committed offences. Our approach to them is exactly the same as it is to the other children in our care, to offer care and education and specialist services that best meet their needs.”

Kibble also offers primary and secondary education, for children and young people, referred here when mainstream education hasn’t been able to meet their needs. They may have experienced bullying, truancy, or conflict in one form or another, and as a result their grades could have suffered.

Yet another arm, KibbleWorks, brings together a range of social enterprises, which support young people into work. They include The Experience, an entertainment venue at Hillington, Scotland’s only electric go-karting arena. Its café meals include ingredients grown at the community garden.

Gillespie says the young people at Kibble “have been referred to us through local authorities as the place that can best meet their needs. Referrals come from all 32 local authorities in Scotland but there are a dozen UK wide that we are involved with.

“We work with people aged between five and 29, and education is a key component of their experience here. We take the most vulnerable, traumatised and looked-after kids and see how we can get them back into society and into employment. That’s where our nine social businesses, including The Experience and KibbleWorks, play a part in getting kids work-ready.

“We get them into routines, starting work at 9am, offering the chance to gain qualifications in a real-life working environment. This programme helps young people find and sustain jobs. We work closely with businesses large and small that take some of our young people on.”

Each young person has specific care and education plans, “because with their backgrounds, and some of the placements that have failed them, we really need it to be all about them. We have specialist intervention teams, which include psychologists, family therapists and art therapists. Family workers will work with the family as well as the young person. We have foster placements, too. It’s all about getting the kids back into the community as seamlessly as we can.”

Kibble travels far and wide - across the UK, Europe and America - to make its services better. “We’re out there looking for new ideas,” he says, “because it is young people’s lives we’re dealing with and they deserve the very best care and the best education and opportunities we can give them. So we travel the world to do that. Research is essential to our work. We very rarely find the diamond but what we do is find rough stones and polish them into a Kibble diamond, where we can use all our experiences and merge them with innovation.” By the same token, Kibble has hosted 35 international visits in the last 18 months - from the UK, Europe, the Far East, Australia , New Zealand, all keen to study the Kibble model.

Are there some young people who have been so traumatised that they find it difficult to respond to what Kibble offers? “You have to find a way through,” Gillespie insists. “The whole thing about our organisation is about being resilient. Resilience is fundamental to what we do. The staff are our key asset… we recruit people who have the right heart, the right relationships, because that provides stickability.

“These young people, who have been through numerous placement breakdowns, need resilience. We don’t give up. It’s great when young people respond. To get them to respond is about motivation, momentum, about getting the relationships right. They have had poor relationships, or no relationships. They have trust issues, or self-esteem and self-confidence issues, but through the staff being resilient, never giving up, they can be helped.

“We keep them safe. It’s like anybody else; when we feel vulnerable we become anxious and show our emotions. Sometimes people show anger when what they’re feeling is fear. It’s about understanding that, and getting them to feel safe and slowly building on the layers. We always look for outcomes. Sometimes you get setbacks and then it’s about how you deal with them, and go again.”

As for Billy Penders, he shows no inclination to leave Kibble for good. When he was in his teens, he worked elsewhere for 18 months, but when he returned he was still only 17. “Ultimately, I see myself doing this type of work for the rest of my life,” he says. “I don’t see myself leaving this job. I enjoy it. It’s got good and bad days, and you take home a lot emotionally. It takes a lot out of you in that sense, but on the flipside, it’s rewarding.

“Kibble has been a big part of my life since I was 12. I’ll always be here in some form. Leaving would be quite strange.”