Teenage kicks.

It does us all good to be proved wrong now and again.

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Monday night was my first chance to look round The Way – Wolverhampton’s new Youth Zone. It’s a purpose built centre for the young people of the City. We got to tour the whole building and heard about some of the activities that will be taking place. But best of all we met lots of amazing young people. Young people who came up with the name, helped shape the design and layout, decided what activities should be available and who are now sharing their infectious enthusiasm and passion for The Way with anyone who will listen!

Everyone was smiling. Everyone was positive. Everyone was talking about the future…about possibilities…about opportunities.

It was such a tonic on a damp, dreary November evening when all the talk outside was of imminent war in Syria.

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About 18 months ago, Caro, a colleague of mine was all fired up about Youth Zone. She’d got talking to Alice Davey at an event and had heard all about the plans to develop a new youth centre in Wolverhampton. Alice was looking for organisations to help support the plans. She’d already found backers to pay for the building but she needed help with the centre’s first three years running costs.

The idea sounded good. The literature looked nice. But I wasn’t convinced. I talked about it with a few other colleagues and found similar misgivings. Was this a bit of a vanity project? Could it soak up lots of money and good intentions only to share the same fate as The Public in West Bromwich which cost £72m and had closed its doors just 5 years after opening.

I guess we weren’t the first to be sceptical.

Look, why don’t you come and see a Youth Zone for yourself?

Urged Alice. So that’s what we did.

Caro, Damian (from our Opportunities Team) and I went to Wigan…..and we were blown away.

Two young girls, who lived just up the road, showed us round. They were so proud of their Youth Zone. We saw the boxing ring, the climbing wall, the recording studio, the baking, the young enterprise group, the art room….you get the idea. There was lots to do. We heard how it only cost £5 a year to become a member and then just 50p per session….to take part in as many activities as you want. There’s even a café serving hot meals for just £1 each.

We learnt about the way a Youth Zone is funded. There’s a serious fund raising drive at the beginning to ensure that the building and the equipment in it is all top drawer. The Council, local businesses, Sport England and various Foundations…all came together to stump up the cash. Then to ensure that the centre stays looking good, and that fees are kept within reach of all pockets, there are lots of Patrons who donate money towards the running costs. A Youth Zone is an enormous force for good in the lives of thousands of young people each year. That’s good for them, their families and their community. People get that, so it’s no surprise that so many local individuals and businesses are happy to put something back into their community by helping out with the funding.

What we also saw in Wigan was that getting a Youth Zone off the ground is not an intense but fleeting one night stand with donors. It’s the start of a long-term, meaningful relationship. Everyone is proud of their Youth Zone – the young people, the youth workers, the volunteers, local business people, other donors. There are all sorts of cross-over events like work placements with donor businesses; companies using the Zone to hold events so they can show it off and help raise more money; team building events; shared training; skill swaps; etc.

Everyone in Wigan seems to feel that the Youth Zone is theirs.

All Zones share the same tag line:

SOMEWHERE TO GO.

SOMETHING TO DO.

SOMEONE TO TALK TO.

With its origins in the very first ‘youth zone’ – Bolton Lads and Girls Club it is a great way to sum up what they are all about. But what makes them so special is the way everyone in a town or city gets involved and feels part of the Zone…wants it to thrive…wants to share its story…because everyone can see the sense in investing in our young people so they have more chance of growing up to be confident, resilient adults who believe in themselves and what they can achieve.

If, when you hear the words ‘youth club’ or ‘youth centre’, you visualise a rather cold, tired hall, with a battered table tennis table where a small group of youngsters hang around the doorway and a couple of bored adults stand in the kitchen with their arms folded waiting for the clock to reach 10 o’clock so they can go home….then get yourself down to your nearest Youth Zone and be amazed.

[The Youth Zone movement can be traced back to the founding of the Bolton Lads and Girls Club in 1889. In 2006, serial entrepreneur, Bill Holroyd was approached by officials from BLGC to chair the Club’s Board. Bill willingly took on the role and realised very quickly that other towns and cities in the country would clearly benefit from a first class facility like Bolton. It was this vision that inspired Bill to develop the charity, OnSide Youth Zones and spearhead the development of the Youth Zone ‘model’ across the country.

OnSide was officially established as a registered charity in 2008.

There are now 9 Youth Zones, mainly in the North West but with two in London and Wolverhampton – the first in the Midlands.]

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