Face to face with Julie Alford

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to former Holt shopkeeper Julie Alford, whose long-held dream of setting up a purpose-built centre for young people became a reality 5 years ago with the opening of Holt Youth Project .

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to former Holt shopkeeper Julie Alford, whose long-held dream of setting up a purpose-built centre for young people became a reality 5 years ago with the opening of Holt Youth Project . . .

Born at West Runton and brought up in Holt, Julie had a number of jobs after leaving school, including running a riding school and working with elderly people. She then spent 8 years running her own clothing agency in High Street.

She became involved in youth work 23 years ago, when she ran a club for young people at St Andrew's Church.

Most Read

But, realising there was also a need for town-based youngsters, Julie and her husband David, who between them have 4 children, decided to set up a youth club in their 3-bedroomed home.

The weekly-club went from strength to strength, with the couple ending up with more than 40 young people squeezing into their sitting room and spilling out onto the stairs and into the garden.

Helped by a committee made up of local people, Julie launched a fundraising drive for a purpose-built centre and, after 2 years, the group had raised �30,000 - enough to buy a piece of land from North Norfolk District Council.

After a further 8 years, and with the support of the community, they had raised another �250,000 and, in August 2004, Holt Youth Project was finally opened at Old Station Way by then Norwich City manager Nigel Worthington.

Over the past 5 years, the project has expanded beyond all Julie's expectations, becoming a beacon centre for other youth schemes and welcoming local people of all ages.

In 2005, The centre, which also holds weekly parent and toddler sessions and is used by local groups including Holt Brownies and Adult Education, won the EDP, Virgin Money and Norfolk Police contest Project Butterfly, with the �10,000 prize going towards improving facilities.

As well as having a main recreation area with pool, snooker and computer games, it now boasts a fully kitted out computer suite, a woodworking and crafts room, a sports hall used for everything from basketball to film nights, and its own beauty salon, which doubles up as a drug and alcohol awareness and counselling area.

The centre has more than 500 children and young people on its books and activities include weekends away and trips out, a conservation project, and community schemes such as the Reaching Out Project to the Elderly (ROPE), which has seen care home residents treated to cream teas cooked up by young people.

Julie, who heads a team made up of a mixture of volunteers and paid staff, sits on the centre's board of trustees, which is chaired by fellow founder and former Gresham's School deputy head Dick Copas.

She is now awaiting delivery of a trailer complete with 10 mountain bikes, and is working on obtaining funding to kit out the latest addition to the project - a health hut aimed at promoting an active and healthy lifestyle.

Holt Youth Project would be delighted to hear from anyone willing to give up a few hours to help out with activities, particularly those with art and craft skills. For more information, phone 01263 710918.

What is the best thing about your job?

Seeing young people gain confidence and self-esteem, and seeing them grown and enjoy their youth.

And the worst?

The constant worry about where the next lot of funding is going to come from.

Where do you go to unwind?

I love Norfolk: its countryside, its beaches and its tearooms. My escape is often Pensthorpe Nature Reserve as I love birds and wildlife and you can't get a mobile phone signal!

What is your favourite Norfolk building?

Holt Youth Project because it has such a wonderful atmosphere - it's a home from home for people of all ages and it is full of colour and vibrancy.

What is the one thing you would change about north Norfolk?

The lack of facilities for young people - I wish more towns could have somewhere like Holt Youth Project.

What makes you angry?

Injustice, cruelty and dishonesty.

Whom do you most admire?

Mother Teresa, the young people of the project, and my late mum Jean Bullock, who was my inspiration. She was humble and had a serving heart and if I could be half the person she was, then I'd be happy.

What is your greatest achievement?

I suppose helping to provide a place for the young people of Holt.

And your proudest moment?

Being able to take one of our young people to meet Prince Charles after being invited to a reception at Sandringham House. He was very supportive and knew everything about the project - I only wish I could have taken them all. I was also thrilled to be presented with a civic award from North Norfolk District Council.

Who or what is the love of your life?

My family.

What is the one thing you would change about yourself?

I tend to talk quite a bit, but the thing I think I would most like to do is to learn how to say no sometimes!

Have you ever done anything outrageous?

You have to do outrageous things if you work with young people. As part of a "fruits of the sea" challenge, we recently painted sprats bought from the fishmonger with food colouring and told everyone that "goldfish" had become a new delicacy because of the declining fish stocks.

Favourite book, film and TV programme?

Book: The Bible, film: The Pink Panther with Peter Sellers and TV: the Channel 4 nature programme Johnny Kingdom.

How would you like to be remembered?

As someone who wanted to make a difference to the community, and to people's lives.