Youth scheme saved with massive grant

Richard BatsonYouth clubs have come a long way since the days of dusty community halls and rickety ping pong tables.Richard Batson

Youth clubs have come a long way since the days of dusty community halls and rickety ping pong tables.

Holt's pioneering youth project has a beauty salon, sport, gardening, generation-gap bridging sessions with pensioners - and will soon have a 'health hut' gym.

And now it is celebrating landing a near-�400,000 Lottery grant, which will fund its vital community work for the next five years.

Five hundred people - young and old - use the five-year-old purpose-built centre for a range of activities.

But the heart of the scheme is providing sport, social and educational sessions for local youngsters.

The grant from the Big Lottery Young People's Fund will pay for improvements to the centre, and the salaries of youth workers for the next five years.

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Project chairman Dick Copas said it would ensure the club's future, because the current �56,000 worth of funding from the Holt Area Partnership was due to run out in next month.

The sports hall floor will be resurfaced using some of the �18,000 worth of capital cash in the grant - the rest of which would go towards taking the centre's work to outlying villages, and improving its publicity and access through an improved website.

The other �370,000 would pay for full-time leader Julie Alford, a full-time youth worker, two part-time youth workers and a part-time administrative assistant.

It will enable the project to concentrate on a programme promoting healthy lifestyles among young people, including the �50,000 gym built next to the main centre, using Norfolk Youth Fund grant cash and which is due to open next month.

People into their mid-20s will have a chance to work out, and it is part of a healthy living programme which also provides bikes for cycling trips, teaches them about a nutritious diet, looking after themselves, growing food on an allotment, and learning to cook through 'Ready Steady Cook'-style workshops.

Mr Copas said: 'Everyone is delighted. We were looking at other smaller funding sources, but this is the big one.

'The Lottery does not pour its money into black holes, so I would like to thank everyone who helps give this project the kind of reputation that has attracted such wonderful funding.'

Holt Youth Project's search for a permanent base began 12 years ago, having begun as informal sessions in Mrs Alford's own home 13 years earlier.

She said she was "really excited" about the news which would enable the centre to build on its work providing for the needs of local young people.

The centre is now a flagship scheme, which gives talks to other town councils seeking help with providing youth services, which Mr Copas said was 'very flattering but very humbling.'

The project also hosts a wider cross section of the community, from tiny tots at a parent and toddler group, to pensioners who socialise and play carpet bowls with the youngsters.

Centre member Charlotte Young, 19, said it was a 'really safe place and friendly environment' to socialise and also learn skills, such as cookery, for later in life.

Mrs Alford, who used to attend Holt's old youth club as a teenager, said the current project looked to build good citizenship, self-esteem, and helped young people achieve their aspirations by responding to their needs and providing support.

'This is not a job - it is a passion, and we are fuelled by the enthusiasm of the young people,' she added.

The road to Holt Youth Project's success has been a long and rocky one.

When the town's former club on Peacock Lane shut in the 1980s, informal clubs carried on at a local church - before firmer plans for a 'hut in a field' emerged in the mid 1990s.

In September 1996 early plans were laid for a �100,000 centre combining fun with training, which was flagged up as 'one of England's most imaginative youth schemes' and not 'pie in the sky' - though it was hoped to have it open by the following September.

The scheme found a site, on an old council salt dump off the bypass, but suffered a year-long delay over land negotiations.

Plans were upped, and scaled down again, when a �350,000 Lottery bid was turned down in 1997.

Eventually building of a �190,000 scheme began in 2003, helped by community fund raising, and donations which helped equip it.

Former Norwich City manager Nigel Worthington, who also gave fees from a newspaper column to the funds, opened the centre in 2004.

Two years ago the centre won an EDP-backed �10,000 Project Butterfly grant which was used for a make-over of its upper floor and garden

Organisers say its reputation and most importantly passion has helped it win a string of grant help over the years, but the biggest single amount was about �50,000 - making the �400,000 success its biggest triumph so far.