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Early days

Many in Holt may remember the days when Julie and David Alford opened up their home to young people to talk and share fellowship with one another, in a warm safe environment. As the numbers grew Julie was heard to say ‘what we need is a shed in a field’. A public meeting was organised in December 1996, to discuss the building of a youth centre.

Where was the ‘shed’ to go? Could we buy a plot of land? How could we finance the building, and even then, could we afford the running costs of a youth centre? All were huge and challenging questions. The worst thing we could do was nothing!

Buying the land

A committee of Trustees was formed and charitable status obtained so that all money was accountable. A plot on Old Station Way seemed ideal because of its central position; it was owned by Norfolk County Council and after two meetings they were persuaded to sell for £30,000 – cheap certainly, but way beyond our means at that time.

We had nothing, except a large number of letters of support and encouragement from friends throughout the County, and a huge amount of local goodwill. We contacted National, County and District bodies, funding streams, trust funds, businesses large and small and many friends, asking for donations.

The response was slow but steady, and together with profits from fund raising events, we reached our target of £30k. Meanwhile, the Youth Club continued to meet twice weekly in the Edinburgh Road Adult Day Centre, so that momentum, with the enthusiastic young people and our valuable volunteer adults, was not lost.

The building

The building came next. The Trustees realised that the best way forward was to keep things cheap and simple, by building an industrial style unit which could be divided internally to provide the facilities required.

Plans were drawn, submitted and approved. Our requirements included a general purpose hall, a lounge/play area, computer suite, small teaching/TV room, kitchen and toilet facilities, office and a mezzanine space for storage. We were required to provide a car park and additionally we wanted a secure outside recreational space.

EEDA, trust funds, local businesses and friends again turned up trumps, and the Trustees authorised work to start. Much of the decorating and internal fittings were to be carried out on a self-help basis.

We would like to emphasise just how generous our donors were at this time; today we hear the phrase ‘Government Funded’ – in fact merely a return of our own money! At the time when we were looking for help, the majority of donations came directly from businesses and individuals. For this, we shall always be grateful.

Building progressed steadily and the shell was handed over in January 2004 for internal work to be completed. The official opening was set for 19 August of that year, and amidst much joy and celebration, the commitment and support of so many contributors was unveiled for all to see.

Further developments to the building

After the opening, further development continued. An internal staircase was put in to connect with the balcony floor, where two workshop areas were installed. Outside a prefabricated storeroom was constructed, a lawn was laid and a paved BBQ area set out.

In 2009 the Youth Committee successfully applied for funding under the ‘Healthy Lifestyles’ programme to build a separate facility, called the ‘Health Hut’. They also managed to source funds for equipment – we have a fully equipped gym supervised by qualified staff.

Staff and volunteers

A key priority always has been the widening of our staff base, from the 20 or so volunteers, who clearly could only commit to a few hours a week, but whose work has always been invaluable. (Please, if you would like to help, ring Julie on 01263 710918).

In 2005 the Norfolk Youth Fund agreed to pay half of one salary for three years and so the Trustees approached individuals in the community to see if the second half could be met. Julie agreed to give up her shop in town and became full time manager and senior youth worker. This was a breakthrough.

With time to develop an imaginative programme, which would gradually involve more of the community, the work of the Project became widely known and much respected. By 2008, NNDC were in a position to award a Community grant which would allow the appointment of an extra full time youth worker, two part time workers and a part time administrator.

Success breeds success, and we went back to the Big Lottery, this time seeking revenue for salaries. Complex forms were filled in, and figures were agreed by phone. Later we were overjoyed to hear that we had been awarded nearly £400 k spread over 5 years – thus we are sustainable, at least until 2015. This was very humbling and with it comes huge responsibility.

An aid to developing our youth

In conclusion, what we have is a Flagship Project to be proud of – one that has been built on the commitment and hard work of so many from this town of Holt and beyond. We welcome the young people that come into the Centre, and trust their lives may be enriched by those they meet here and the experiences they share.

Dick Copas. Chairman and Treasurer of the Holt Youth Project.