“Somewhere to go, something to do and someone to talk to,” is how chair Kate Vokes describes The Factory Youth Zone, which throws open its doors to young people in North Manchester today.
Aiming for a membership of 2000 young people by the end of 2012, excitement is mounting as the centre prepares to open to young people after nearly two years planning.
With initial funding provided through the former Government’s MyPlace programme, the new development is set to change the lives of young people in one of the most deprived parts of the country, by providing high quality leisure and sporting facilities alongside mentors for young people most in need of advocacy, guidance and support.
Bruntwood’s Kate Vokes who is a trustee of the Oglesby Charitable Trust, spoke of why she is championing this particular project. She said: “It is the people that inspired me to get involved. I am bowled over by the incredible people who are volunteering their time, energy and experience to this project.”
Ms Vokes is equally passionate about how the centre will help young people realise their aspirations, by exposing them to such a wide range of educational and lifestyle activities. “There will be a general sense of self value and community spirit,” she said.
The Factory, located on Rochdale Road in Harpurhey, is the result of a partnership between the business sector and the Local Authority and is the latest addition to a programme of investment in young people in North Manchester ,which includes the recently opened Media and Communications Academy and a new sixth form college and a modern library.
Pupils from five North Manchester schools hosted a debate on improving communities with some of the city’s leaders, ahead of the centre’s official opening. Among those answering questions was Council leader Sir Richard Leese, who said: “The opening of the Factory Youth Zone, in this state of the art, iconic building ensures there is accessible, high quality and targeted activities for young people in Manchester.”
BRAND NEW: Boxing gym ready for use in the new facility
Speaking of the leisure opportunities accessible seven days a week, he added: “Young people represent the future of the city and investing in their future by providing a safe and secure environment with trained youth workers to guide them will pay dividends in the long run."
It has not all been plain sailing during the development stages. Local resident Tracy Shields described how she and other local residents had petitioned against it. She said: “I don’t want to be negative as I really believe this is a fantastic idea, but I am concerned about it being so close the houses and people around here are worried about the noise.”
Ms Shield’s comments were echoed by another resident whose house on Conningby Drive faces the rear of the building. Identifying herself as Eleana, she said: “There is a lot of trouble round here with young ones and I can see a lot of extra police round here having to deal with this sort of thing.”
Jerry Glover, Chief Executive of Onside, the Charity behind its development, is more optimistic and believes that the centre will actually reduce nuisance behaviour.
Acknowledging that his biggest challenge has been winning over local people, he said:
“People on the Mannings Estate have experienced problems with young people hanging about on the streets for years.
“I guess this is legitimate worry but the reality is that young people leave in dribs and drabs and not in a mass exodus like at the end of a football match. Plus in my experience, if young people have a great time, they go home happy and exhausted and are not looking to get into trouble.”
PC Jim Roberts from Harpurhey Neighbourhood Policing Team thought it unlikely that the Mannings Estate would see an increase in antisocial behaviour given the lack of direct access to the estate.
He said: “It’s a belting facility and the staff I met are very positive. We do get calls about antisocial behaviour but they tend to be around the neighbourhood centre rather than on the estate. People often tell us there is not enough for young people to do, so this is a great opportunity to put that right.”
Not every young person was convinced. A small number of 16-18 year olds thought it was mainly for younger children, but one staff member said it was their job as youth workers to make all young people welcome.
However two boys aged 13 and 14 from Higher Blackley were excited about the opening. One said: “I’ll definitely be going. You can play table tennis there and there’s load to do. It’s great and it’s only 50p.”
Asked about his ambitions, Mr Glover spoke of his commitment to doing the simple things well such as having the centre packed with young people having a great time. He confirmed that all the funding was now in place for the first year with business sponsors committed to raising half of the £1 million annual running costs and said: “The Factory is all about removing barriers to participation and we all know that money can be the biggest one of all – so let’s make it cheap to get in and keep it that way.”
He attributes the progress so far to the way in which the business community have rallied around under the strong and passionate leadership provided by Bruntwood and Ms Vokes.
With such a high level of commitment the prospects for North Manchester’s younger residents are looking infinitely better.