Youth Zone welcomes 2000 visitors in first week

Volunteer tutor Mario West, left, with Luke Belshaw, 12
Volunteer tutor Mario West, left, with Luke Belshaw, 12

WIGAN Youth Zone has enjoyed a phenomenal first few days in action with DOUBLE the amount of young people through the door than expected.

Membership numbers have surpassed all predictions with around 2,000 youngsters signed up in the first week alone.

On its first full day of being open last Sunday week, 600 got a taste of what it has to offer with the numbers continuing to grow for the seniors’ sessions as the week progressed.

On the Monday there were 381 inside, 480 on Tuesday, 601 on Wednesday, 471 in Thursday and an amazing 725 attending on Friday. And so it continues.

The Youth Zone is open seven days a week, with weekdays for seniors (high school children upwards) and weekends for juniors (primary school years 3 to 6).

Those that have already signed up have already been getting a great deal out of the facility.

Member Ben West, 20, from Hindley, thinks it will offer so much to the town.

He said: “I signed up on Wednesday, I just think everything is really good. It’s massive and the staff are really friendly, I’ve made some new friends too.

“I love the climbing wall too, it’s amazing!”

Staff member Beth Heatherington was helping Ben on the climbing wall.

The 22-year-old is the Youth Zone’s Duke of Edinburgh award leader and responsible for organising events for youngsters completing the course.

She said: “It’s been a manic first week or so: really hectic, but brilliant.

“All the kids have been brilliant and they keep coming back every session.

“We’re running the Duke of Edinburgh too and we’ve had some interest in that. It’s available for anyone between the ages of 14 and 25.

“Anyone interested should just come and see me.”

Outside there are four 3g football pitches as well as the skate park.

Shevington High School pupils Joshua Lowe, 15 and Ben Lemmin, 14 are keen footballers and were quick to sign up when they heard about the facilities. Joshua said: “It’s the best place to go to, I think it’s fantastic. I’d probably be at home watching TV if I wasn’t here so it’s great that there’s something to do.”

Ben added: “I joined when it opened and have come down every day. It’s brilliant, and the football pitches are amazing.”

Over on the skate park, youngsters can get on the BMXs or use the scooters.

James Halton, 11, and 12-year-old Jack Ward have been enjoying the latter.

James said: “I love it, I’ve been every single day. The skate park is fantastic and the gym inside is brilliant too. The equipment in there is brilliant.”

Jack said: “Everyone here is really friendly. No-one calls people names like they do at school.

“I’ve made some new friends too, it’s such a good place to come to.”

As some young people mull around the recreational area, sessions are ongoing upstairs in the music department.

Plans are under way for the Youth Zone’s own internal radio station with the new DJ booth already in place.

Nikki Varley will be in charge of overseeing this and, alongside colleague Lauren Beswick, will run the music department.

She said: “The first week has been awesome. It’s been so busy. Our department has been manic, we’ve had a lot of talented young people in here.

“I couldn’t be happier with its all gone though and we have some really exciting plans for the future.”

Nikki and Lauren are being assisted in the music department by Mario West, who is just one of 160 volunteers at Wigan Youth Zone.

He is using his wealth of experience to help teach instruments to the youngsters.

He said: “I’ve got 30 years’ experience in music so it’s great to pass that on.

“I really like the place: it gives kids the chance to fulfil their dreams, show off their talents and take part in new activities.”

Rose Bridge High School student Hazel Brown was one of the youngsters trying out the music room’s facilities.

She said: “I think it’s absolutely brilliant. It has absolutely everything you want and the staff are really good with us.”

The positive feedback is music to the ears of Youth Zone youth work manager Phil Marsh.

He spent more than 20 years at Bolton Lads and Girls’ Club and is responsible for ensuring that every session is as good as it can be.

“If you want to open a Youth Zone, this is the way to do it – I couldn’t be happier,” he beamed. The effort from the staff has really paid off. The transition and the behaviour of the kids we’ve had in has been fantastic.

“We started off with 300 and we were over the moon with that and it’s fantastic. It’s just phenomenal that we’ve been able to respond with staffing and volunteers.

“I suppose the only other thing I could ask for is more volunteers to come forward and help us in this busy period and give something back to the community. Our staff and volunteers have been amazing. You talk about going the extra mile, but they’ve gone the extra 10 this week. Adults are the ones who don’t like change but young people love change.

“We aim to make programmes adaptable so we can put new things in and we’re already talking about what we’re doing for the rugby league World Cup and what sort of games and things we’re going to do. We’re going to have some sleep-overs down here for the night games and that’s what the kids want to see. They don’t want the same programme day in, day out.”

Phil has been using his previous experience to help Wigan Youth Zone and has been delighted with the help the place has had from other, similar clubs. He added: “Coming from Bolton, I also spent a lot of time at Oldham, Manchester and Blackburn speaking to their staff about what problems they have had.

“So having three other clubs with that experience, it has helped us to plan better and learn from other people’s mistakes.

“I was just speaking to a colleague from Manchester and Oldham this week and we can’t wait to do some joined-up work together. Oldham are going to bring some kids over and have a game of football. We’ve got a group coming from London from a youth club who we’ve worked closely with.

“We’re having a sleep-over in the building and then we’re going spending some time in Manchester as well where we’ve got a full programme of activities.”