CHARLES GRAHAM - New Youth Zone lives up to Dave’s dream

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THREE years have passed since I first got wind of Dave Whelan’s Boys’ Club Mark II.

It perhaps sounded a little fanciful at first. After all, with savage recession cuts abounding, how on earth would the biggest centre of its kind in Europe be affordable?

But then we learnt that not only was Mr Wigan prepared to throw considerable sums of money at the project, but he had also persuaded two other local tycoons - cousins Martin and Bill Ainscough - to chip in with similar amounts.

On their own these men are known for getting the job done - and fast - so combined...Well, suddenly the idea for a new Wigan Boys and Girls’ Club took flight.

It really looked a goer when the council came on board with a cash pledge towards its operation and the Wigan Athletic players and manager joined up with many local businesses to make further substantial contributions towards the capital running costs.

Inevitably there were some who felt it distasteful that the local authority should pay anything towards the club when having to make cuts elsewhere and there was a relatively small but vocal opposition to the placing of the centre on the former Mesnes playing fields.

But with the will and the money there, the scheme now had an unstoppable momentum and before we knew it, the first sod was being cut.

The other day I was privileged to step inside for the first time. And, despite all the build-up, this was no anti-climax.

The Wigan Youth Zone, as it is officially called (much to Dave Whelan’s chagrin), is nothing short of stupendous.

But don’t just take my word for it. The youngsters who were trying out the facilities at that open evening, including one 11-year-old Graham Jr, thought it was fabulous too.

In fact my hard-to-please son, who had been reluctantly dragged along at the start, didn’t want to leave because he was having so much fun rock-climbing, working out in the gym and playing in the music studio. The sole topic of conversation on the way home was when could he go again and how could I sort out membership for him.

It won’t be too long before everyone can see this all for themselves and such discussions will be common across the borough.

The Youth Zone should be an asset of which Wigan is very proud, not only for the excellent facilities but also the wonderfully friendly and helpful volunteers working there.

The trio of magnates are keen that burghers of other towns come along to the Youth Zone, see the value it is giving to our younger generations, and replicate it across the country.