Simon relishing Youth Zone challenge

Simon Baker, the development manager of Wigan Youth Zone, with a model of the new building which will open next year

Simon Baker, the development manager of Wigan Youth Zone, with a model of the new building which will open next year

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SIMON Baker will be shaking a lot of hands over the next 12 months.

As the first member of staff to be employed by the Wigan Youth Zone, it is the affable 29-year-old’s task to drum up support for its running from the private sector.

But the development manager is keen to stress that its will certainly not be “take, take, take” from the charity’s point of view with those willing to sponsor the ambitious project reaping their own benefits.

The first sod was cut on the Parson’s Walk site earlier this month, legal and financial hurdles to its construction and operation having been cleared and the centre could open as soon as August next year.

It will provide a wide range of sports and cultural pursuits for thousands of eight to 21-year-olds for a nominal membership and admission fee with the aim of giving them new pursuits and even career options while providing entertainment and a safe place to meet without having to congregate on the streets. Supporters say it should help reduce reports of anti-social behaviour and boost the local economy.

Businessmen Martin Ainscough, Dave Whelan and Bill Ainscough have each pledged £1m towards the £6.5m building costs, as have the Wigan Athletic squad.

As far as running costs are concerned around 10 per cent of them will be met by the young people, 40 per cent by the council and the other half million from the private sector.

Which is where Simon comes in.

He arrives in post having spent the previous five and a half years raising money for the Bolton Boys and Girls’ Club: the hugely successful original on which the Wigan Youth Zone is modelled.

A big part of that work involved former partnerships and relationships with local businesses and he hopes to continue that in Wigan.

Yes, he will be asking for financial contributions from firms, but also volunteers to work at the centre, senior staff to join the Youth Zone board and for companies as a whole and individuals within them to raise money through sponsored events.

The fund-raising got off to a spectacular start recently with the handing over of £20,000 by a group of 131 Youth Zone supporters who took part in the Manchester to Blackpool bike ride last month.

Simon said: “It is a great start and indicative of some of the contributions we are hoping to attract.

“My job is to convince the town what a great benefit the Wigan Youth Zone is. We have got three benefactors but we need to have buy-in from, say 200 businesses, colleges and parents.

“It is important that this is not just take, take, take from the charity’s point of view. We want mutually-beneficial relationships so we can help with networking, but we are heavily reliant on the public sector.

“Wigan’s is the biggest of the new youth zones and Wigan has the opportunity to be the best youth centre in Europe in terms of engagement with young people and the community. It is important to have the right building but it is the people who make it special.

“We need anyone with a passion for the town to get involved. There are hundreds of stories from Bolton of people with family difficulties who have had a positive outcome from the club there.

“I am sure there are lots of people in Wigan in need of motivation and encouragement and this club gives us that chance to create good stories here too.”

A chief executive for the Youth Zone is expected to be appointed early next year and then the business of recruiting full-time staff and up to 200 volunteers will begin in earnest.

Anyone wishing to be a patron of the Youth Zone or help it in any other way should ring Simon on 0755 785 2922, or e-mail simon.baker@wiganyouthzone.org.