Youth Zone director sad to leave but says time is right

John Harker in the boxing ring at Wigan Youth Zone

John Harker in the boxing ring at Wigan Youth Zone

A top boss who has played a massive role in the success of Wigan Youth Zone is departing for pastures new at an elite gymnastics academy.

John Harker, who has been involved with the Parson’s Walk facility since it opened and is now director and general manager of the venue, will take up his new job in Eccles at the end of March.

John Harker speaks at the grand opening of The Venue next to Wigan Youth Zone

John Harker speaks at the grand opening of The Venue next to Wigan Youth Zone

Mr Harker, who left a 33-year career in the military to work at the youth zone, spoke with great pride about the team he has led and the venue’s incredible achievements over the past four years.

He is moving to the Manchester Academy of Gymnastics but described taking up a director’s role there as one of the toughest decisions he has had to make.

Although his work is taking him out of Wigan he also revealed he will continue living in Swinley with his wife Sandra as they feel extremely settled here following the rather nomadic years of his Army work.

Mr Harker, 53, said: “I’m looking forward to a new challenge. I’ve been at the youth zone four years and it has always been pretty relentless.

I’m immensely proud of what we’re doing for young people on every level. Building up a strong and dedicated team has been the highlight

John Harker

“It has taken over my life and it is one of those jobs which you just have to throw yourself into. It is open seven days a week and then we have to raise the revenue every year.

“It’s a demanding role and I think I’ve taken it as far as I can. I’m sad to be leaving, it’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make. Leaving the military was easier than leaving here will be.

“We’re very settled here, we’ve got a lot of friends and acquaintances in the community and my wife works in Leigh. We really enjoy the town.”

Since the youth zone opened its doors Mr Harker has become a familiar face at high-profile events, whether welcoming Prime Minister David Cameron and showing him round, appearing at the popular boxing fund-raisers or sharing a pint with Wigan Warriors coach Shaun Wane at the facility’s own Reet Good Beer Festival.

However, far from rubbing shoulders with famous faces he says the best aspect of his time in Wigan has been building up close working relationships with the youth zone employees and seeing how much they have been able to do for young Wiganers.

He said; “Building up a strong and dedicated team and having a special working relationship with them has been the highlight. I’m used to building teams in the military and getting such a fantastic group of people here in Wigan has been great.

“We couldn’t have done it without them or without our forward-thinking local authority which is right behind Wigan Youth Zone.

“ I’d also like to thank the community because its support has been invaluable. I’m immensely proud of how we’ve developed and grown and what we’re doing for young people on every level.

“It’s not just the facilities, it’s supporting them with mental health issues, disabilities, welfare, health and wellbeing. When you’ve got 5,000 young people coming through every month they open up with you and those issues come with the territory.

“Being able to deal with that is what makes it such a fantastic community asset.”

Considering his new role, Mr Harker said he was attracted by the gymnastics academy’s commitment which will see money from success ploughed back into getting disabled and disdavantaged youngsters into the sport.

However, he says he will still be keeping fully up to speed with everything at the youth zone. He said: “I’m proud of what we’ve achieved here and it’s not something you can just walk away from completely.”