£12m youth venue set to open doors in Norwich
2009: The pioneering, state-of-the-art £12m Open Youth Venue in Norwich city centre, is set to open its doors to young people in August, the result of six years of planning, dreaming and building by Christian entrepreneur Graham Dacre, his son Russ and the Open Youth Trust team. Keith Morris was given a sneak preview.
The cavernous former Barclays Bank building on Bank Plain in Norwich has been transformed into a mind-boggling series of fantastic facilities for young people to use with the promise that it is a drug, alcohol and tobacco free zone.
A 1200-capacity concert venue, a night club with room for 440, the tallest climbing wall in Norfolk, a dance studio, media suite, café and health centre are all included.
All the facilities and contemporary design has been heavily influenced by a team of local young people to create a vibrant and welcoming space which cannot fail to be attractive to young people looking for something to do or somewhere to just hang out.
The project is one for the whole community and Graham and Russ Dacre (pictured above) are careful not to label is as a Christian one, but both have a strong altruistic faith which has motivated them to keep going over the past six years.
Project director Russ explains: “While I was working in Barbados in 2001, I felt a personal calling from God to come back to Norwich and set up an alternative to the drug and alcohol culture for young people. I then went on to do my youth work and ministry training and worked with a lot of young people in Norfolk.
“So providing the venue here and getting it open is a massive achievement personally for me and is fulfilling what I believe God has asked me to do.”
The Open journey began back in 2003 when the former Barclays Bank building was bought by the Lind Trust and handed over to the Open Youth Trust. Since then the Trust has been involved in a number of youth-related projects including the SOS Bus, which provides a mobile safe haven for young people in difficulties after a night out in Norwich.
In 2006, the Open Road motor project was launched, which has a workshop kitted out with the latest equipment to provide a professional training experience. More recently the H2O premier car wash and valet service was established to offer a certificated valet training course for young people.
Back in 2003, the Trust set up a youth forum to involve young people in the strategic development of the youth venue involving 42 young people aged between 13 and 25. A core of 15 to 20 are still involved and have been consulted on all aspects of the project, including appointing the architects and examining their plans.
One of these was 17-year-old Fiona Stewart
, who said: “Open has already provided us with opportunities which will last a lifetime. Being involved at the heart of the project from the beginning, we are involved in decisions such as design and layout of the venue.”
The Open team is already working with a number of partners to provide services for young people including Connexions, the Princes Trust, the Matthew Project, City College and Children's Services central area team.
Others including Norwich Youth for Christ, the Pregnancy Crisis Centre and the Primary Health Care Trust are also talking about partnerships and the Open team is looking for more groups to work with.
“We are a grassroots community project and would love to see churches involved in what we are doing,” said Russ.
There is a phased opening of the facilities between now and the official launch on October 22. The main hall will open with a SNAP summer night-club party on August 28, followed by regular SNAP events every few weeks, and most of the other facilities will open during September in time for the new school term.
Rachael Murray is marketing and events manager at the venue: “This is a building of so much potential,” she said. “And now we just want to see that realised through good partnerships with organisations that are already doing great work.
“We think that young people will discover that when they come in here to do one thing, they will see something else that inspires them to have a go at something they won't necessarily have thought about trying,” said Rachael. “We want it to become a young and vibrant community for them to explore, where they can meet people who enjoy similar things and have a great time.”
“It is a totally inspiring space,” she said. “I think that the first year of Open will be about us putting our toe in the water to see how young people want it to develop, and in five years' time we will be where everyone wants it to be.
“There is so much potential and there is nothing like this. It is for them and we want to hear what they want from it.”
SNAP summer relaunch party set to attract 1400
Tickets are now on sale for the re-launch of the SNAP club nights on Friday August 28. They are expecting a crowd of around 1400 and the event features KISS DJs Thomsta and Ray Keith.
Tickets, costing £5, can be purchased at the Open box office at 20 Bank Plain, as well as Bethel Street Police Station and Wymondham Police Station. Or book online or by phone through the UEA ticket office by calling 01603 508050 or visiting www.ueaticketbookings.co.uk