March 1, 2009:
Tomorrow (Monday) is a longed-for red-letter day for Bookham's youth centre. That's when the newly formed Bookham Youth and Community Centre (BYACC)
charity takes over the Lower Road building's lease.
It hasn't been plain sailing. The centre is taking over the premises from Surrey County Council (SCC). Negotiations over the details of the acquisition still ramble on. Sue Lawrence, the centre's figurehead and, with Debbie Hill of Smartypants, long time campaigner for its future, says, "There are still things to iron out."
Lawrence isn't willing to go further, for instance by guessing when the negotiations might end. She says merely that, "I wouldn't like to put a time frame on it. It's ongoing. There are one or two bits we need to finalise, final tweaks."
It's no secret, however, that some involved are not pleased with the state of the building they now inherit from SCC. We're not talking paintwork here but the provision, for example, of safe and usable fire doors for a building used almost exclusively by those many of the community prize most, their young. BYACC doesn't see why it should use hard-earned, meagre funds to restore the building to the standard SCC has had a duty to maintain until today. And then there's the matter of BYACC's discovery, only days ago, that they would be expected to take over the pay of a part-time cleaner formerly on SCC's payroll.
SCC has not felt the negotiation important enough to assign authority for its conclusion to any one negotiator. Instead, Lawrence has had to deal one by one with a series of SCC departments covering youth provision, building maintenance, fire safety and others.
Brushing questions about this aside, Lawrence says what matters is that, "We are in charge of the management of the building and we have a lease. It's a three-year lease. By the end of that we wil have proved that this is a sustainable and viable resource and a model that could be rolled out elsewhere."
The change of name to include the community doesn't change the centre's focus, says Lawrence: "The core business has to stay on youth and youth activities," she says, and lists band nights
to be held six or eight times a year, project nights every Monday evening – the young people are developing their disco area and will soon start work on a music and sound recording area – socials every Wednesday for those 13 and over, mix and DJ nights, and theyouth café
, launched last November and running on Tuesday afternoons for anyone of secondary school age.
But the BYACC can't afford to make the building available for local young people without making sure it's earning a living even when they're at school. So it's being used by University of the Third Age (U3A) to play table tennis and badminton. Debbie Hill runs the Smarty Pants
pre-school group there each weekday. There's maths tutoring, even a belly-dancing class, should that be your pleasure.
The club is supported in part by a £3,000 grant from Surrey Youth Capital Fund
, which in turn is funded by central government. And SCC's Surrey Youth Development
will staff and run the Monday and Wednesday club nights under Youth Leader Gary Nash
. Under SCC ownership the centre could not apply for rate relief. A charitable trust may get such relief and have access to the national lottery and other funding.
Cllr David Walker
(Con, Bookham North) paid tribute to the hard work put in by Sue Lawrence: "If it hadn't been for her, we wouldn't have got as far as fast as we have."
The next band night
is on April 4, starting at 7pm.
Picture, top right: Former Virgin Radio (now Absolute Radio) DJ John Osborne showed young Harry the finer points of DJ technique at last year's Bookham Youth Centre open day.