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Two years to show the centre is a going concern

February 2, 2008. ‘At last we’re off and running’. That was the clear message from Bookham Youth Centre as Saturday’s open day ended.

But Debbie Hill and Sue Lawrence (pictured to left and right of Harry Potter star Tom Felton, right), two of the driving forces on the centre’s new management group, are in no doubt about the size of the task ahead.

The centre and its youthful users have endured two years of dithering and doubt since Surrey County Council (SCC) put its earlier decision to axe the centre on ice (Full story below).

A ‘foundation’ group of local parents, councillors, and members of the Bookham Residents’ Association (BRA) have laboured ever since to wring from the SCC a route for its sustained future.

The clouds have far from cleared. But the management group, which also includes Vicky Dixon, Nigel Salmon, Caroline Hughes and John Aberdeen, is now determined to raise both the £15,000 to keep the centre afloat and enough volunteers to support all the activities the centre must host to justify its existence.

The management group, responsible for the centre’s day to day running, is the tenant for the building, which SCC will continue to own. The group has a two year breathing space in which to prove the centre is a going concern. The SCC will charge only a peppercorn rent for that time. ‘It’s a chance to show we can market this place and get it back on the map,’ says Debbie.

The final rent is still being negotiated, adds Sue. The group is pinning down fine details like what the centre will charge for its use. In the past, the centre’s book-keeping has been less than clear. Nor have hard and fast rules been devised about who pays for the centre’s upkeep. The SCC will take on roof repairs and the building’s main fabric. The management group will have to account for broken windows or other minor repairs.

The group has yet to complete its business plan, but it hopes to attract local people to a wide range of activities. The centre’s core business’ will still be to offer a local meeting place for Bookham’s young people. But to reflect a new, wider focus the centre is now ‘The Bookham Youth and Community Centre’.

Debbie expects the centre to host playgroups – it’s long been the home of the Smarty Pants pre-school group Debbie runs – and badminton, table tennis and keep-fit groups. She stresses that the centre is ‘cross-generational’, so elderly residents’ groups will be welcome too.

Next steps

But the centre exists for Bookham’s youth. The Friday band nights held eight times a year and promoted solely by word of mouth used to attract 200 to hear local rock groups. The management group wants these to continue. The Monday and Wednesday 13-plus youth club nights will be run by SCC’s Youth Development Service.

Debbie and Sue praise the work of the foundation group, particularly Councillor David Walker and BRA committee members John Pagella (see below) and Peter Seaward. Debbie describes local SCC councillor Jim Smith as ‘our backbone’.

For the moment he and the others take a back seat while the management group prove they can make the centre a going concern. Sue and Debbie say many local people had no idea what the centre did. Now it’s up to local people to put in the time, energy and money needed to keep the centre going. ‘We want the building to be used,’ says Debbie.

‘It’s really important,’ says Sue, ‘to have a place where young people can get together. But local people have got to be thinking about what they need to do to support it. We need volunteers, people willing to put some hours in.’

Every little helps, even an hour a week. Volunteers are needed not just at the centre but for other roles in marketing, raising money and doing project work with local young people.

A lot of work has already been done. The local committee – a meeting of SCC and Mole Valley District Council which deals with common local concerns – has provided some funds for painting and cleaning up. And the centre’s kitchen has been refurbished. Local charity Leatherhead Lions has donated sports equipment, and local film star Tom Felton (pictured above), now 20, who says he spent much of his life between the ages of six and 15 at the centre, is among those who have made donations.

If you think you can help the Centre phone Debbie on 01372 457100 or Sue on 458046.

Bookham's young sports addicts

Saturday’s open day saw Bookham's youngsters take parts in lively table tennis and indoor football games. Debbie led a street dance demonstration, and her husband, Virgin Radio presenter John Osborne, invited all comers to take the controls of the professional broadcasting equipment he’d brought along.

Harry Potter's co-star revives old(ish) memories

Tom Felton has a lot of time for the Bookham Youth Centre. As he played pool at Saturday’s open day the former Howard of Effingham student told The Bugle, ‘I came here between the ages of six and 15’. The 20 year old star had attended the centre’s summer scheme and its Thursday and Friday club nights. Tom didn’t say so but we understand he has handed over to the centre some of the hard-earned cash he made in his role as Harry Potter villain Draco Malfoy.

David Wren's drum workshop

Attendees young and old joined in enthusiastically as David Wren, a Howard sixth former, took them through their paces at the youth centre’s open-day drum workshop (picture, right). David says he has been in several bands over the last seven years. His current band is According to Her.

Radio star lends an ear

Virgin Radio (now Absolute Radio) dj John Osborne (with Clara, right) clearly enjoyed his day with Bookham’s youngsters. John brought along professional standard equipment for them to try out. ‘It gave them the chance to sit down and run through a proper script,’ he says. ‘It let them have a bit of fun and express themselves.’

What did the young people make of the experience? ‘The older ones wanted to do a chart run down, get the stress on the right words and put a bit of emotion into it. The younger ones just wanted to play with the knobs!’

John’s in no doubt about the youth centre’s value to the community: ‘It’s most important that the awareness is out there so that we can save it.’

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