MANSFIELD’S Westfield Folkhouse has opened its doors to reveal a £6.5m transformation into one of the most modern and innovative youth facilities in the country.
The 19th Century building has been re-born as a world-class ‘super’ youth centre which will be open seven days a week for young people in the heart of the town.
Its facilities range from sensory gardens to an outdoor gym, and from a sexual health centre to a giant outdoor chess board.
It has all been made possible by funding from Nottinghamshire County Council and the Government’s ‘Myplace’ fund, and Chad joined the first few young people through the doors for a glimpse of the facilities last Friday.
There were more than 120 guests in attendance, including county council chairman Keith Walker, young people involved with the project and members of the former youth club from as far back as the 1950s,
Nottinghamshire County Council leader Kay Cutts said: “Coming through the door today has been mind-blowing. There is something here for everybody - all young people are catered for.
“It’s a safe place to come and it’s a fun place to come. The young people have had such an impact on the design, they have said what they wanted it to be like and really this is not a creation by an architect but by the young people who are going to use it.”
The facilities show a combination of the old and the new as the outside appears to be an continuation of the Grade II listed building and the inside a display of modern architecture and technological advancement.
Nottinghamshire county councillor for Mansfield North Coun Joyce Bosnjak said: “It is a remarkable place for the people of Mansfield - I’m thrilled.”
As well as offering fun and entertainment for young people, the centre also aims to tackle some of the key issues they face in the world today.
A range of volunteers and youth workers, alongside organisations such as Connexions, offer young members counselling, health services and sexual education facilities.
The project is involved in the C-card scheme, which helps young adults stay safe by supplying sexual health advice.
A training centre which provides unemployed young people with essential job skills is a key addition to the development - as it aims to tackle one of the biggest issues among Mansfield’s youth.
The scheme, designed particularly for 16 to 17-year-olds, offers them training in the types of skills which employers look for and helps give career guidance in a bid to help them move into the working world.
At the heart of the original building lie facilities designed to help young homeless people gain a more stable way of life.
In line with The Hall homeless support project, the centre provides bathing and laundry facilities, as well as a warm safe environment where homeless young people receive a good meal and help finding somewhere safe to stay.
Virtually everywhere within the centre is made wheelchair-accessible and it even features an area for wheelchair-friendly sport.
The facility aims to integrate disabled members in every aspect of the centre, and great attention has been paid within the design to allow them to take part in all activities.
Youth club member Mark Pastuszka (16), who is a member of the Nottinghamshire Pioneers, representing young disabled people, described the new facility as ‘absolutely fantastic’.
“I think it’s going to be beneficial to all who use it and will make a real difference to us all,” he said. “Everybody can do every activity.”
The centre also features a sensory garden and the outside area is full of ‘widgets’, small symbols engraved into the objects they describe which allow blind members to read about the equipment they are using.
There is also a dance studio, designed to allow deaf members to feel the vibrations of the music, and featuring a large interactive light wall.
All members of the centre will have access to the huge variety of activities supplied, also including a modern gaming area, dancemats and fitness facilities, outside gym, skateboarding areas, pool tables, music room, performance area, computer area and alchohol-free coffee bars.
The renovation of the Folkhouse, which has taken 18 months to complete, was made possible by £1.5m supplied by Nottinghamshire County Council, and a further £5m from the Government’s Myplace fund.
The opening ceremony, which took place in the new colourful and modern extension, featured speeches from Coun Cutts and Coun Philip Owen with the official opening conducted by council chairman Coun Keith Walker.
The building was first used as a girls’ club in the 1920s by Miss Rachael Manners and her mother.
In 1946, Miss Manners donated the house and gardens to Mansfield District Council on the terms that it should be used by the youth of the area for as long as it stands.
The house has been used for such purposes ever since, even playing a key part in the youth exchange programme with twin town Heiligenhaus in Germany.