Actress McClure, of ‘Line Of Duty’ fame, and ice dancer Torvill, both based in Nottingham, were among the VIP guests at the launch of Mansfield Community Hub at the former River Maun Recreation Centre in Ravensdale on Tuesday night.
The Barringer Road centre has been taken over by Switch Up, a charity led by the inspirational Marcellus Baz which tackles youth crime, violence, addiction and gang culture through sport and physical activity.
Switch Up has had huge success in Nottingham with its mentoring and counselling techniques that have empowered vulnerable youngsters and steered them towards fruitful careers. And now it hopes to have the same impact in Mansfield.
McClure and her partner Jonny Owen, an actor, writer and producer and director of Nottingham Forest Football Club, were both announced as patrons of Switch Up at the launch event.
She tweeted that they “couldn’t feel more honoured” and urged everyone to support the hub.
Torvill and ice dance partner Christopher Dean are already patrons, as are boxing legend Frank Bruno and the current WBA world featherweight champion Leigh Wood, who is from Gedling.
Boxing plays a pivotal role in Switch Up’s work, and the Mansfield School of Boxing has been established at the hub to help build personal skills such as discipline and determination.
Other high-profile guests at the launch to support the project included the Mayor of Mansfield, Andy Abraham, the county’s police and crime commissioner, Caroline Henry, and Natalie Baker Swift, who is head of Nottinghamshire’s Violence Reduction Unit.
Many local businesses were also represented and have vowed to back the new hub.
Baz, whose work won him the British Empire Medal in 2016, said he was “absolutely ecstatic” at the turnout for the launch.
"I am so grateful to all the people that were there,” he said. “We hope to make a real impact in Mansfield, driving forward our initiatives.
"We have been working in Mansfield, supporting individuals and families, for the last three years and have built a good rapport with the community.
"We were approached by Mansfield District Council to take over the River Maun centre. The town needs a community hub, especially in its most deprived area, because vulnerable young people have nowhere to go.
"The whole Switch Up team is honoured that the council has entrusted us with creating this vibrant hub.
"It is a permanent base that means we can support people so much more, particularly young people at risk of committing crime. We aim to turn these kids into tax-paying citizens.”
The Ravensdale centre has been transferred to Switch Up in a lease agreement of at least 15 years, with the full backing of the council.
Coun Andy Burgin, portfolio holder for leisure, said: “Switch Up is a brilliant initiative that will support young people to improve their physical and mental health.
"It will also provide education, training and employment opportunities.
"A range of activities, along with tried and tested techniques, will help to steer young people away from anti-social behaviour. We look forward to seeing the benefits of this new hub.”
Baz is himself a reformed character after spending his younger years on the streets of The Meadows in Nottingham, selling drugs and carrying weapons.
His life turned around when he took up boxing at a local leisure centre. And in 2013, he formed the Nottingham School of Boxing, which is the sister organisation to Switch Up.
Now he is confident his methods can pay off in Mansfield. He said: “A lot of issues need to be addressed, such as addictions, joblessness, poverty, reliance on food parcels.
"But we have had phenomenal results in Nottingham, where we have turned people’s lives around.
"The hub will be a place where young people can go and feel as if they belong. There will be no more hanging around in Mansfield Market Place.
"We will give them positive activities, aspirations and opportunities, and help with their wellbeing.”
The hub will comprise an education and learning space, a counselling room, mentoring room, kitchen, where the youngsters can learn life skills such as cooking, and a multi-sports centre featuring football, basketball, badminton and table tennis, as well as boxing.
“We use sport as the hook, and then we turn to personal development, with mentoring and counselling,” said Baz.
"The young people will become less reliant on substances and focus more on jobs, which is why we have involved businesses.
"I have no doubt that the hub will work because of our history elsewhere when we have got the community involved.
"I have been through poverty, and I have been caught up in crime and violence.
"But that means I know how to engage with these vulnerable young people.
"We have replicated the Switch Up model in other countries, such as Brazil and Denmark.
"We expect it to have phenomenal results in Mansfield. But we need to have a collaborative approach. We have to do this together.
"Eventually, we want to be able to feed these young people into the world of work.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Abraham spoke for all at the launch night when he said: “What a great use for a community facility and a programme that will raise aspirations for many young people in Mansfield.
"What Marcellus and his team do is overwhelmingly successful. They have their finger on the pulse and young people respond to them. I can’t wait to see the impact it will have in Ravensdale and the wider area.”