Lambton Street Youth Centre still going strong

It's the oldest youth centre in the city – when it began it was designed to help waifs and strays. We found out why the Lambton Street Youth Centre is still as popular with youngsters today as it was in 1901.

THE Lambton Street Youth centre has changed its name four times and moved location twice but its principles remain the same.

The centre, a registered charity now based on Falkland Road, has been providing positive activities for young people in the area for more than 100 years.

The centre focuses on sport but there are plenty of other activities available.

One of these is the Fitness Fun Fridays Youth Club. Designed for young people aged between 12 and 25 who have a range of moderate to severe disabilities, it aims to improve their self-esteem and confidence.

Project coordinator Kevin Howard has been running the centre since 1991 and, with the help of the young members, he is pushing it forward to bigger and better things.

"The kids in this area are fantastic," he said. "They just needed somewhere to go – and now they have it.

"Without the centre they would be on the street. Before we moved here youngsters used to be drinking on the fields or in the park.

"Now we give them something positive to do on an evening. It's thrived and we now have a membership of well over 15,000 kids."

One vision which has now been fulfilled was an extension to make more room and improve facilities.

In 2008 the youth advisory panel, which is made up of children who attend the centre, decided they wanted to extend the centre as they felt it was not big enough especially as it is used by disabled children.

Kevin, 47, said: "They had to put into the youth services for a youth capital fund and youth opportunity fund. They received 22,000 off them.

"The whole building cost 80,000 but we had some money in the bank already which we were able to use to make up the costs."

Sunderland based building company Gelang Limited agreed to take on the extension at cost.

Kevin said: "They made no profit. It was their way of giving back to the community. They recycled a lot of the materials from the original building including the windows to keep costs down.

"The kids got what they wanted and they are very happy with the results but they already have more plans for development."

"They want a professional dance studio next, which will mean I lose my office but I'm not bothered."

The extension was officially opened in July by Sunderland boxing star Tony Jeffries. As an ex-boxer himself, Kevin was over the moon to have Jaffa at the opening.

He said: "It was great to have Tony come along. The kids look up to him and what he has achieved.

"He has surpassed anyone else in this area as he's an Olympian. That's an outstanding achievement and a great role model to the kids."

Kevin, from Red House, has come full circle, as he too attended the youth centre when he was just 14 and a keen boxer.

He is passionate about what the centre does and believes it is vital for kids in and around the area. He's supported by an equally dedicated team of staff and selfless volunteers who give their free time for the benefit of the youngsters.

He said: "They deserve something like this. They need somewhere to hang out.

"Even if they are just a group of friends, who are nice kids, if they hang around on the street they are still deemed a problem. It's not like it used to be – you can't even play football in the street with your mates.

"It's sad that teenagers have a bad name because if you look at young people there are a lot more good kids than bad. The problem is they are invisible because they are getting on with it and are well mannered."

l For more information call 0191 567 5227 or email youth.lambtonstreet@btinternet.com