Getting to the heart of the Phoenix

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On Saturday young people of all ages from the Phoenix Youth Centre’s new theatre group treated proud mums and dads to their take on Snow White.

The newly-formed theatre group is just the latest of a number of successful projects aimed at Daventry’s younger generation and the latest feather in the cap of the youth centre which, since its founding in 1969, has grown to be an important part of the fabric of Daventry’s youth culture – a safe space for people to socialise and meet friends but also a place to learn new skills and receive vital support.

Now with planning permission granted for a £1.5 million extension as well as improved facilities for those with disabilities, new centre manager Lindsey Hawkey is excited about the year ahead.

“We do a lot of project work at the centre but we also help young carers and host classes in boxing and judo,” Lindsey said. “What we do is across the board. We can also offer things the leisure centre can’t offer.

“The new theatre group is an ideal opportunity for kids to do drama stuff without going to other theatre companies which can be ridiculously expensive.

“The gymnastics group will be going to get the facilities it needs, and it will be able to offer more services like trampolines. It’s such an exciting time to be working here.”

Lindsey said the centre is well attended but she was looking forward to allowing even more young people through the door in the coming year. She said: “I think what we really need to put out there is that this is a great centre and we have great kids. As soon as they come through the door, regardless of their background they have real respect for the centre and the clubs. We just want to make it bigger and better.”

But all this would not be possible without the staggering effort put in by people like children, young people and families coordinator Claire Griffin, who devotes her time and energy to running the youth club’s diverse projects – even on taking on the part of the Wicked Queen Snow White. Claire works 27 hours per week at the centre, managing diverse teams of volunteers across a dizzying range of projects.

“The role of the centre is to support young people,” Claire said. “We want to educate them, to help them with any issues they might have.

“The education system has let some young people down seriously, a lot of young people feel excluded and feel it isn’t possible for them to move forward. Some face rejection at home or at school and rejection from their community. Here they have a safe place they can come and be accepted and move forward.”

The support and opportunities offered by the youth centre are as diverse as the many young volunteers who contribute their time and effort. With the Claire’s help the volunteers, the youngest of whom is just 10, put on a range of fun events and activities including classes, music events and a new favourite, Nerf gun camp.

But the centre also offers other basic services catered to the needs of young people, including a pregnancy prevention programme and help with CV writing.

“The young est of our junior club volunteers is 10 while the older groups are 14 plus,” Claire said. “They come from all different backgrounds.

“They are amazing kids; some have come through a lot to move forward with their lives and they have almost culminated in their own community or family group, which is a really positive thing. You can see how much they all care about each other; you can see this is a home from home.”

One of the older volunteers, Leto Dietrich, 20, returned from his drama and performance course at London’s Southbank University to offer his services as director to the Phoenix Youth Centre’s fledgling theatre group. He said: “This is the very first production for the drama branch at the Phoenix Centre. We tried to run it a year ago and there wasn’t a lot of interest, but then Claire rung me up and said she had 18 cast members! Some of the kids sometimes pretend they are getting bored, but you can tell they really love it.

“Even though I moved to London I’m still coming back. We offer so much variety of activities, we offer the skate park, music events, judo, and yet we could still do so much more as well.

“It’s a really special group of people that work here. It’s been an amazing adventure being part of the Phoenix Centre.”