ONE year ago, Blackburn’s £6million Youth Zone opened its doors to youngsters aged eight to 21 for the first time.

Twelve months on and 3,207 member later, the organisation is looking for new sponsors to help it continue to provide dozens of activities offered every day.

Education reporter Jessica Cree spoke to chief executive Peter Little as he reflected on the Youth Zone’s progress.

“This first year has been amazing - a whirl wind is probably the best description,” said Peter Little, who heads up the Youth Zone - Blackburn’s very own futuristic youth club.

“We have had a really positive reaction and have discovered a lot of young people who have a lot of talent.”

Modelled on the legendary Bolton Lads’ and Girls’ Club, the Jubilee Street centre was set up to give members a place to go to explore new activities and learn new skills.

Among the facilities on offer are football on the rooftop artificial grass pitch, wall climbing, music production, drama and sessions in the state-of-the art gym.

Just weeks after opening, the Zone’s self-set target of reaching 1,500 members was met.

It can now boast almost 20 per cent of the eligible population of Blackburn with Darwen holding a membership, with 1,256 female and 1,951 male members. Twenty-eight per cent of the members are from ethnic minorities.

Peter said: “It has just gone from strength to strength and there is something very special about being surrounded by young people doing positive things.

“The Youth Zone is the kind of aspirational resource that is all about a lifestyle that we want young people in this area to look forward to and work hard to achieve.

“This kind of environment gives them confidence.

“It is for young people who have the ability to excel and now have the opportunity to do that.”

The Youth Zone building was part-funded by a government My Place grant and also received support from the borough council, which supplies 40 per cent of the organisations funding.

A further 40 per cent over the first 12 months has come from the private sector and Peter said that there was a pressure to encourage this kind of support more.

He said: “We have had massive support from the business community, but we need to continue with that and build on it.

“We are in a good place financially at the moment, but we need to move on and we need to be in a better place.

“It is challenging and if the support does not continue, it will all unravel very quickly.”

The Zone made a net loss of £12,000 in its first 12 months, but had reserves of £358,000 at the end of March.

£33,000 was collected through the £3 membership fee youngsters pay to join and the £50p entrance cost for each visit.

Looking forward, Peter said his main priorities were to develop relationships with young people, encourage working partnerships with businesses, involve parents more, work with organisations such as schools and the police and to apply for grants.

He said: “Young people come here because they want to come here and once they are here, they are discovering the things they want to discover.

They are a cross-section of the whole borough and already our profile of members maps the profile of the area.

“When we first opened, excitement was the one emotion that was running through us and that has continued throughout the whole year.

“The Youth Zone is something that the town needs and we all need to celebrate young people doing positive things.”

The Blackburn Youth Zone partner scheme launches on June 27 at 9.30am, with presentations for businesses considering contributing to the organisation’s future success.

For more information call Laura Jones, Events Manager on 01254 292000.