A pioneer project, both locally and nationally.
During 2004 the project worked with a group of people from Longbenton who had a particular attachment to Longbenton Methodist Church and Youth Centre. They had many memories of church life, and were very proud of the pioneering work done by local people in the 1950s and early 1960s to get the Youth Centre established. One of the group brought in an extract from some of the paperwork that was prepared at that time to explain the reasoning behind setting up a Youth Centre, and it provides a fascinating insight into the way youth provision was viewed in the 1960s. The following is an abbreviated extract from the documents which we looked at and talked about.
‘This spacious suite of premises represents a pioneer project, both locally and nationally. It will be incidentally the first ‘community centre’ of any kind in Newcastle’s largest ‘prototype’ post-war housing estate. The only premises hitherto available for youth work in this community of 15,000 – of whom 8,000 are children and young people – have been the entirely inadequate Methodist, and later Anglican, churches. Despite this cramped inadequacy, the Methodist Church has been first in the fields with a comprehensive scheme of Christian Education under trained leaders involving 5 uniformed and 3 non-uniformed organisations – apart from Sunday activity.
As this work grew in scope and numbers conditions became increasingly intolerable: like squeezing a quart into a pint pot. Then came the Albermarle Report, which gave a new impetus to voluntary-statutory co-operation in the service of youth and the promise of greatly increased grant-aid for worthwhile building schemes. Longbenton Methodist Church, through the Youth Council, acted immediately. Our application was among the first to be laid on the Minister of Education’s desk, cleared by the Methodist Youth Department. The result is one of the first purpose-designed and built Youth Centres in Britain. It includes a large badminton-court-sized hall with stage and projection room, Leader’s office, kitchen, coffee bar, extensive lounge, separate rooms for crafts, games and music etc., etc. The whole has been designed for dual-occupation by the Sunday School. Many novel features include, for example, an intercom system wired from the Leader’s office for announcements and music.
Such a comprehensive set of premises inevitably cost a great deal of money: £23,000 for the building and a further £1,500 for essential equipment. The Ministry of Education and The Northumberland County Education Authority have together provided a grant of two thirds of the basic cost (incidentally the largest amount for a Methodist scheme to date). We believe this to be a recognition of the scale of the need for a youth service in Longbenton, and the adequacy of our plans to meet it. The Church has raised all but £2,000 of the remaining cost, largely through the generosity of interested Trusts and private individuals. To commission the building in such circumstances has been both an act of faith and a reflection of urgent need’.
The formal opening of the Youth Centre took place in July 1963 and was performed by Mr Christopher Chataway, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Education. In 1988, twenty-five years later, he sent his best wishes on the silver jubilee of the Centre, commenting:
‘I was delighted to hear that the Youth Centre is still going strong. From the picture sent to me it seems to have survived the intervening quarter of a century better than me! My best wishes to you all for the years ahead’.
In 1988 the Youth Centre employed five people and through its involvement with groups such as Fair Action for the Confused Elderly and the Neighbourhood Watch Scheme, had been able to help in supporting much-needed jobs in the area. The Centre has supported the local community in many other ways too, providing a staging post for some groups that have gone on to thrive in their own premises.
When it became obvious that the church building could not accommodate all the church and youth activities, plans were put in hand to build a church hall, which eventually was to become the Youth and Community Centre. The thrust of this work was led by the minister, the Reverend John Wall, ably supported by Mr Oliver Barron. A plaque in the Centre, placed at the opening, names these two men. The church in all aspects of its work received support from members of other churches in the circuit, principally West Avenue (now Trinity Gosforth), Benton Methodist (now St Andrew’s), and South Gosforth (which is now part of Trinity).