A bit of magic is transforming children's lives in one of Blackpool's most deprived areas

Children from the Magic Club enjoying a day out at the Tower
Children from the Magic Club enjoying a day out at the Tower
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When Laura White was interviewed for her new role, she promised to "add shine to everything you do".

When Laura White was interviewed for her new role, she promised to "add shine to everything you do".

Children enjoying activities at the Magic Club

Children enjoying activities at the Magic Club

READ MORE: New Blackpool club is magic for youngsters

It was clearly a promise which impressed the youngsters on the panel - for they had a say in giving her the job of interim chief executive officer of the Magic Club.

The youth project, which is in the heart of one of the most deprived areas not just in Blackpool but in the whole of England, is transforming children's lives in Claremont.

It started out two years ago, led by a group of people including Claremont ward councillor Lynn Williams.

But it is not just about sprinkling some fairy dust, it is about making deep-seated changes.

Laura White

Laura White

Since the club at the back of Sherbourne Road was officially opened by former Lord Mayor of London Sir Andrew Parmley in March, it has attracted 140 members aged eight to 18.

This summer, youngsters have taken part in events from educational sessions to fun trips out as part of a four-week programme, while during term-time there will be three evening sessions a week.

Laura has plenty of experience in working in a challenging environment, with her previous role being with Blackpool Council's transience programme.

She says the work being done by projects such as the Magic Club has replaced a lot of the council youth services lost over the years due to town hall cuts.

Inside the Magic Club

Inside the Magic Club

But the Magic Club is not just about providing a place to play pool.

It is forging links with local businesses in a bid to provide young people with opportunities which could shape their future careers.

And it is providing nutritional food for children who may miss a good square meal once term ends and they no longer get their free school dinner.

Laura said: "One of the things we are doing is to involve the young people in the governence of the club and the decision-making.

"So I was actually interviewed by some of them for my job.

"It's really important to have young people involved as much as possible so that we are delivering what they want from us, but also it is good experience for them.

"My role is about laying the groundwork, making sure the building is operational and that we continue to get funding in.

"I'm also making connections with local businesses so we can change their perceptions of young people.

"The preconception about kids from areas like Claremont and Bloomfield is they are troublesome.

"We want to change that view and give these children the opportunities other children might take for granted.

"We want businesses willing to consider children who might have a criminal record or might not get a good reference from their school.

"I want businesses to get used to the idea that young people don't come in a package."

In practical terms, the Magic Club also provides things such as a quiet area for children to do their home work as well as healthy meals.

Laura said: "A big problem in the Claremont area is a lot of children get free school meals.

"So when school finishes for the summer, there is the potential that meal is missing.

"It is estimated the average weekly additional cost to families when children are not in school is £30 for each child. That is a lot of money to people who are on a tight budget.

"It can mean a parent has to miss their meal in order to feed their children.

"We are providing children with meals like chicken curries, sausage casseroles, pasta dishes and plenty of fruit to make sure they are eating properly."

There are fun elements to the Magic Club as well of course - events this summer have included a visit by the Skool of Street street dancing company and from Mad Science North West, whose experiments included making exploding vinegar.

T-shirt making, film afternoons and a trip to the Tower Circus have also been part of the activity programme.

It is early days, but Laura believes the club is already having an impact.

She said: "We had one member who was very shy and anxious and now she is at the club all the time, talking to young people and making friends.

"Another member has additional support needs and could not attend full sessions at first. Now he is able to attend full sessions without his parents needing to be there.

"So when these children go back to school after the summer, they will be a lot more confident and feel more settled.

"I don't think we'll see the wider impact for a while, but we have done a survey of parents and they all said it is making a difference to their children."

Why is the Magic Club needed in Claremont?

In the last set of government deprivation rankings, published in 2015, the Cocker Street area of Claremont was ranked the third most deprived area in England.

The statistics measure employment, barriers to housing, health, crime and income levels.

The rate for NEET (16 and 17-year-olds not in education, employment or training) in Claremont is 12 per cent, compared to eight per cent for Blackpool as a whole and six per cent nationally.

How is it funded?

The main funding is a £91,000 investment from water company United Utilities thanks to a bid supported by Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard.

This has enabled the refurbishment of the premises at the back of Sherbourne Road, formerly used as a magicians' club.

Blackpool Coastal Housing (which manages Blackpool Council's housing stock) has also provided a grant to support Laura's interim role. Further bids for funding are in the pipeline, and if successful will enable the chief executive role to continue.

The youth workers are provided by EPS, a Fylde-based social enterprise which already runs youth services including the Boys and Girls Club in Mereside.