Young people could hardly have been given a better role model as the former Lord Mayor of London officially opened a new youth centre in the heart of one of Blackpool’s most deprived areas.
Sir Andrew Parmley, accompanied by his wife Wendy, cut the ribbon as the Magic Club in Claremont was launched with the aim of transforming the lives of children in the area.
A £91,000 investment has seen work going on for around six months to refurbish premises at the back of Sherbourne Road, formerly used as a magicians club.
Partitions and old seating have been ripped out to be replaced with a new kitchen, toilets and activity areas.
Youth workers have spent weeks speaking to local youngsters encouraging them to join the club which will run sessions on everything from healthy eating to computer game nights.
Sir Andrew grew up in South Shore while Lady Parmley is herself a former pupil of Claremont School.
They are determined to promote and support Blackpool after Sir Andrew’s year as Lord Mayor of London for 2016/17 came to an end.
He said: “The start we had was second to none and that was in this town.
“The town isn’t shining quite as bright as it did 50 years ago but we know the lustre is there, and the shine is coming back.
“Speaking to people who have lived here a long time and have seen some of the darker days, they are now beginning to see some brighter days.
“The town is very, very optimistic and we can see big changes every time we come back.”
Among the changes is the investment to create the Magic Club.
Water company United Utilities has provided the £91,000 funding after a bid supported by Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard.
The youth club is being run by EPS, a Fylde-based social enterprise which already runs youth services including the Boys and Girls Club in Mereside.
Sir Andrew said such schemes were vital to helping young people fulfil their aspirations.
He said: “I had the good fortune to see this club about three months ago, and what a fantastic transformation it is.
“This of course isn’t the end, this is the start of something great.
“It is the start of new investment in the town and investment in the young people of the town.
“We need this investment and to see many more clubs like this spreading across the town. It is a big day for Blackpool and for Claremont.”
The work has been spearheaded by community volunteers including Claremont ward councillor Lynn Williams.
She said: “Members of the community have been absolutely brilliant, from cleaning the alley to helping us paint.
“It has been marvellous to be able to do this for the kids. This is for them to be happy and safe, and to have some fun.”
Claremont is not just one of the most deprived areas of Blackpool, but one of the most deprived areas of the country.
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.
MP Paul Maynard said: “Claremont is an area which faces many challenges, not just for young people and I have always been conscious that what it lacked was somewhere where they could meet together.
“So I’m delighted those with experience have come together to provide that support right in the heart of Claremont.”
“We know there are so many issues that need resolving but here we are seeing the first step in a long journey.”
Senior youth worker Jasmine Gwillam is running the club with sessions currently being held on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday nights for different age groups.
Admission will be 30p including a warm snack.
Jasmine said: “When I was eight I started at the Blackpool Boys and Girls Club so I know what a difference places like this can make.
“We’re looking forward to providing a fun, warm and safe place for children and young people.
“We want to get to know them and for them to make it their own club.
“We’ll be doing project work such as looking at issues around mental health and anything young people see as a barrier to getting to where they want to be.
“But there will be lots of fun too with things like art projects and pool, and during the sessions we’ll all sit round and eat together.”
Youth worker Ashleigh Threlfall has been part of the team already getting to know youngsters.
She said: “I’ve worked at the Boys and Girls Club at Mereside and I’ve seen the positive impact it’s had there, and I think the Magic Club will do the same here in Claremont.
“We’ve already been walking round the streets, meeting the kids and we have around 50 to 60 young kids.
“They’re really excited about it and we’ve already engaged with many of them and have run a few trips out for them.”
The youngsters themselves say there is nothing much for them to do at the moment once school finishes.
Kyie Robinson, 13, said: “It’s going to help bring the community together and give young people something to do.
“There isn’t a lot around here at the moment.
“We’re hoping to go on a residential trip and do karaoke and have Xbox nights.”
Kyle Griffin, 14, said: “I think it’s going to be amazing.
“It’s great everyone being here and trying to help us.”
The current timetable is Monday, 6pm to 9pm - 11 to 16-year-olds; Tuesday and Thursday, 5.30pm to 8.30pm, junior nights for eight to 11-year-olds.