From left- Mark Cosgrove-Smith, Leonora Smee, Karen Smee, Roger Smee, David Seward, Cameron Smee

On Thursday 27th February, the Berkshire Youth Trust hosted a drinks reception at the House of Lords to celebrate the launch of the Waterside Centre in Newbury, its first state of the art ‘Inspired Facility’.

A number of distinguished guests, dignitaries and businesspeople from Newbury and West Berkshire attended the event.

They included Newbury mayor Elizabeth O’Keeffe, West Berkshire Council’s leader Lynne Doherty, lead member for education Dominic Boeck and chairman Graham Pask.

The event featured speeches from the evening’s host Lord St John of Bletso, who sits on the Trust’s Advisory Board; the President of Berkshire Youth, Roger Smee; and Berkshire Youth chief executive David Seward.

Roger Smee spoke of the Trust’s ambitions for the Waterside Centre to act as a blueprint for future projects:

“The project itself is exceptional in what we think we can do and the youngsters that we can help and embrace. We think what it is going to create a cutting-edge blueprint for youth work that other charities will like the look of. We believe that one day this will be copied, it will be a blueprint for other areas of the country. It is going to be something that others will want to emulate.”

Berkshire Youth has been granted planning permission for a significant upgrade of the facility, which once completed will feature a 14.5m climbing tower and a two-storey viewing gallery/café for public use.

The refurbished community and youth centre will provide a range of activities, including rock climbing, dancing and canoeing.

Guests heard that Berkshire Youth wants the centre to become a “safe place where young people can go and feel comfortable”.

David Seward also spoke passionately about the need for somewhere that would further the development of young people and provide them with a trustworthy and safe base, and the crucial need to “recognise the importance of prevention, being there for young people at the point they most need it.”

He added that there were currently around 200,000 young people in Berkshire, with around 15% per cent of the 3,000 in West Berkshire living in poverty. The district, he added, had one of the widest attainment gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged young people.

This was emphasised by Lord St John, who highlighted cuts in public funding:

“One of the staggering statistics, and one of the sad statistics, since 2010 there has been a 70-per-cent drop in public funding for youth services and I think that’s shameful frankly. I would argue that a lot of money that is being squandered elsewhere should be spent on these types of initiatives.”

He went on to state:

“We are all aware of the problems and the challenges affecting young people, particularly young people from deprived areas and to that regard I wholeheartedly support the Inspired Facilities programme and the three planned facilities across Berkshire.”

So far £600,000 of the £1.3m total has been raised, and at the event Berkshire Youth trustee Michael Farrant emphasised the importance of extra donations to complete the project.

To donate, visit GoFundMe.

Alternatively, email Cameron Smee at smee.cameron@gmail.com.