Fire-hit youth centre: crunch summit

The battle to put a smile back on the face of a youth centre project after a second devastating blaze is striding forward today with a crunch summit over its future.

The battle to put a smile back on the face of a youth centre project after a second devastating blaze is striding forward today with a crunch summit over its future.

Council and community are meeting at Great Yarmouth's town hall, determined to stop arsonists who struck at Newtown Youth Centre again this week from putting the skids under plans for a new building on the site.

Although lottery money is available Carl and Julie Harding who run the club say they are at a crossroads over its future and are having to face up to the fact that bringing a new �100,0000 unit to the Jellicoe Road site could be pointless.

But Barry Coleman, leader of Great Yarmouth Borough Council, said he was determined that good would “win out”, adding: “This is just absolutely horrendous - two fires now and a break in. It is not right that a few destructive individuals should damage what is being done for the benefit of the majority.”

He said today's meeting aimed to unite at short notice, police, schools, council and youth centre volunteers in a bid to hammer out a way forward, possibly on a different site.

In the short term he said new premises needed to be found so the centre could carry on with its caring work but in the long term a co-ordinated response would give them the best chance of launching a fight-back against the vandals.

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Earlier this week youth centre secretary Mr Harding said he expected the centre to be closed for at least six months.

He was called at 6am by one of the centre's volunteers, Amanda Goodrum, who had seen flames coming from the building while on her way into work.

He said while the previous fire in October was largely contained inside, Monday's blaze damaged much of the converted ship container's exterior, melting the metal and ripping off one of the TV aerials.

“There was just flames coming out of the roof, twisted metal everywhere and lots of smoke. The building is just completely gone. The whole structure inside has buckled and when the firefighters actually got in there it was melting their shoes,” Mr Harding said.

All of the equipment inside was destroyed, except for computers which had been moved to the Haven Holiday Park at Caister following an attempted burglary at the centre last Tuesday.

On that occasion, the intruder removed the entrance gate from its hinges after forcing the padlock and tried to tamper with the door lock and to cut its hinges, despite extra security including new locks.

The volunteers had fought a campaign to secure the �50,000 from the People's Millions at the end of last year, but lost out to an Essex charity following a phone vote.

However, the lottery fund decided to give the Newtown centre the money anyway.

The new pre-fabricated centre is on order and will sit on the opposite side of the basketball court providing more space and more modern facilities for the centre's 200 youngsters.

The first instalment of the �100,000 cost has been paid.

Mr Harding added the Golfer's Arms pub in Yarmouth had offered the centre the use of its facilities for its sessions until the centre could be re-opened.

“They have asked us if we want to go down there, but at this moment in time I don't know whether we will carry on, it is completely up in the air.

“It took a big pick me up to get us going before and it is going to taken an even bigger pick me up to get us going again following this latest incident,” he said.

Mrs Harding said she was living in “a bubble of disbelief”. “We are in talks this week but we are deflated and do not know where to go. How many times have we got to keep picking ourselves up? They are not taking anything away from us they are taking it away from the kids.”

Police spokesman Laura Bagshaw confirmed police were treating the incident as arson after they were called to the scene at 6.30am on Monday.

She said: “Officers from the North Yarmouth Safer Neighbourhood Team will be carrying out increased patrols of the area to providing reassurance to local people. At this stage there is no evidence to suggest it is linked to any other incident.”

Anyone with concerns or information in relation to this incident should contact the North Yarmouth Safer Neighbourhood Team on 0845 4564567.