Fire-hit youth centre leader quits

THE future of Newtown Youth Centre in Great Yarmouth was unclear this week after one of its figurehead leaders quit in the wake of a second arson attack.

THE future of Newtown Youth Centre in Great Yarmouth was unclear this week after one of its figurehead leaders quit in the wake of a second arson attack.

Carl Harding, the Jellicoe Road centre's secretary, has decided not to continue after being forced to close following a devastating blaze on March 1 which destroyed much of the inside and outside of the building.

However, three other volunteers, including his wife and chairman, Julie, are continuing and will be running weekly one-and-a-half hour long arts and crafts sessions for centre members at temporary premises in North Denes School.

Borough council officers are now examining whether a brand new youth centre could be built on an alternative site in the Newtown area - but fear this could put a �50,000 lottery grant at risk.

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The centre was awarded the windfall cash in early December despite losing out on a head-to-head phone call vote in ITV's People's Millions show. However, the centre had needed to submit a formal application to the lottery organisers before the money is handed over.

Volunteer organisers at the centre had already planned for a portable office building to replace the converted ship container being used, and the paperwork and submissions were underway.

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Now, the borough council which has stepped in to help out, has applied for an extension to the lottery's March 31 deadline for an application for the �50,000.

Mr Harding, who has been a volunteer for eight years, said he made the decision because he could not face trying to get the centre up-and-running again for a second time, following a previous arson attack in October.

On that occasion, he initiated a successful appeal through the Mercury for equipment to replace equipment lost in the flames, but in the wake of the latest blaze he could see no point in re-opening on the current site because it could not be secured.

He said: “There are only so many times people can fall over and I have fallen over so many times and dirtied my knees. I would like to thank everyone for the support they have given me, but I can't be responsible for putting a new centre there and then sit and watch it burn.”

But borough council leader Barry Coleman was more optimistic about the centre's prospects after a meeting between the centre's volunteers, Yarmouth schools, police, and county and borough councillors on Friday to discuss the way forward.

He confirmed enquiries were being made to see if the lottery money could still be awarded to pay for a potential new centre on a different site in Newtown.

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