A YOUTH worker has completed a “personal crusade” to improve services for young people in her home town.
Thanks to the dedication of Ayesha Banks, the 150-year-old water tower at Haltwhistle Station in Northumberland is to be turned into an up-to-date base for local youths to hone their work skills and build a firm foundation for their futures.
With the backing of the Haltwhistle Partnership and West Northumberland Youth Service, for whom she works, Ayesha, 23, has raised £24,000 in funding from eight different sources.
The cash will go towards equipping the water tower – which was used as a cafe and bike shop but has stood empty for a year – with modern gadgetry including computers, TVs and even a kitchen for the youths to take cookery classes.
With the Main Street Youth Club facilities in the church hall too cramped, Haltwhistle Partnership trustees backed the plans for the water tower, for which change-of-use planning permission was granted.
“There was only so much we could do and there wasn’t a lot of room there,” said part-time worker Ayesha, who has devoted many hours of her own time to the water tower project.
“They made the decision and we looked at decent places we could rent but rent’s quite expensive so we decided on the water tower, which is just round the corner from where I live.
“We wanted to create something a bit more ‘grown-up’ than a youth club and went to local businesses to try to get funding.
“We’ve got money from the Big Lottery Fund and the county council, but we’ve also got a substantial sum from Kilfrost, the de-icer manufacturers in Haltwhistle, and £1,000 from the Co-op, among others.
“It’s become my little baby, I suppose, but I’ve had really good support.
“As a Haltwhistle girl born and bred, and having come back after working away, I wanted to reach the young people that are hanging around the streets.
“It’s a problem in Haltwhistle at weekends when there’s not much for them to do. We want to educate them on things like the dangers of under-age drinking, and give them the opportunity to develop skills for the future.”
The “chill-out zone”, dubbed Young and Sweet at The Water Tower, will be officially opened tomorrow amid wide praise for Ayesha’s efforts.
County councillor Alan Sharp, Haltwhistle Town Council chairman and a member of Haltwhistle Partnership, said: “We are hoping that youths will be able to work with Ayesha and develop skills and participate in events.
“She’s a very good tutor, she’s very enthusiastic and very committed, and we are 100% behind her. She’s got excellent ideas.
“What’s important is that we are now going to have a building which will be their own for the youngsters to use.
“At first it is planned to be open two days a week, but we hope to develop that further. If it proves a real success, we will have to look at putting further resources into it.”
Gill Cowell, Haltwhistle Partnership Project Officer, said: “Ayesha has done brilliantly on this and has shown she is a force to be reckoned with.
“She worked well with us last year on a youth and music festival and this year has worked far beyond the 12 hours a week she is employed for to get the capital funding required. This is very much her achievement.
“The funding for her job here runs out next March - but we very much hope to be able to keep her on.”