PARISH YOUTH CENTRE

The Youth Centre proved, throughout its 30-year existence, to be a vibrant and active enterprise. Unfortunately, due to a major structural defect which developed in the roof in 2002, the building was closed and later demolished as the cost of rebuilding proved to be prohibitive. What follows here is an account of the history of the Youth Centre as printed in 2000, during the Parish Centenary celebrations.
 


In 1972 permission was given for the building of a Parish Youth Centre. The centre was to be known as the ‘Birkenhead Youth Centre’ and would cater for all the catholic youth of Birkenhead. The Centre was blessed by Bishop Graser and officially opened by the Mayor of Birkenhead, our own parishioner Miss Eileen Keegan on 15th June 1974.
 
WORKING WITH YOUNG PEOPLE
by Fr. Tony Leonard, Director

The church has always been the vanguard of work with young people. In the last century Fr. John Bosco became famous for his work with boys and girls of Northern Italy and the establishment of the order of Salesians. After all Jesus said ''Let the little children come to me for to such as these belong the Kingdom of God.''
 
St. Joseph’s Parish in Birkenhead has for many years seen this work as important. Even with the enlightenment of the Second Vatican Council, young people still struggled to find a voice in the Church. Catholic Youth Work, although a strong compromise, never has provided that integral place in the life of the Church. As with Don Bosco, the service provided for young people has been almost ''ex-curricula''. This does not devalue the work, but surely allows us to set a challenge for the Church moving into the next millennium.
 
St. Joseph’s Catholic Youth Centre was opened in the early 70’s for the young people of Birkenhead. There was already a strong tradition in Birkenhead through such places as the Birkenhead Boy’s Club and the Shaftesbury Boy’s Club. The St. Vincent de Paul Society had long been running the annual SVP camps to Abergele and then to the current site near Caenarvon, North Wales. However the perceived need for ‘Catholic’ young people and their friends was met by the building of the Centre with the help of the Wirral Borough Council. Over the years the Centre has welcomed countless young people through its doors. It has served as a haven from the ‘adult’ world beyond. It has helped young people to develop physically, mentally socially and, of course spiritually. Often is the case that Centres of this nature become distinct from the parish. This does not reduce the ‘Spiritual effectiveness’ of the venture, as the example given by many good adults, both professionals and volunteers, enables good values to be shared and lived.
 
The nature of Youth Work , especially in the eyes of statutory authorities, has changed a number of times. In 1984 a major report called the Thompson Report was published. This clearly sought to re-establish the place of the ‘spiritual’ within youth work. It has been fashionable to ignore this aspect of journeying with young people of all ages. In recent times Youth Centres have been closed, restricted in use and single-sex clubs have been discouraged. Many of the national organisations have restructured or joined forces. Some have changed their approach and political correctness has made its mark! Many of the traditional traits have disappeared. In some cases this may be good thing. All this has left a sense of confusion or frustration with those who have spent years in the service of young people.
 
The way youth work has developed at St. Joseph’s in recent times saw the establishment of two separate ventures - on the one hand the Youth Centre supported by the Wirral Youth Service; and on the other hand the parish club run for juniors by volunteers. In many local authorities budgets have been cut and in many cases the youth budget has been the one to suffer most. Re-organisations have taken place which have reduced the services available to young people and once again, there is a great opportunity for Church youth work and other voluntary organisations to ‘fill the gap’.
 
In June 1997 it was agreed that the Diocesan Youth service would take over the St. Joseph’s Youth Centre. The centre would be used for a number of purposes. First as the headquarters of the Youth Service, housing the Director and his staff. Second it would serve as a retreat centre for school and parish groups. (It had been used many years ago for such purposes). Finally it would continue to house the St. Joseph’s Parish Youth Groups on a Friday evening. The centre has been refurbished, redecorated, rewired and modernised, making it a ‘home from home’ place for young people. There is no doubt since it opened its doors in the autumn of ‘97 it has continued to grow in stature and presence. Once again, it is beginning to gain a reputation as being the premier experience for young people in the life of the Church.
 
On National Youth Sunday (23rd November 1997) many parishioners came to see what had been achieved in the Centre and many of those who had not passed through in years, expressed their affection for what the centre had done for them and their friends all those years ago. There is much potential and growth in the Centre yet - and as we look forward to the millennium and the parish’s celebrations - we give thanks for the conviction and encouragement of many priests who have been resident in the parish during those years for work with young people. May the Centre over the next generation, be for young people, a place of ‘rest’ on life’s journey, where they may reflect on the love and compassion of a community who cares, and have cared over many, many years.
 
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