History of Waterside Centre
Waterside Centre sits on the site of an old Baptist church complete with graveyard, which had to be de-sanctified and relocated for the investment in a riverside town centre location for young people.
The Waterside has been a focal point for Newbury since its build and has enjoyed a presence in the lives of many young people, including as a destination for date nights. Today, many passers-by tell us how they met their partner at the Waterside or enjoyed the outdoor sports and trips; camping, climbing and canoeing. The centre was always well-known for its outdoor sports, the music nights, battle of the bands and exchanges with Newbury twin towns. Above all, the Waterside was a place for young people.
The 1960s were the start of an investment in youth services which seemed to last for a political term. Since then, the investment in youth services has been subject to political favour, with limited statutory investment. With the reorganisation of local authorities in the late 1990s, Waterside Centre was passed into the hands of West Berkshire Council. Having suffered from lack of maintenance and investment, the youth workers in the building were managing a tired and unfit building, set against a culture of key performance management and outcome measures. The local authority also moved from prevention into intervention. This is where the conflict with local authorities and central government began: youth work is about an agreement and voluntary commitment by young people to engage in positive activities and personal development. With a need for outcome measurement and the need to provide interventions, youth services became caught in a difficult place.
With no long-term vision to support young people before serious issues arose, youth services were given a backseat to social work (which establishes a relationship after something has happened and has the power to intervene). Without knowledge and understanding by decisionmakers, the future of Waterside was left to be traded as an austerity casualty, seen more as a capital asset rather than a place for young people and the community.
For just over 10 years, Berkshire Youth campaigned for the Waterside to become an asset for young people and the community once again. Finally after many false starts, empty promises and lots of campaigning, it was agreed that West Berkshire Council could sell 50% of the freehold and, thanks to the bravery of Berkshire Youth Trust and funders, the refurbishment of the Waterside could finally begin. What was to be a £750k refurbishment ended as a £1.4 million project, including the purchase price, essential repairs and replacement of all the roof, plumbing, electricals etc. We were able to add value with a new viewing gallery and outside independent office space, making the centre fit for purpose. Thanks to so many who got behind the project pledging personal money and funds to turn this vision into reality.
With great youth leaders and community volunteers expanding back to the 1960s we hope that, after 10 years in the cold, the Waterside can once again become the place to go for young people. Our vision was always that young people would once again be valued by their community. The investment in the refurbishment is more than just a place to go; we hope the centre will become a statement of intent, that Berkshire Youth and our partners will build an offer to young people that is up-to-date, relevant and makes them feel part of the community. Children deserve to be raised by a village: a village that is safe, inclusive, vibrant and caring. Waterside Centre, with its offer to the young people, plus our partners’ investment in the community, will start to build this community offer.