The Drop Inn Youth Centre on Derwent Street in Belper closed its doors for the last time in September with Freefall Festival, which was attended by many of the young people who had been members of the Centre during the 20 years of operating.
The decision to close was made for a number of reasons including founder Andrea Fox stepping down from the helm due to family priorities. Andrea said “ it was the hardest decision of my life. The Drop Inn, which I started 20 years ago, was a life choice not a career choice. I am now in a position where I care for my 92 year old Dad which means I do not have the same time to commit, or the energy levels. While funding gets more difficult to find, I do not have the time to put into this – the costs have been very small in comparison to other organisations, £10k rent, £5k utilities and insurances and another £12k salary, even so it is still time consuming to find core funding rather than capital funding. Also with the police moving their headquarters to Chesterfield and the community policing reduced, with their priorities being diverted to other areas, we had lost the day to day support which we had been lucky enough to get for 18 of the 20 years operating. I started to question my own safety and the safety of the other volunteers. Volunteer workers got harder to replace, as my excellent volunteers’ personal commitments changed it was becoming more difficult to replace them.”
It is a massive loss for the young people of the area especially as it comes at a time where all youth services are being cut again leaving very little in the way of youth provision; it gets forgotten that young people are the future and need good foundations.
Over the 20 years of operation, the Drop Inn has worked with well over 3000 young people through diversionary activities, training and support, some have attended regularly for many years, some just for specific sessions or projects and some to get work experience. Many young people have stated that it changed their lives, and that without the Drop Inn they would have been in prison or worse.
Andrea and the team at the Drop Inn have tackled all issues as raised by the young people or by the community, including; knife crime, suicide, murder, bullying, substance misuse, alcohol misuse, sexual health and teen pregnancy, sexual exploitation, drink driving and joy riding, antisocial behaviour, vandalism, self harm, disabilities, homelessness, education, and interview skills. Each issue was dealt with through 1 to 1 support or group activities, led by young people themselves as much as possible. Many of the activities used art, music or film as a medium.
Andrea said “Art and music have always been the best therapies around, a good release of emotion and a means to express yourself – we have used these heavily with fantastic results. In education settings there is less and less of this every year. We have always provided the facility to do this, either giant art pieces or loud music, to small intricate artwork and soft music. Even the floor of the warehouse has people painted on it”.
There are so many highs to remember over the 20 years, successful projects for individuals and groups, as well as many lows.
Laura remembers being on the Memorial Gardens in Belper 20 years ago when Andrea approached her and a group of friends, she said “ this woman came up and spoke to us like we had never been spoken to before, she asked what we wanted and actually listened. We just wanted somewhere we could meet up off the streets and call our own place, Andrea made this happen. The Drop Inn was born. At 14 I dropped out of school and Andrea was there to support me, I went on to do training and qualifications through the Drop Inn and at 18 I became a volunteer for the Centre. By the time we did alternative education programmes for young people not in main stream education or who were at risk of being excluded from school I was a qualified trainer so had a paid job which I loved too. It is such a shame that the Centre is closing, you take it for granted that it will always be there – it’s heartbreaking to know it has come to an end, I owe the Drop Inn so much”.
One of the two most memorable and successful projects was the 3 year intergenerational project where young people wearing hoodies linked with elderly people in the community, through coffee mornings and lunch clubs. They had fun nights in the centre or in local supportive pubs, outings and activities. This culminated in the making of a film – “Role Reversal” – where people in their 70s and 80s were filmed, dressed in hoodies, “giving it all the ‘brap-brap’ moves”. Friendships were forged between the generations with help being offered to the elderly, particularly over winter months with shopping and path clearing. A memory for Belper to treasure.
The other most memorable project was the ‘Safe Raves’, the brainchild of Tom Stone, a Friday night project offering DJs, glow sticks and UV paint, attracting over 100 young people each night, tackling the problem of underage drinking and antisocial behaviour on a Friday night within the Town. These ran for a number of years and were so successful that the Drop Inn was asked to roll them out into other communities. The success of the Safe Raves led to numerous awards including a National Volunteer Award, Excellence in the Community Award and a Police Commendation.
Over the years there have been so many fun projects, such as wheelchair basketball and rugby with Portland College as part of the inclusion awareness, monochrome graffiti art – working with deaf young people, clearing of waterways – paddling with a purpose, sensory challenges, giant art pieces – which then wouldn’t fit through the door, picnics in the fields, cooking on a very tight budget – including Christmas dinner using a microwave and a kettle.
Always tight on funding the Drop Inn became top class with recycling and reusing, always imaginative in ways to do things with next to nothing – skills which have been passed on to so many young people.
The Drop Inn has won many awards either individually or as a Centre. Those awards include: Regional Drugs Worker of the Year, Daily Mail Inspirational Woman of the Year runner up, two Derbyshire Excellence in the Community Awards, two Civic Impact Awards, Belper News New Years Honours, Regional Changing Lives, National Inspiration Award, National Inclusion Award, and an MBE.
The Drop Inn has always had a family and supportive atmosphere – being youth led right through. Young people have made decisions from policy and rule setting, project and activity ideas, to equipment and decorating – they have been the heart of everything. You only have to see the UV graffiti wall in the converted warehouse to understand the ownership of the Centre has always been with the young people attending.
Andrea said “the Drop Inn has changed so much over the years – with each new generation of young people making their own mark and taking ownership. Over the years with changing generations we have had a fully equipped gym, a sound and music studio, a film room, a full UV graffiti wall, games room and a full half pipe for skaters. The half pipe was designed and built by young people to fit exactly into the warehouse but when upturned it became housing for the sound system speakers. They did all the risk assessments and planned how to run sessions. Sadly we were never allowed to use it as we couldn’t get insurance for it. So it was dismantled and used to build the new bar and DJ booth – not bad for the life span of a piece of wood. In the warehouse we have even had a car which the young people at the time made into a stage for a performance around joy riding – I believe this is still on the internet.”
“People in the community of Belper have been fantastic with their support. On an occasion many years ago when we were facing bankruptcy the community rallied round with support, even to an elderly gentleman popping in and handing us a fiver to help! We ended up raising more than we needed to fulfil our commitments so it helped to secure the future a little longer . We have always lived ‘hand to mouth’ never knowing where the next month’s rent would come from, hence the continual fundraising and funding applications. The Drop Inn always opened its doors to young people for free so we could be sure everyone had the chance to attend. Two days after a fire, a resident from a local elderly people’s complex came into the Centre and handed over £500 which they had raised within their own little community in a very short time.”
The Drop Inn was ideally set to be taken over by another youth group on 1st October, with a month’s transition period for them to open for October half term. Sadly this fell through on 30th September, leaving the Drop Inn with equipment, materials, and furniture to dispose of by the end of the year as there is not enough time to find another group to take over. A couple of groups have already benefitted from some equipment including Enthusiasm in Derby, Massive in Duffield and some care homes for young people and children.
Andrea said “people in the community have been so generous over the years with donations that we have loads of good quality stuff that needs a new home, it has served us well and hopefully it can continue to serve other young people. The saddest thing for me is that we have to paint over all the wonderful artwork on the walls and floor so the building can be advertised under commercial premises, there are so many memories with each wall, the individuals who made their mark in the Centre, and it all has to go. It’s not like handing your notice in with any job and walking away, this is 20 years of life, commitments, highs and lows, sweating blood and tears to make things work, not forgetting people we worked with who have become friends. I am really hoping we can find a new home for Godfrey – our 20’ft skeleton. He was built by young people as a project six years ago and has come out of his hidey hole every Halloween, I would hate him to end his days in a skip!”
If anyone can offer Godfrey a home, or is interested in any equipment, materials, or furniture, please contact Andrea on 07960 576257
When asked “what’s next?”, Andrea said, “Laura and myself are going to write a book – the story of the Drop Inn to hopefully inspire others and also log many of the funny, weird, happy and sad stories through the generations – of which there are many. I am also intending to stay in touch with community groups and volunteer my time as other commitments allow”.
“All the Team from the Drop Inn would like to pass on their thanks to all the individuals and groups who have supported them over the last 20 years – we couldn’t have done it without you!”
Freefall: Departure – the closing of The Drop Inn