A youth club that opened in the sixties has stood the test of time as it marks 60 years of serving the local community.
Eyres Monsell Club for Young People originally opened as part of the Boys Club on the estate that is recognised as an area of deprivation in Leicester.
Today, despite having faced numerous challenges, the club remains a cornerstone of the local community with a rich local history that has been passed down through generations.
At 74, Martin Townsend is one of club’s oldest members who, although not an active member of the club today, still visits regularly.
“I was 13 when the building was first being built in Eyres Monsell 1961 and I still remember it vividly.
“Five or six young lads would go around with a tin asking people to buy a brick to pay for the build,” he said.
From its inception, the club was by the community, for the community.
Initially, the club was open exclusively to boys and would be held at the local junior school before the building was completed.
“There was definitely a need for it in the area,” Martin said. “It was a place where anything you wanted to do, you could.”
To this day, the 74-year-old still sees some of the friends he made at the club.
Martin’s fondest memories of growing up on the Eyres Monsell estate were spent at the club with his best friend Tim West.
His “best and funniest” memory of the club is building two canoes from scratch – although, they did not last long.
“We could put forward ideas for whatever we wanted to do and we decided to make these canoes.
“Me and my friend Jim made the canoes and we walked them all the way to the canals where one of them promptly sunk.
“We had to dive in to get it out and I don’t think we ever went to the canal again,” Martin said.
The Boys Club also hosted annual Summer holidays to Great Yarmouth and gave Martin and his friends the opportunity to complete the Duke of Edinburgh Award.
“It was incredibly popular,” he said. “It was just a great place to be.”
Today the club is open to people of all ages and for the last 18 years has been run by centre manager Louise Wylie alongside a team of staff and volunteers.
Louise joined after the club stopped receiving local council funding and had no full-time staff but has since helped to transform it with persistent bidding for grant from funding pot and facilitating a wider use of the centre.
“The club is a big part of the area – it has been passed down through generations.
“I’m now working with the kids of people I worked with when I started 18 years ago,” she said.
As well holding numerous sessions for young people, including the volunteering academy the centre is open to older generations for aerobics and a bowls club. It is also home to Thelma’s Kitchen – a local favourite.
Despite receiving high praise from Martin, Louise said “none of it would be possible without the team of staff and dedication of volunteers”.
“Most of the paid staff started here as volunteers,” she said.
Deputy centre manager, Paul Carlton who is 34 started attending the club at the age of 14 before becoming a junior volunteer.
“It was so rewarding, especially during a time when there was nothing to do on the estate.”
When he started at the club, Paul said consisted mainly of a main hall with a few footballs, no fence and shutters on the windows.
“Bit by bit it has become more appealing to the community again and we get different generations coming in all the time,” he said.
Being the only remaining provision on the estate, the club has been vital during the pandemic. During the lockdown, the club had to make the difficult decision to temporarily stop its youth club sessions but opened a food bank to support local people.
Earlier this year the club was one of 241 winners across the country of the prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.
Louise hopes the team will be able to celebrate 60 years of the club with the community in a big event later this year.
“We want to create a time capsule of all the memories of the club since the sixties and hopefully we’ll still be here to mark the club’s 70th birthday,” she said.