Holt Youth Project founder nominated for Stars of Norfolk award

Volunteers at Holt Youth Project celebrate their Queen's Award for Voluntary Service. Left to right,

Volunteers at Holt Youth Project celebrate their Queen's Award for Voluntary Service. Left to right, Maggie Sibson, Isabel Scoular, Liz Britton, Patsy Seymour, Julie Alford, Dick Copas, Fiona Jolliffe, Lee Rix and Joseph Shade.PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

A dedicated youth worker who started looking after teenagers in her house has been nominated for a Stars of Norfolk Award.

Julie Alford, 57, from Coronation Road, Holt, is project manager of the Holt Youth Project, which now supports about 200 young people from five to 25 at a permanent base on Old Station Way, Holt.

The mother-of-four, who grew up in the town before moving away aged 18, has been nominated for the Unsung Hero of the Year award.

It will be one of 17 accolades given out to deserving people from across the country at St Andrew's Hall, Norwich, on October 18.

Since leaving work at a former Holt shoe factory, Mrs Alford has always been involved with the community.

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While she lived away from Norfolk in the Highlands of Scotland and Woking, Surrey, she ran a nursery and a riding school and worked in a care home.

But when she returned to Holt aged 30, she and her husband David, started a youth club in their house which was attended by 45 teenagers.

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Mrs Alford said: 'I grew up in the town and I went to a youth club and a good playing field near my house. I had a childhood where I was interacting with people. It was important for me as I grew up for my independence. When I came back to Holt I realised there was no youth club or other facilities like that for the town.'

She used to run film nights, put on barbecues and walking trips.

'I remember when I thought we couldn't do this in our house any more. We were showing a film, the living room was full and the children were sitting on the stairs. It was very obvious there was a huge need for a youth centre. All I ever thought we would get was a shed in a field so the youngsters had their own identity and a place they could call their own,' Mrs Alford added.

The project became a reality after Dick Copas, chairman of the trustees for the project, and other individuals and businesses from the community rallied round. An empty plot of land on Old Station Way was bought for £30,000 in 2001 and the centre opened in 2004. The project received £388,700 from the Big Lottery Young People's Fund in January 2010, which will last until December 2014. It has paid for five years of staff salaries.

It is supported by 25 adult volunteers, seven paid staff, a board of trustees and one of its six patrons is former Norwich City manager Nigel Worthington. The project runs social hubs every Tuesday and Thursday evening for 11 to 19-year-olds in the Holt area, a gym, two young carers' groups for about 40 people and parent and toddler sessions. It also runs the Achieving, Confidence and Training (ACT) programme which helps people across north Norfolk aged between 15 and 25 either at the Old Station Way base or at schools.

The programme teaches numeracy, IT and practical life skills and can act as a 'stepping stone' for youngsters who struggle in high school or want to go back to college or work through training sessions and placements.

Mrs Alford said: 'I feel very privileged. It is not a job to me but a vocation. It is rewarding to see young people reach their aspirations and move on.'

She said the project has helped people who have emotional problems turn their lives around and she was passionate about seeing young people's confidence and enthusiasm increase. Mrs Alford praised the team of volunteers and staff and added: 'It is lovely to be nominated but without everyone else helping we would still be in my house.'

For more information ring Mrs Alford on 01263 712812, email juliealfordholtyouth@googlemail.com or visit www.holtyouthproject.org.uk

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