After six years, nearly £5 million in investment and a lot of hard work, the finishing touches are being put to The Mix youth centre in Stowmarket.
The innovative project, part of the national MyPlace initiative, opens on April 1 offering a variety of creative and practical workshops and sessions for young people as well as a diverse range of support services.
The exciting project looks to become financially self-sufficient within five years with young people themselves running and managing money-making enterprises from the centre.
The Ipswich Road centre includes a café, a state-of-the-art media studio, a wet art room, a variety of meeting and training rooms, a recording studio and a performance theatre – all of which will one day be run by young people.
A housing unit next to The Mix will be run by YMCA Suffolk offering a place to stay for those with short-term housing problems.
This unique set-up will allow those in the housing project take advantage of the workshops at the centre and join in with activities.
Executive manager Leah Kurta said the aim of the The Mix was to combat youth unemployment and the skills gap between school and the world of work.
She said: “You can come here with no experience of the creative industry and on a Friday session get a taste of it, come back on a Wednesday and learn some more and on Monday begin to put it into practice.
“The whole vision for The Mix is creative and wellbeing services all in one place.
“We will have The Matthew Project Drug and Alcohol Support, sexual health services and other youth support services alongside all the other services we provide here.
“Some young people don’t want to use some of the support they can get because they are nervous about what people will think.
“But you could be coming to The Mix for anything – careers advice, money advice, creative sessions – there are so many different things we can help young people with.
“When we are fully up and running that will be the vision for the space, to have a hub where they have it all in one place.”
Work on the £4.7 million building began in 2011 with Suffolk County Council originally aiming to open the centre in March last year.
But construction was dealt a blow when it was discovered the Victorian building at the front of the site had serious structural defects and could not be repaired in an economically viable way.
And as the building fell within a conservation area, government approval had to be sought to demolish it.
But in January last year the site was finally given the green light by Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and the dilapidated Victorian facade was ripped down.
The initial concept for the building was put together by a group of local teenagers who worked closely with designers and architects with the theme of Alice in Wonderland.
Leah said: “When you come in the front you discover more and more as you go through the building.
“When we were thinking of enterprise areas we wanted to keep with that theme.
“We’ve got a meeting room upstairs called The Looking Glass, our music studio which we will rent out is called Vorpal Studios, and we have our café, Cabbages and Kings, where young people can meet and socialise as well as gain experience and training in catering.
“We also have a quarterly magazine, Monday, that we create in-house, completely written and designed by young people.”
She said the aim was to become self-sufficient through enterprises run by young people with The Mix acting as an agency.
“We have a five-year commitment from Suffolk County Council which covers some of our revenue.
“But we plan to rent our meeting rooms and spaces as well as running activities, products and enterprises.
“We have come up with various income sources – it is not about just doing one thing as we cannot rely on public funding any more.
“If we are successful in five years, all the spaces in the building will be run and managed by young people.”