Unity Youth Projects

07 October 2021

The Fort Lowestoft is a hub for young people to meet and form friendships over a shared interest in gaming, computer programming, role playing and comic books. The Fort is part of the Unity Youth Project which received an Active Communities grant of £31,919 in 2019, using money raised through Health Lottery East.

The new youth hub was originally designed as a space specifically for young people and people with additional support needs who wanted to meet up to play live action, board and video games. Since opening in 2019, The Fort has become much more than a space to socialise and has become an integral hub for partnerships with other local organisations in the community.

David Ben Hollingworth, Chairman at The Fort, said:

“There isn’t a lot to do in Lowestoft  [a coastal town in Suffolk], especially for young people and since COVID-19 even more places have shut down. We were only open for two months when we started getting contacted by the local college, different community groups and larger organisations to partner with us and use our venue. People were happy to have a space they could use with the computers and gaming technology that we’ve got, and it’s meant that people are able to access more opportunities locally.”

One of The Fort’s partnerships was with the local college who wanted to create an E-Sports course. Having The Fort in Lowestoft meant that the college could use the centre to facilitate part of the course. The college also partnered with the youth centre for students to be able to use their equipment prior to the COVID-19 lockdown.

Another partnership was forged between The Fort and the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability who used the facilities to teach basic computer skills and ran a course on making a CV for local people in Lowestoft. Without the computer facilities at The Fort and the support of the staff and volunteers, the community wouldn’t have been able to engage with these opportunities.

Giselle Czajka, Treasurer at The Fort, said:

“Our project has always been community first and I think people in the community see that and that’s why they want to work with us. The Fort was built with accessibility at the heart so that anyone with additional needs can access the space and it is welcoming for all. I think being community-led and focused is what has made the project so successful and meant we can attract so many people.”

The Fort was born from a neighbouring youth centre which offered activities for young people with additional needs. This focus was carried over, and having accessibility and inclusion as priorities has had wider benefits for the community.

Giselle explained:

“It’s been really great to see the impacts of having a centre that is open to all but with a focus on inclusion. People have formed friendships and connections with people they wouldn’t have ever met otherwise, and it means that everyone has a greater shared knowledge of people’s additional needs and there is becoming less stigma attached to being disabled.”

The project has also given local people the opportunity to learn new skills outside of traditional settings and mainstream education, as the Chairman David explained:.

“There’s a lot of skills I have because I played games at a young age. Games can teach you advanced things for instance, how an economy works. When you’re playing a game with multiple people you’ve got to learn to communicate well, to work as a team or to lead and organise a team. There are a lot of things you can learn through playing games and it’s a really great and accessible way to build new skills.”

The Fort has become an important hub in the community of Lowestoft and the members, volunteers and staff have grown into a community over the past two years. The members have been innovative and are committed to ensuring that The Fort can remain open as a community hub for everyone to attend.

One of the ways the project is becoming self-sustainable is through developing a Twitch channel. Project workers and participants can stream on the Twitch channel and have been able to raise money through subscriptions to their channel, one off donations and Amazon Prime subs. The channel also means they can connect with more people in the local area and beyond to grow their community and deepen their connections.

The projects Twitch channel can be found here: https://www.twitch.tv/thefortlowestoft

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