Alan leaves Sidmouth Youth Centre after 40 years
- Credit: Archant
It was 1976, the year Concorde took off for its first commercial flight, a summer drought hit the UK, punk rock was born – and Alan Fowler walked into Sidmouth Youth Centre.
He dropped in for a drink and now, four decades on, he is finally leaving his role guiding, supporting and listening to the town’s youngsters.
This Wednesday (July 26) will be his last session.
“I slipped in for a coffee and Bob Ferrier, who was running the centre, said he wanted a hand,” said Sedemuda Close resident Alan. “I never left. I started doing Wednesdays, then came in for the Monday sessions. Two years later we started a disco on Friday nights, Club 1978 – it was all their idea.
“Both of my kids, Kelly and Tasha, came here in their time. I asked them recently if that was weird for them. They said it was perhaps even better – I was able to speak on their level.
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“The young people haven’t changed. They have different needs, that’s all. Back then they were more physical but kids are more interested in electronic devices now. We used to play games like British bulldogs you can’t get away with now. You’ve got to be so careful.
“I’ve seen quite a few people come and go, workers as well as young people. When parents drop their kids off they sometimes say, ‘you’re still here’ – you get used to it after a while.”
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Originally from Newbury in Berkshire, Alan followed his parents to Ottery St Mary in 1974 and later moved to Sidbury.
“I went to youth clubs a few times when I was younger but I wasn’t allowed because it was down in town,” said the area team leader for East Devon District Council’s StreetScene.
“My mum didn’t know. It still happens today, but if you can guide the kids, you can help them make better decisions. It’s the most important part of the job. If you can get them in as juniors then by the time they’re seniors, they will talk to you about anything.”
The Manstone Lane venue was popular since it opened in 1973 but it came under threat when Devon County Council cut its funding in 2014. Alan worked with charity Young Devon to revive the provision, and Sidmouth Town Council stepped in with funding. The centre is now back to running three nights a week.
Alan, 61, said a highlight of his time at the centre was when an award was created in his name to celebrate contributions to youth work, adding: “It was quite an honour.
“I’ve been coming here three nights a week for best part of the last 41 years. My wife Janet’s happy I’ll be home more but it’s going to be strange for me, knowing I’m not coming back. You get older and it’s time to wind down a bit.
“I’m still working in Budleigh Salterton one night a week. I’m keeping my hand in.”
Youth work coordinator Ben Feasey said Alan has played an ‘instrumental’ role over the last 40 years and was key to the centre reopening.
Ben added: “He helped run young people consultations and as a familiar face was a key reason that people started coming back to the centre.
“He has supported me since my days in the youth service and in Young Devon, along with many other workers who now work across the county. He has youth worked two and in some cases three generations of Sidmouth youth.
“He has used his local knowledge and his connections with others in the community to make young people and youth work a key part of the community.
“We will miss Alan and his retirement from youth work will be noticed by many.
“I would like to thank Alan for his dedication and passion to the young people of Sidmouth and youth work.”