New focus for Bishop's Stortford Young People's Centre which has been educating children since 1840
A refurbishment project is planned for a Bishop's Stortford building which has been a focal point for the town's children for 180 years.
Herts County Council is investing in its young people's centre at Northgate End, first used as a school for boys in 1840.
Once upgraded, the building will be home to a brand new independent living skills training kitchen, a bespoke gym for youngsters to focus on boosting physical health and emotional wellbeing, and a music studio to develop creative skills.
A wide range of YCH Services for Young People projects will be delivered directly from the centre, including for those with learning disabilities, young parents and those who identify as LGBT+.
The centre will also be home to the Bishop's Stortford Youth Forum and a space where users can find a range of advice and guidance services, including for employment and training, at a new Access Point.
Cllr Teresa Heritage, HCC deputy leader and its cabinet member for children, young people and families, said: "It is a worrying time for young people now, more so than ever, with the effects of Covid-19 and the uncertainty on their education, future employment and prospects in general and we are committed to supporting them as much as possible."
A county council survey in 2020 showed that young people in Bishop's Stortford need a safe space to meet where they can access support services and opportunities to improve their mental health, boost confidence, improve opportunities and provide positive alternatives to the risk of engagement in anti-social behaviour and associated dangers.
The council hopes the upgraded Northgate centre will provide that vital link between young people and services and meet the needs of the community for years to come.
According to chronicler Paul Ailey's www.stortfordhistory.co.uk website, the building was constructed on a plot of land called Lime Kiln Meadow after a meeting at the former George Inn (now Prezzo) at North Street to discuss a new school.
It was financed by the British Society and the then Congregational Church, in Water Lane, and also by public subscription, including £20 from Prime Minister Lord Melbourne.
The boys' section of the so-called British school opened in January 1840, followed by the girls' half in March.
Each had its own head and was empowered to admit "children of any persons of the labouring classes on terms provided, while children of tradesmen paid 6d (2.5p) a week and cost of stationery".
Mr Skinner and Miss Unwin began their task with just 18 Bibles and a map of the world, but by 1846 the school's academic progress was praised by an inspector.
In 1902, when education became the responsibility of local authorities, the word 'British' was deleted from the school's title and it was renamed Northgate.
By 1909, 345 children were being taught in a space suitable for 245, with staff responsible for classes of 74 youngsters.
The First World War put improvements on hold, but in 1924 the county council updated the building and bought the field behind for games and gardening.
During the Second World War, the school's roll included evacuee children and the Mission Hall in Barrells Down Road was used as an additional classroom.
In 1947, the school became a JMI (Junior Mixed Infants) school for five- to 11-year-olds and older children were transferred to the town's first secondary modern school in wartime huts built by American servicemen as a rest centre on land that is now the Causeway car park.
In 1966, the building of a replacement Northgate School began in Cricketfield Lane. It was completed two years later and modernised in 1999.