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The Centre celebrates 50th anniversary

Pride of place: the portrait of Pembroke Youth Centre leader Sammy Wilson at The Centre on Angle Street (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

The Centre, a youth haven that shaped generations of public figures, is to mark its 50th anniversary with an evening of history tomorrow night.

Harold Minors, former supervisor at the service and one of its early users, said it was the first place of its kind in Bermuda and gave young people “literally a place of their own”.

Cup Match legend Charlie Marshall, chairman of The Centre, has brought together key graduates, accompanied by music, dance and the Gombeys, to give “a history in time” at its Angle Street premises from 5.30pm.

Mr Marshall said the event would “bridge four generations of Centre alumni for a night of sharing”.

Special guests include former footballer and national coach Carlton “Pepe” Dill, Olympic medal-winning boxer Clarence Hill and Kenneth Bartram, chairman of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards Bermuda.

Mr Minors traced the origins of the organisation, at first called the Pembroke Youth Centre, to the social unrest of the late 1960s.

He said: “There was a lot of politics and brainstorming involved. The idea was to have a neutral centre, not part of a church or other organisation.”

Mr Minors added social tensions boiled over in April 1968 with the Floral Parade riots.

The Governor, Lord Martonmere, set up the Wooding Commission to look into the roots of the trouble, with racial conflict and limited opportunities for black Bermudians highlighted in the report.

Mr Minors said: “People on the Court Street youth side said they needed a place of their own. That got the ball rolling. They had three locations for youth centres picked out. The Centre was opened just to see what happened as it was not official. We stayed away from politics and religion.”

Mr Dill, whose professional football career was taking off in Houston, Texas, was identified as “a natural youth leader”.

Sammy Wilson, another sports giant, was also brought on board.

Not everyone welcomed the idea, with local residents wary at first and Mr Minors said he was forbidden from going.

He said: “When I came in here I thought, wow, this is me.

“They looked after us. It could have been some of the worst people on the block, but if you stepped out of line you found out about it.”

Games ranged from table tennis to pool and billiards, but children were also taught life skills from first aid to cooking, as well as photography and music.

Rules were strictly enforced and children who arrived in their school uniforms would be sent home to change.

Primary schoolchildren had to leave at 8pm and high-school pupils at 9pm.

Mr Minors said some youngsters found a way around the dress code by sneaking off to nearby Dellwood School to change rather than going home.

He added the original staff were volunteers, but “more structured programmes began kicking in and staff started getting trained up” by the 1980s.

Mr Minors added he travelled overseas to build his skills at other youth centres such as the Door in New York City.

Michael Swan, now a Centre committee member, said: “You learnt so much there — when I first came there was always music, card games, a library.

“You had to prove yourself at each sport as a rite of passage. It provided an atmosphere for you to become better.”

Mr Minors will talk about The Centre’s history, followed by a performance by the Dellwood Middle School dancers.

Mr Hill and Troy Darrell will speak about the 1970s, Mr Swan and Frankie McIntosh will describe the next decade, and Mr Bartram will cover the 1990s.

Michael Weeks, the Minister of Social Development and Sport and Walton Brown, the Minister of Home Affairs, are expected to attend the event.

Artists performing include the African Dance Troupe, the Blues Beat Band, the Ital Foundation and Live Wires, with the Gombeys the finale at 9.15pm.

For the programme and flyer, click on the PDF links under “Related Media”