It is a typical teenage complaint: there’s nothing to do.
Younger children can occupy themselves with toys and games.
Exempt Events held their first under 18 club party at the CLC Bromfords School, Billericay
Adults wanting to get out of the house and spend time with friends might choose to entertain themselves down at the local pub or go for a meal.
But for teenagers, neither activity is appealing or available.
Wanting to get out of the house, teenagers can end up congregating wherever there is space – in parks and outside shops, hanging around in groups and presenting a menacing impression to any onlookers.
But for teenagers in Wickford there is a new place to go.
Exempt Events is a new initiative aimed at youngsters who want to hang out with their friends away from home and off the streets.
The underage club night provides all the elements of any adult night out – cool venue, loud music, and plenty of dancing – but, crucially, cuts out elements like alcohol to make it suited to those who haven’t reached their 18th birthday yet.
School pupils had their first taste of the new night on Friday when the Collaborative Learning Centre (CLC) in Grange Avenue hosted the inaugural bash.
Katie Simpson, one of Exempt Events’ founders, explained where the idea came from.
She said: “I work at the CLC as part of Wickford Extended Services, and run the youth club we have here.
“On a Wednesday night, we get loads of kids coming along. We have 150 people on the books, and more signed up to a waiting list.
“It’s been so popular, it has showed us that if you have the right place and the right activities there is a real demand from teenagers. So we wanted to do something more that would give them a chance to go out and have fun.”
Together with local children’s entertainer Ziggy Zoo, they founded the company, based around the idea of including youngsters who would traditionally be left out.
“We were playing around with the idea that children wouldn’t usually have the chance to do something like this, and thinking about how they are not included in things. That’s where the name Exempt Events comes from, because usually they are exempt, but here, everything is aimed at them.”
The opening night
Dozens of youngsters turned up to the opening night, to be greeted by fire breathers and pounding club hits.
Tickets for the night, which ran from 7 until 10pm, cost £8, including free soft drinks all night.
Katie, 36, said: “One of the things we picked up when we started doing this was that parents liked the idea of it being all-inclusive, so the kids aren’t worrying about losing money or running out at the end of the night.
Here, they know they can come along and they’ll always be able to have a drink and have fun.”
Children at Friday’s event were from years eight and nine, coming from both The Bromfords School and Beauchamps High School in Wickford, allowing them to mix in a social setting.
Katie said: “The full range we want to cater for is 11 to 16, but within that is a big range in terms of maturity, so we’re splitting that up into two groups.”
She added: “When I was growing up in Chingford there was a disco for teenagers once a month, and I always looked forward to it.
“Kids want something fun and relevant to them, and I really think this is what they’re after – it lets them be with their friends, away from their parents, but it’s also a safe setting with experienced staff.”
Ziggy Zoo, 23, a former Beauchamps pupil, was getting stuck in on the night, hitting the DJ booth and playing the hits..
He said: “I’ve been performing for five years, doing things like children’s parties, then working on stage in Greece and Spain. But I really missed the hands-on approach and wanted to be in Wickford, and thought this would be a great chance to do something in the community.
“There’s not really much going on in Wickford for kids in this age group.
“This gives them the chance to get together and have some fun in a safe environment – and feel a bit more mature for the evening.”
He added: “I wish there had been something like this when I was growing up.”
Youngsters attending the opening night thought the club was a great idea.
Josh Scanlan, 13, a Beauchamps pupil from Runwell, said: “I come to the youth club here every week and heard about the club night through that.
“I thought it sounded like a really good idea.
“I’m glad I’ve come along, it’s really busy and everyone is having a good time.
“It’s so much better than sitting at home in front of the TV.”
Hannah Shepherd, a Beauchamps student from the Wick estate, agreed.
“It’s something a bit different,” she said. “When I heard about it, I was really excited.
“Being able to hang out with your friends somewhere like this is really great.
“There’s a really good atmosphere.”
The team is hoping to stage more under 18s club nights in the future, including themed events like beach parties as the weather warms up.
For more information, visit Exempt Events
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