Big thank you from

The Lisburn club that offers a safe, alcohol free venue for teenagers


AT first glance it looks like a scene you would see in nightclubs up and down the country. With dance music blaring and glow sticks waving, hundreds of teenagers dance Saturday night away.

But there's one big difference. This venue is organised by a team from Lisburn Cathedral in the Church Hall and parents sending their kids off to this disco needn't be worried about them coming home drunk or being at risk from drugs. Instead, their teens will have enjoyed a great night out with friends in a completely alcohol-free environment where members of the Community Police team pop in for a cup of tea and a chat with those enjoying a night out.

Known as Fusion, the youth initiative run by the Church has evolved throughout the years, beginning as a venue for live bands seven years ago and in recent times changing into a dance club.

With between 200 and 300 young people aged from 12 to 17 from all over Lisburn and as far away as Newry and Belfast attending each week, those driving past the venue may wonder about what exactly is going on, or if they see a police car nearby they may think there is trouble brewing. However they can relax, because those who organise Fusion are reassuring local parents that the night is all about "good, wholesome fun".

Keith Neill, one of those behind the initiative, explained, "Fusion runs from September until the last week in June, so it is basically the same as the school year with the programme taking a break at Christmas and Easter.

"We have events which run throughout the week, but on a Saturday night we get big crowds with young people from Year 8 onwards attending."

Those behind the initiative, Keith, Zara Wortley, David Alanis and James Graham, along with some 80 volunteers, have dedicated their time to arranging a wide variety of events for local teens throughout the week.

However, a number of myths and rumours have led to a fear that alcohol is available or that trouble occurs at the disco if police cars are on the premises.

Keith said: "It is a club. The young people can come in and find their own space. Some will dance the night away, others will play pool, some will sit in the cafe and watch TV on the screens or they can play on the computers or play computer games. Nothing is forced.

One of the major things is that it is a non-alcoholic venue. We have kids of all denominations coming along, it is a complete community thing.

"We do face issues that the young people are facing on the streets, but we aim to make this a safe venue."

Zara added: "We have had boys tell us, 'this provides an alternative for us; we don't have to go and get drunk with friends'. The community police will call up and have a coffee with us during the night and we are just trying to create a safe place."

Each of the teens attending Fusion on a Saturday night is required to sign in, and should they decide to leave at any point readmittance is not permitted if they have gone somewhere to get alcohol. Random breathalysing is also carried out to ensure that none of the teens have been drinking. A security team is on hand should any problems arise.

Keith added: "We are trying to create a place which all teenage people can come to. Obviously with between 250-300 teenagers attending it has its challenges. It is run like a proper night club; it is well policed. We have a security team outside, all on walkie talkies, so we have communication throughout the night. Any young person coming along has to register giving their name and contact number, a contact number for their parents. They have to sign in and sign out."

The team at Fusion have planned an Open Night next Wednesday, September 16, where parents to go along and find out more about what is on offer at the Church and meet members of the staff and team.

Keith said: "We are trying to take away the myths there are problems here. Obviously we do face issues, but they are issues that schools face every day.

"We are not here to judge, we are here to support."

As well as the dance night Fusion has events throughout the week. One of the latest programmes is Romance Academy.

It began as a BBC2 documentary entitled, 'No Sex Please, We're Teenagers', following 12 at risk teens in London. The team behind the show found such a change in the teenagers' attitudes that it continued for longer than originally planned and the team at Lisburn Cathedral are keen to follow its example.

Keith explained: "The show started after talking about how in the US teens will wear Purity Rings and they asked, 'Why not in Britain? What can we actually do?'

"Due to the success of that first group in seeing reductions in casual sex and more responsible decision-making, a Romance Academy course has now been developed." It is a 12-week weekly support group for six boys and six girls aged 14-17, where two trained youth workers take the young people through a holistic sex and relationships education course.

"Love For Life work with us on it, delivering talks on sexual health problems," Keith said, "We also have nurses come in talking about reproduction. It is really about informing them of the facts rather than listening to what their friends are saying."

Among other events Fusion offers are Monday night football and acoustic nights in the cafe on a Tuesday where young people come to perform for an Open Mike Night.

Zara also runs 'Precious', a programme aimed at teenage girls, tackling issues facing them such as body image and relationships which allows young girls to feel confident and happy about who they are.

There are a number of events teens can enjoy and parents can be reassured their children are in a safe environment.

The team are also currently producing DVD's on a wide variety of topics to give teens information in a fun and challenging way. With the teenagers themselves helping with the filming and an expert editing them to the highest standard, the Fusion team are hoping to encourage local teenagers and their friends and give them a different outlook on life and the choices they may make.

Zara said: "You can give them leaflets but they may not read them, and they wouldn't appreciate us turning off the music in Fusion and saying, 'You must listen to us'. Instead they may go home and pop a DVD into their player or computer and hopefully they'll watch it and show it to their mates."

Keith said: "With the Fusion programme anybody can go to a Saturday night, or they can go to the Romance Academy or play football at Friend's School on a Monday night. They don't have to go to everything on offer, there are no conditions. It is all about finding what best suits; it is a holistic approach to a lifestyle."

For further information on Fusion you can visit or parents can attend the Open Night on Wednesday from 7.30pm-9pm in the Fusion Cafe to learn more about what is on offer.

Keith Neill, Zara Wortley, lames Graham and David Alamis of Fusion. US3709114A0 Picture By: Aidan O'Reilly

Ulster Star