The plans for Orange Box young people's centre grew directly out of Square Chapel's outreach work with young people. One of our outreach projects (Write to Record: song writing and recording workshops with 13-19 year olds) was so popular that there wasn't enough space in Square Chapel to accommodate everyone. The aim of the project was to support young musicians through forming a band, writing their first songs, making their first recording and playing their first gig; the theory being that they would then 'graduate,' freeing up space for new attendees. But people never left because there was nowhere else for them to rehearse that they felt safe. It wasn't until we started asking more young people about this that we realised how great a need there was to develop facilities for young people in Halifax.
We have developed the ideas for Orange Box with hundreds of young people, some of whom worked with us for over three years - working with architects, value engineering, submitting different funding bids. It has been a fascinating project; we took the lead on the project, not because we needed to, not because we had any kind of ulterior motive but because we wanted to do something good for all the young people we worked with and the others we'd talked to. Because of that, the project totally reflects the wants, needs and desires of the young people involved - it is essentially their project and we have been able to translate their words into funding applications, negotiate with the council and represent their views at meetings.
At the third attempt we, along with our team of young people, were successful in one of our funding bids. We were awarded just over £3.8m from the myplace scheme and Calderdale MBC agreed to gift us the buildings (worth nearly £400k) that the young people had all agreed they wanted; right in the centre of Halifax, right next to the Grade I listed Piece Hall.
There is a young people's board who help run Orange Box, alongside Square Chapel’s Board of Trustees, a steering group, young volunteers and a small team of staff. It’s vital for Orange Box to have young people at board level ensuring the Orange Box will involve young people in delivering its mix of services. Those music rehearsal rooms are in there for the young musicians who helped start this whole process, linked to a recording studio and media suite; there's a climbing tunnel, a roof top garden and a roof top skate park alongside a wonderful performing arts/ dance space and a large visual art room.
Orange Box really is an exceptional project - it is a young people and culture led piece of regeneration - developed and delivered by a voluntary sector arts centre. It has been an enormous amount of work for everybody involved, but it has been tremendously exciting and rewarding. In a lovely parallel with the early days at Square Chapel, we have actually run two large scale arts events in the building whilst it has still technically been a building site (no need for hard hats this time though!): a major young people's music festival (Routes) and a three (sold out) performances by a young people's theatre company of Private Peaceful. We know, however, that the hard work isn't over - the first couple of years of Orange Box's development will be vital.