Long Tower Youth Club will celebrate their seventieth anniversary later this month.
For the last seven decades the centre has provided entertainment, education and a distraction from the troubles for the young people of the Brandywell.
Thousands of young people count themselves as former members. They benefited from foreign travel opportunities, education programmes, sports development and guidance - not to mention life long friendships many formed at the club.
The Long Tower Club was founded by Father Henry O’Kane as a social outlet for the young men of the community in October 1943.
Today approximately 800 people per week use the centre. Two full and 16 part time workers are employed on various programmes. For a remarkable four of those seven decades, current youth leader, Brian McMenamin, has been to the fore of driving the club forward.
“I’m here long enough to remember when the club was based in the old Lourdes Hall on the Lecky Road. It has been forty years but I’ve enjoyed all of them,” said Brian.
“That is why we wanted to mark the occasion with a celebration for everyone who helped get the club to where it is today. We have a great history here and we know it is worth celebrating. We want to invite all the former workers to come along and to join in those celebrations.”
The centre has moved on a number of occasions. Before the Nissan hut on the Lecky Road, the club was based in Ashfield Hall, Tyrconnell Street.
Brian said: “Initially it was a boys’ club and a social club. The centre used to provide ceili dances, Sunday film shows and bingo was always popular. Eventually we outgrew the former site. We needed more space when we started providing activities for girls as opposed to only catering for boys.
“Since 2001 we’ve been based in this new centre which is as good a facility as you’ll find anywhere in the country. I feel really lucky when I think about the past. I used to have to work while wearing a duffle coat due to the cold in the old hut, now I am based in a £1 million purpose built centre. We really have come a long way.
“That progress has been thanks to the work of Danny McGowan, Jimmy Melaugh, Jimmy McCartney and Frankie Campbell among others. We own this complex having become an independent organisation in 2001.”
Though the centre does receive funding from the WELB and Derry City Council, any shortfall in meeting running costs is met by membership fees.
The upgraded facility ensured the expansion of programmes offered at the Long Tower Centre (formerly the Long Tower Youth Club). These include sports and recreational programmes for young people aged 6-18, a wide range of adult education courses including hairdressing, beauty therapy and computer training as well as social events for elderly members of the community.
The history of the club is littered with sports stars. Former members who went on to achieve great things include Lisa Bradley, Liam Coyle, Felix Healy, Kevin Mahon and current Derry player Ryan McBride.
Asked was the purpose built facility the greatest achievement during his tenure, Brian replied: “The building is great. It is a vocal point for the work we do here. Yet the greatest feeling for me as a youth worker is seeing former members go on and make such a contribution to civic life. To see them go and achieve something. It is nice to know you perhaps helped those young people.
“A lot of former members have gone on to study youth and community development. There has always been that aspect of the job, acting as role model. We are here to provide a positive influence on our younger members. As the years have gone on we have come to expect higher standards of ourselves and others now expect that too.
“That is the best aspect of the job, the feeling of having helped people.”
The Long Tower will celebrate its 70th anniversary on Saturday October 19 at the City Hotel. Tickets to the party cost £30 and are available by calling 028 71 264012.