Like a phoenix from the ashes, youth club will not let arson attack beat it
Andrea Fox has changed the lives of hundreds of young people. Ella Rhodes speaks to her about the youth club she founded in Belper.
BELPER'S Drop Inn has helped more than 500 young people over the past 13 years thanks to the inspirational efforts of Andrea Fox.
The centre, in Derwent Street, describes itself as an independent youth organisation and a place for young people to meet their friends. It offers accredited courses, alternative education and multimedia workshops through its training centre and is a place for anyone aged between 12 and 18 to call their own.
But two days after Christmas arsonists struck, halting plans to develop a new music room.
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Undeterred, Andrea is bouncing back following the attack and hopes to have the new room up and running by the end of this month.
In November, the Drop Inn received £5,000 grant from Lloyds Bank to buy new equipment for the music room in the hope of attracting even more teenagers to the centre.
Andrea says: "The old music room was really cold and damp, but the renovated area will have a drum kit stage and full recording equipment.
"One of our young people has designed the decoration for the room and it will have mixing desks for the DJ workshops we run.
"We should have opened the room at the end of January but now we're aiming for the end of February.
Andrea says that in the past year, music has been incredibly popular with the people who use the centre.
She says: "It's got two sides to it – DJing and acoustic music. We have workshops run by our resident DJ, who is a success story from the Drop Inn.
He's just turned 18 and is getting his criminal records bureau check so he can help out the young ones.
"When he was at school, he was so badly bullied that he lost his hair but he got interested in DJ-ing when he came here and now he DJs at a lot of clubs in Derby.
"He said he wanted to put something back into the Drop Inn, so he started running workshops and they're incredibly popular."
The Drop Inn welcomes about 50 young people from Belper and surrounding villages through its doors on Monday and Thursday nights.
Andrea opened the centre in June 2000 after noticing young people hanging around the main war memorial in Belper.
She says: "In 1999, there were news reports every week about young people hanging out on the Memorial Gardens being accused of vandalism and drug-taking.
"The front page of the local paper one week read 'Zero tolerance' so I decided to do something about it and went up to the young people who were hanging around near the war memorial.
"They just said they wanted somewhere they could call their own. I promised them I'd do what I could."
Over her 13 years developing the Drop Inn, Andrea has helped more than 500 young people gain training qualifications and has given hundreds a safe haven to spend time.
Her efforts meant she was nominated as one of five Daily Mail inspirational women of the year.
When she first heard about her nomination, Andrea thought someone was winding her up.
She says: "The day of the awards in November was just amazing. We got real red carpet treatment.
"We went to No 10 [Downing Street] and met Samantha Cameron, although I didn't know who she was at first, but she was genuinely lovely and really took an interest in what we did and spent an hour talking to us.
"Apparently, I met a lot of celebrities on the day but I don't watch TV so I didn't know who they were, really.
"The day after the ceremony, we were taken to a spa and it was amazing."
Although Andrea did not win the title, she says the experience was like nothing she had ever been through before.
She says: "I was really treated like royalty, I had to take a picture of the red carpet leading up to the awards venue to remember it."
The arson attack was a major setback for the youth centre.
Andrea says that, had it not been for a particularly bright full moon that night, complete with halo, the whole building may have burnt down.
She says: "One of our old members was driving through Belper and was looking at the moon and saw smoke. He rang 999 and tried through Facebook to get in touch with Laura [one of the centre's managers].
"Laura goes on Facebook very rarely but that night she was on to tell people to go and look at the moon, so she saw his message.
"I'd seen the moon, too, and managed to get my phone working – it had been broken all Christmas – so I could text people to go and have a look at it.
"Then I found out what had happened. The firemen said straight off that it had been deliberate. It's all thanks to the moon we knew about it."
Laura and Andrea went to see the extent of the damage. They were told by fire crews that, if it had been left for just 20 minutes longer, the whole of the building may have been lost.
The Drop Inn is now well on its way to recovering from the attack and Andrea says: "The support we've had from the public has been amazing. One woman came up to me and gave me £5.
"A lady called Mrs Kent, at Heritage Court sheltered housing, rang me after the new year and asked me to go down to see her. They'd had a raffle and raised £330. St Swithun's Church raised £230. That's the sort of support we've had from the community."
Andrea, whose three children also volunteer at the Drop Inn, thinks one of the main reasons for the Drop Inn's success is that it is a centre for youth run by youth.
She says: "Everything here came from the young people. They have the ideas and police it themselves. They decorate it and have a say in everything."
Andrea was particularly touched when she received a letter from a man who she had helped in the early days of the Drop Inn.
Although he wanted to remain anonymous, he wrote to her: "Belper offers you a massive debt of gratitude. It was the summer of '99 when that ballsy little blonde-haired lady called Andrea Fox walked into my life.
"I genuinely believe Belper was close to a teenage heroin epidemic and the Drop Inn came just in time."