Carlisle Youth Zone this week brought some normality and Christmas fun to its young people with a pantomime production of The Wizard of Oz.
The centre on Victoria Place presented the panto on Monday and Wednesday with five performances each day to a socially distanced audience of up to 15 at a time.
The free panto, staged by Explosive Productions from Kingmoor Park, was one of a series of festive activities designed to give Youth Zone members as enjoyable a Christmas as possible.
The audiences got to meet Santa Claus after each performance and collected a full Christmas stocking.
And on Tuesday there was a Christmas dinner and party for children whose families might be struggling at which they also had a visit from Father Christmas and were given a food hamper and a gift.
Lynsey Buckle, the Youth Zone’s development manager, said: “Things like panto are even more important to young people than they have been before, because it’s that little bit of normality a lot of them aren’t able to access at the moment.
“Even though there are restrictions and you can’t see your friends there is still fun to be had. We’re keeping hold of these kids’ childhoods.”
It follows an unprecedented year which saw the Youth Zone, which had 1,500 young people coming through its doors, close in March and switch to alternative ways to stay in touch with its members, many of whom are vulnerable.
Fun activities were offered via YouTube videos and, by supporting the local COVID community group delivering food parcels, youth workers were able to see, however briefly, the young people of most concern.
The Youth Zone hosted 396 Zoom sessions on cooking and the arts; delivered around 4,000 food parcels across the city; had 10,521 interactions posted via #CYZTV; saw 200 youngsters receive a one-to-one outreach session; and in July and August, when restrictions eased, 384 young people attended a session at CYZ when there was nothing else available to them.
Lynsey added: “We’ve very proud of the work that we do to support young people who are most in need.
“There’s been a huge weight of responsibility on us to make sure that everything we do isn’t just safe for our kids but safe for the whole city. And I can honestly say that I don’t know of a safer place in Carlisle.”
Grant Seaton, of the Cumberland Building Society, is one of a number of local business people who have been volunteering with the Youth Zone and has nothing, but admiration for the team there.
“It is amazing to see what Lynsey and the team have achieved despite all this year has thrown at them. It has been humbling to see what a difference it has made to kids in the city.
“It is great to see the Youth Zone ending the year with these great activities which will help bring some Christmas cheer to a lot of children,” he said.