“I’ve believed in this since I was 17 years old, and to see it come to life has been a dream come true.”
Those are the words of a former youth pastor who sacrificed his career to transform a disused warehouse into a premier skating destination for young people in Dorset.
Andy Putt was still a teenager when he had the idea of opening a space where anyone could come and enjoy sports like skateboarding and BMXing.
But it wasn’t until last year that he finally felt able to follow his goal, and promptly left his job at St John’s Church in Wimborne to pursue it full-time.
It was, he admits, a “big decision to make”.
Originally from Southampton, Andy moved to Wimborne in 2007 to take up his work with the church.
“I worked with young people from the community and ran a youth club during the evening,” he says now.
“But I kept thinking that, although that was great on Thursdays and Fridays, what happened on the other nights of the week? Wimborne is a fantastic place, and it would be wonderful to grow up here, but there isn’t a huge amount going on for younger people. There was a real need for a facility that opened more often.”
And so he began to recall his dreams of a permanent facility for young people.
“When I was 17, I had this idea of a community centre that was open to adults and young people and was rooted in my Christian beliefs,” he says.
“Although this came out of my faith, I wanted this place to be available to anyone, regardless of religion. That’s what I’ve wanted since then.
“But this came back into my mind a couple of years ago, and I started to dream a bit further – how could I make this actually happen?”
The process was surprisingly swift.
Although it must have felt like a mammoth undertaking at times, the StreetLight Centre, with its skate park, soft play, ball pool, meeting centre and cafe – was crafted in just five months, in large part thanks to an unlikely partnership with a haulage company.
Andy explains: “I met someone who works for Shears Brothers Transport Ltd in March last year, just weeks after I left my job.
“I arranged a meeting with the owners and talked them through what my plans were. They were really keen to get involved and help out. Their trustees approved them letting us use a disused warehouse on the Stone Lane Industrial Estate in Wimborne, and it just went from there. They’ve been so supportive.”
And while finding the perfect space was youth pastor’s a huge achievement, it was just the beginning for Andy – who then had to ‘up tools’ himself to build the park.
“Finding the unit was the start of it all,” he says.
“It’s absolutely massive in there. It covers about 7,000 square feet, so it’s huge, and we then had to actually fill the space. I knew exactly what I wanted. It wasn’t just about the skate park. I wanted somewhere for people of all ages to be able to go, and that meant a cafe.
“Then on top of that, I wanted a soft play centre for mums with young children. It had to be somewhere that everyone could enjoy.”
So started months of graft, during which time Andy and a small team of builders worked – often late into the night – to shape the space.
But Andy never doubted himself. “It was hard, hard work,” he says.
“I’m not a builder. I’d never done anything like it before. It was a case of learning as I went along – just trying things out, seeing how it went. I was incredibly lucky because a lot of people really got behind the project to support it.
“And I always had my faith. This is something God wanted to happen, and that’s how it happened in the way that it did.”
Earlier this year the centre opened and was immediately a hit with hordes of young skateboarders, BMX riders and scooterists – as well as their parents, grandparents and younger siblings.
“It’s got this fantastic atmosphere,” says Andy.
“We get lots of older people coming in for a cup of coffee in the cafe. Parents come in to meet each other with their children. No one has to feel as if they’re being rushed away, or that they’re unwelcome.
“It’s a friendly place for everyone in the community. I feel immensely blessed to have played a part in this.”