£11m Youth Zone project still happening despite charity boss' departure


The man who was supposed to lead the project to create Bristol’s first multi-million-pound Youth Zone has surprised the youth work community by announcing his sudden departure from the charity running the project.

Alistair Dale said it was ‘now time for me to move on’ as he announced he was leaving his role as the chief executive of Youth Moves, the Knowle West-based youth work charity he founded 13 years ago.

His departure, along with the change of administration at City Hall, has raised questions over the future of the £11 million project to build a new youth centre in South Bristol, named by the young people themselves as the ‘224’ Zone, but the national youth work company behind the project has said the departure won't derail the plans and work is due to begin soon.

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In a statement, Mr Dale said: “It has been the absolute pleasure of my career to date to have led Youth Moves for the last 13 years, taking the organisation on a fantastic journey and working with some of the most amazing people in the process.

“Having grown the charity significantly, won national and regional awards and, most importantly, inspiring the lives of so many young people from South Bristol, it is now time for me to move on. The development of the 224 Youth Zone is an amazing legacy to leave the charity as it embarks on its next steps.

“Thank you to the brilliant, passionate and knowledgeable staff, trustees and partners who have been involved along the way and I leave the charity in a great place, and very positive about both our futures,” he added.

Mr Dale set up Youth Moves to run youth services in Knowle and other parts of South Bristol back in 2011, and became one of the most widely-respected figures in youth work in the city. In 2021, Youth Moves signed up as the local partner on a deal with Bristol City Council and the Bolton-based national youth centre provider OnSide, to create a multi-million pound ‘youth zone’ in a carefully-chosen location near the Imperial Retail Park, in between Hartcliffe and Knowle West.

The Youth Zone was the flagship youth project for the previous Labour council administration, under former councillor Asher Craig, and despite objections from locals and an outcry when it became clear money for the Youth Zone would mean less for existing youth work organisations elsewhere in the city, the building was granted planning permission a year ago, with an opening date pencilled in for 2025.

An artist's impression of the South Bristol Youth Zone
Another artist's impression of the youth centre -Credit:Seven Architecture

Most recently, those behind the scheme have been submitting amendments to the original 2022 planning application, to cross off the planning conditions set by officers, with only two details left to be approved before work can get properly underway.

But in May, the Green Party won a near majority of council seats and took effective control of the council. Some of their councillors had previously expressed concerns about the Youth Zone project when in opposition over the last few years and that, coupled with the sudden departure of Mr Dale just at the time when the Youth Zone project was about to get started for real, has led to questions about the entire project.

Bristol Live asked Bristol City Council eight days ago for an update on the project, and whether it would still be going ahead, and there has been no response from the council. But a spokesperson for OnSide, which is investing millions alongside the council's millions to get the Youth Zone built, said it was still all about to happen, and the departure of Mr Dale did not affect the long-term project.

"Preliminary works and the build of a new access road are well underway, with construction of the building due to begin soon," he said.

"Ali Dale recently left Youth Moves after 13 years of brilliant service as CEO. OnSide and Youth Moves are working together to develop the new Youth Zone and plans for the its day-to-day running, once open, remain the same - it will become the new home of Youth Moves. The charity, which has a Bristol-based board and team, will manage the seven-day-a-week operations.

"Once open, 224 will provide an incredible space for South Bristol’s young people with brand new sports, arts and recreational facilities as well as crucial support from our youth work team," he added.

When Youth Moves were signed up as the local partner for the council’s Youth Zone project, a new chair of the charity was appointed - Heather Frankham, who made her fortune by founding the largest firm providing apprenticeships in the UK, and has been a member of the Society of Merchant Venturers since 2021.

The timeline of Youth Moves and the South Bristol Youth Zone

Ms Frankham said the Youth Zone would be part of Alistair Dale’s legacy. Paying tribute to the departing chief executive, she said: “Having led the charity from its inception to where it is now, winning many awards along the way, and instigating the partnership with OnSide to bring a Youth Zone to the city, Ali leaves the charity in a great place.

“Ali should be rightly proud of the legacy he leaves but feels the time is right to move on as the charity moves into a new phase,” she added.

“Everyone at Youth Moves wishes Ali success and fulfilment in the next chapter of his career. Thank you, Ali, for your leadership across the years and for being a true advocate for our mission. Your legacy will endure, and your contributions will resonate within Youth Moves for years to come,” she said.