It's a building that's been given a new life. One full of energy, action, and the strengthening of young people – both physically and mentally.
The old FitCo Gym on 13th Avenue has been taken over by the Bay of Plenty Youth Development Trust (BOPYDT) – a charity that works to develop well-rounded, vibrant, independent and responsible youth who contribute to their communities.
The Trust achieves that through a range of programmes, including a boxing and mentoring programme; the IBA pre-employment programme for youth not currently engaged in work or education; the Ki Tai outdoor adventure-based education and fitness programme; and the AIGA Pasifika youth wellbeing programme.
The new hub is called Youth Central and is the largest dedicated youth development and community facility of its kind in Aotearoa.
Youth Central symbolises a new phase for the Trust. Bay of Plenty Youth Development Trust Chairman Craig Nees says the facility was needed as they had outgrown their previous premises.
"With up to 300 kids a week in our programmes, we had outgrown our previous space at the Strand. I've been coming to FitCo for 20 odd years, so I got to know the owner, and I heard that it was for sale.
"I always thought that one day this building would be perfect for us as it's got 30 car parks, 14 showers, a big kitchen, and plenty of space. When you get an opportunity like this, you've got to try and do something.
"We were incredibly fortunate that Hillsdene Trust purchased the building on our behalf, and we've got the opportunity to buy the building in three years, and we pay a subsidised rent in the meantime.
"So all those things made it possible. It's important for the community to understand how we have been helped by certain generous individuals and funders like TECT who have made it all possible."
That support by TECT was a $250,000 grant to go towards the building's fit-out. This included construction costs such as appliances, stairs, plumbing, HVAC, electrical and more.
"That chunk of money that TECT gave us was amazing. They also granted us $40,000 towards our operating costs. We are so grateful for their support and believing in us to achieve this project – it's something great for our community and youth."
The building fit-out was also supported by generous grants from NZ Lotteries and New Zealand Community Trust, who were major co-funders alongside TECT.
The building features a boxing ring and bags, gym equipment, fitness areas, changing rooms, education spaces, offices, a coffee shop and a whanau area.
While work is still happening to get the building completed, some programmes are now underway.
Craig says they should be fully operational by the end of March.
The gym is an integral part of all BOPYDT's programmes, with the Trust's 12 staff making it all possible.
"It's the people delivering the programmes that make the difference – you can have flash premises, but it's the quality of the people delivering the programmes – they're all passionate, great people. It's a pleasure to work amongst them," says Craig.
"We preach and talk fitness and mental wellbeing a lot because that drives how young people feel about themselves. If you get them fit, get them looking after their health, they operate better, and they think better."
With the move to Youth Central, Craig says they hope to deliver more positive outcomes.
"It gives us the opportunity to increase the number of youth we are working with. It's called Youth Central as we wanted it to be a hub for youth support. As we have more programmes running out of here, they can integrate and we can cross-pollinate the services between them."
Young people are referred through MSD, Corrections, Police, schools, and whanau.
Craig notes how one of their current staff used to be a participant.
"The impact we have on the youth you don't always see straight away, but we get surprised sometimes. One of our first boys in our Tauranga Boxing Academy programme, he was there when we first set up four years ago. He has been with us ever since.
"Last year, he was a prefect at Tauranga Boys College, and now we employ him. He had a challenging background, so it's a fantastic outcome. If we could get that every year, finding a participant a position in the team, that would be great."
Now in the new space, the Trust is ready to go to the next level.
"There are some great organisations out there; we aren't unique at all. But we've been privileged in terms of what we've been able to put together," says Craig.
"I now like to think we're ready to go to the next level. By that, I mean improving outcomes all the time. We've got the team to do it, so we're looking at other things as an offshoot of what we are doing already."
"The additional space in Youth Central has enabled us to bring the Te Aranui Youth Trust under our umbrella - they share our facilities and our vehicles to deliver a programme for vulnerable youth under the age of 14 years in partnership with New Zealand Police.
"Another example is the Transition for Adulthood programme where we are starting to help youth coming out of youth justice facilities."
Craig says there are two major issues young people face hindering them from finding good employment.
"Transport and accommodation are a real problem. Youth that don't have those challenges can get dropped off at school and at jobs, their family environment is stable. For those other youth that don't exist in that environment, it's definitely challenging – they are unsupported.
"It's no wonder that they get dislocated from society and get neglected, they're the ones that we really like to work with, and that's what we are doing.
"In the IBA employment programme, we help youth with public transport Bee Cards, and have also helped them with bicycles, and even at times taken them to work in the initial stages of their employment.
"Regarding accommodation, I have a dream that we will have some sort of residential facility in the future where we can work intensively with troubled youth in crisis."
In the future, the Trust's aim is to to operate Youth Central as a strategic youth hub enabling shared initiatives with other providers of services to youth.
They hope this will achieve a real shift in the way youth service providers work together to achieve successful outcomes for youth.
To learn more about Bay of Plenty Youth Development Trust, visit https://www.bopydt.co.nz/.