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Dingle's historic Florrie 'never meant to die'

Big day as UK's first purpose built youth club rises from ashes

Written by . Published on April 2nd 2012.

Dingle's historic Florrie 'never meant to die'

Femisowande3Femi SowandeTHE Florrie, the building in Dingle, Liverpool, that refused to die, has finally re-opened after £6.2m injection of cash and a lot of love. 

It brings back into use Britain's first specifically built youth club for boys, where, for those with long memories, Gerry Marsden's first steps to stardom were taken. 

A community-backed project swung into action determined, after a disastrous fire, to see the old Florence Institute do a phoenix rise. 

The building, in Mill Street, was built in 1889 by former Lord Mayor and merchant Bernard Hall in memory of his daughter, Florence, who had died in Paris, aged 22, a few years earlier. 

FlorriebeforeFlorrie in ruins

It closed in the 1980s when funds ran out, with the weather starting the process of decay and the savage blaze of 1999, which destroyed much of the interior and the roof, making rescue of the building seemingly impossible. 

The ornate, Grade II-listed, terracotta building, with its landmark tower, has now been restored, including the rebuilding of the magnificent Grand Hall, once the venue for spectacular boxing contests. Florrie member Alan Rudkin went on to become a world title contender, while another, John Conteh, won the World Lightweight Championship. 

It will now be used as a multi-purpose community resource with activities and classes for all ages, a 270-seater theatre and office space for organisations working in the third sector. 

FlorriefireAfter the fireThe enlightened Victorian Bernard Hall originally funded the project because he believed a focal point for young boys was needed “to keep idle hands constructively occupied”. As a magistrate, he realised lack of recreation led to anti-social behaviour. 

More than a century later, funding from the Heritage Lottery, NWDA, Euro money through ERDF and a number of charities, including the Tudor Trust, provided a lifeline. 

The Florrie's general manager, Femi Sowande, said: “It is an incredible day for us – the re-opening of the Florrie. 

Florrie Grand HallRestored: The Florrie Grand Hall

“I remember coming here after the fire to see the damage, the roof gone, just a huge mess and I thought rebuilding would be impossible. But the local community had a vision to rescue the Florrie, insisting it was do-able."

Architects and building experts were brought in and they concluded the damage, while serious, was repairable.

"Everyone thought it was a goner," Femi added. "But the Florrie has proved nothing is impossible. It’s as though the Florrie was never meant to die.”

Florrie facts

FlorrieoldpicThe Florrie opened in 1890, four years after a similar establishment in Kirkdale, the Gordon Working Lads Institute. The Florrie, however, was Britain's first purpose built youth club for boys.

For 100 years it served the working and unemployed youth of the area. Weekend camps were held at Heswall, reached by 6d ferry and bus return ticket. Summer camps were held in the Lake District away from the smoke and grime of the inner city.

Florrieposter1A variety of sports and outdoor pursuits were provided for the community, including football,boxing and baseball. Gymnastics also was a part of the activities available for the local community. On the weekends, dances took place. 

Local Dingle-ites included Ringo Starr, Billy Fury, Leonard 'Rigsby' Rossiter, Robbie Fowler, Ian Callaghan and William Roscoe. Boxer John Conteh was member, as was Gerry Marsden who learned to play the guitar at the Florrie and, in 1950, played his first gig there. 

Founder Bernard HallFounder Bernard HallSherlock, Wood and Keef, the Liverpool architects who in the 1870s had designed the stunning Walker Art Gallery, were hired as architects for the Florence Institute for Boys. 

The tower, commanding views across the Mersey, is named after Jeremiah Horrocks, the famous astronomer who was born locally in 1618. 

Florence Recreation AFC, which started in 1890, has recently reformed as a successful junior team.

Restoration experts Crick Smith were able to establish the building's original paint scheme which had been protected from the fire by later paint layers.

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6 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Angie Sammons shared this on Facebook on April 2nd 2012.
London RoadApril 2nd 2012.

How come the work of Victorian Bernard Hall and people who started similar clubs and organisations has completely been dissed by modern society. My local MP is far more concerned with putting extra police patrols on the streets of our suburb in the evenings than actually providing a mechanism where there is somewhere for teenage boys to go.

Instead they are branded as yobs by the Echo and end up drinking cheap cider and getting ASBOs.

Clare GorryApril 2nd 2012.

Absolutley thrilled to see it renovated. I went to my first disco there (me all hot pants, pale blue eyeshadow and white lipstick) and will never forget the eclectic music they played. One minute dancing to Maggie May, then Ride a White Swan, then Young Gifted and Black. Never any trouble, just kids enjoying themselves. Happy, happy days.

AnonymousApril 2nd 2012.

Well done. Shows what a lot of commitment and passion can do - in an area largely written off unless your name is Tesco

Ellie HallApril 2nd 2012.

Amazing transformation. I passed it many times and thought there was no hope for the place. Amazing what community people power can do. We should let these people loose on other parts of the city in need of renovation and repair.

London RoadApril 9th 2012.

Power to the people right on!

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