Safe as a warehouse

Benson Chao

DRUGS, alcohol and violence are just some of the menaces that endanger Hong Kong youths. But with the Warehouse back on its feet again, a host of programmes have been lined up to keep the kids off the streets - and away from temptation.

The Warehouse - a drug and alcohol-free club where teenagers can hang out and make friends - was initiated two years ago by a reader at Hong Kong University's Department of Anatomy, Dr Frank White.

'When I started talking with parents two years ago, I realised that they were all worried sick about their children. The social life of their children often centres around the streets of Wan Chai, Lan Kwai Fong and Tsim Sha Tsui, locations which are far from safe,' Dr White said.

Things got started when he registered the five-member committee as a charity. They eventually decided that the po wor (the club's Chinese name means 'a place to hang out') would allow teenagers to meet friends, form their own committee to generate ideas for activities and co-operate with the organising committee to realise those ideas.

'There are many youth clubs around, but these clubs tend to plan all the activities and tell kids to join in. But the Warehouse basically runs with teenagers' ideas,' Dr White said.

Last year, the club's survival came into question when it hit funding problems. But the Government stepped in with a $5 million grant and other donors, such as the Royal Jockey Club, came up with another $4.6 million, which has secured the starting-up costs of the club.

'The Government has been extremely supportive. They agreed to sell this first-edition or very rare coins to fund the project and the response was sensational,' said Kaley Hodge, a member of the organising committee.

Getting suitable premises was another major hurdle. And it was the Government which again stepped in with a generous offer - the 9,000 square feet Old Aberdeen Police Station for a nominal $1 rent a year.

Miss Hodge said: 'It has taken us more than two years to find a suitable place. That is why we are so grateful to the Government.' The Government Property Agency had not only allowed them to use the premises, it had also refurbished the exterior of the building. Of the $9.6 million, $7 million will go towards furnishing the interior. The rest will be used to install facilities needed for the day-to-day running of the club.

A manager will be appointed later run the project. Recurrent costs will be raised from sponsorship and fund-raising events.

Although it won't be until next year that the venue is ready, teenagers can look forward to their own premises which will house a cafe, activity rooms (one for discos and another for live performances), a study and rooms for seminars, discussions and counselling.

Meanwhile, to start the ball rolling, the Warehouse project group has begun organising musical events every fortnight. Last week, in the Jazz Club, two international acts (All You Can Eat and Terry Reid) and four local bands were called in to attract the first members. The Jazz Club and the Fringe Club have agreed to let the Warehouse Project use their premises for free.

Membership, which costs $100, will entitle teenagers to a 50 per cent discount on admission fees to future events. One of the first members, Theo Fieldgrass of the Hong Kong Island School, said: 'The most beautiful thing about the project is that we can communicate with other kids and convey the message of the Warehouse to them. It is much more effective.' Interested teenagers can call 574-8012 or fax to 817-9857 for more information. Next Sunday the project will hold another live concert in the Fringe Club between 2 pm and 8 pm. Admission is $40 for non-members and $80 for adults.