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Leicester Special Collections

Case Study - the Venture

In the late 1950s Ray Gosling quit Leicester University after his first year and started working in Leicester to promote the interests of young people. One of his schemes was to start a youth club that was run ‘by young people for young people’. He was able to do this in the aftermath of the Albemarle Report (1958), which reviewed the Youth Service of England and Wales and prompted a charity called Youth Ventures Limited to support Gosling’s idea and fund the first Youth Venture sponsored club.

This club was in a building close to where the Holiday Inn road system is now. Although the building was called the West End Coffee Bar, the club was also known as the Venture due to the funding charity. The writer and academic Richard Hoggart (author of the well-known book ‘The Uses of Literacy’) was teaching at Leicester University at the time and was chairman of the trust set up to establish the club.[1]

The West End Coffee Bar

The West End Coffee Bar, home of the Venture youth club.

Gosling wrote about the club in a 1961 article ‘Lady Albermarle’s Boys' (see link below), which argued that many young people had become fed up with traditionally organised youth clubs and wanted something different. Gosling suggested that being a teenager didn’t stop at 20 but somewhere between 22 and 25. It was at this point that most young people had finished their National Service, if they were men, and had finished being in gangs. Gosling wrote that, "Today’s youth is not only starting younger but finishing later", and suggested that the young people of ‘The Town’ broadly fell into three categories:

  1. The Old Townies – tough, hard men who had been ‘teddy boys’ in the ‘50s. These were now aged 20-30.
  2. The New Crowd who had become the present Townies. Seen by the general public as hard young men, rearing raughting all over, and led by one strong young man.
  3. The Kids who, whatever the internal structure of the club, would support it.

The club itself was very well equipped, thanks to the money available from the charity, and had a coffee bar with juke box, a dance hall with a local 'self-programming' rock band, quiet rooms, and an office with telly, billiards, magazines, newspapers, information and advice facilities. However, it was a club aimed at what we might now call the ‘hard-to-reach’ young person (mostly men). Gosling admitted that the ‘decent’ boy or girl would not enter such a club and that it had a bad reputation. The club survived two years but closed after one too many fights. Talking about it a couple of years later in the film ‘Two Town Mad’, Gosling’s friends made these comments:

“That was a failure before it started that was, ‘cos you’d got no idea, none of you… It was a free for all… what was it supposed to be? I’ll tell you what it was, it was a right dark, dodgy place where people could go in there to get birds and the birds that went in there was all of one sort, birds with loose morals, you could catch them as easy as that. And that’s why it started turning like it was… all they wanted outside there was a red light.”[2]

Recorded for this project, Bob Hughes remembers being one of the youngest people to go to the club:

Bob Hughes talks about the Venture youth club and Ray Gosling.

The world Ray Gosling wrote about and made films about in the early 1960s seems to modern eyes a very masculine world. It is full of 'hard men' and 'geezers' and an undercurrent of violence; it was this crowd that Gosling preferred to the students of the University, even if it did cost him several black eyes. This version of life in Leicester probably wasn’t most people’s experience of the late 1950s and early 1960s but, for those who engaged with the various youth movements of the period, parts of it will undoubtedly ring true.

[1] Information from ‘Lady Albemarle’s Boys’ by Ray Gosling, the Fabian Society (1961). Available online at https://digital.library.lse.ac.uk/objects/lse:lok672roc (Accessed 19/07/2018). Also, from the two volumes of autobiography written by Gosling, ‘Sum Total’ (1963) and ‘Personal Copy: a memoir of the sixties’ (1980).

[2] ‘Two Town Mad’ presented by Ray Gosling, produced by Monica Sims for BBC TV. The film was made in 1963 but broadcast on 28th February 1964. For details see http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/ and http://www.bbc.co.uk/insideout/eastmidlands/series7/revisit.shtml (Both accessed 20/08/2017).