FOR 50 years it has forged friendships, teenage romances and musical careers in its sweaty furnace.

And on Saturday, generations of members said a final farewell to Wantage's beloved Sweatbox youth club.

With the impending demolition of King Alfred's Academy East Site, where it has been based for five decades, managers opened the doors one last time.

Regulars got in one last game of pool, while 'cockroaches' (ex-Sweatboxers still involved with the club) returned to the stage where they played some of their first gigs to perform one last time.

Among them were Eloise Rees and Philly Kennington, both of whom are now earning reputations around the country as talented performers.

In January, after 60 years of education on the site, the Vale Academy Trust which runs King Alfred's will hand over East Site to Bovis Homes.

The developer will raze the complex of buildings to the ground and build a 150-home estate.

The £11m from the sale will help bankroll a massive redevelopment of the school's centre and west sites, where the pupils will be moving.

But for the first six months of 2018, the Sweatbox will be left homeless while its new home at Centre Site is finished.

So, from January, working with Wantage Youth Town Council, the Sweatbox's managers are taking the club 'on tour'.

Using community facilities such as the Beacon in Wantage, Old Mill Hall in Grove and Wantage Town Football Club, the Sweatbox will run fortnightly events including a roller disco, gaming evenings, DJ night and an open air cinema.

The woman who now runs the Sweatbox, George Hicks – who took over from long-term manager Garry Kingett this year – said it was 'an exciting time'.

She went on: "We are looking forward to moving into our new building in the summer and also the opportunity to take the Sweatbox out on tour, allowing us to engage with even more young people, especially those who might not already be accessing Sweatbox services.

"The most important thing is that we keep the youth provision running and as consistent as possible during this period."

In the meantime, the big 'pack up' of the Sweatbox has begun.

Showing community spirit, Wantage business MacDermid Autotype has provided the club with boxes and bubble wrap for the packing.

But with five decades of memories to pack up, the team are still on the lookout for secure storage spaces to keep equipment and said they would welcome contact from anyone who might be able to help.

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