Town's gaming centre continues to grow after lockdown 'knock'

The Fort in Lowestoft is tackling isolation by becoming a gaming hub for young people. Marcus Conqu

The Fort in Lowestoft is tackling isolation by becoming a gaming hub for young people. Marcus Conquest, manager of The Fort. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

A town's gaming centre is going from strength to strength after bouncing back from Covid lockdowns to tackle isolation in the local community.

The Fort is a community-based, non-profit venture on Milton Road East, in Lowestoft, and offers visitors the chance to play the latest games and socialise in a safe space.

Run by Unity Youth Projects, who are linked to Lowestoft and District Mencap Society, The Fort was established in 2019 and quickly outgrew their initial facility.

The Fort in Lowestoft is tackling isolation by becoming a gaming hub for young people. Picture: Sar

The Fort in Lowestoft is tackling isolation by becoming a gaming hub for young people. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

They specialise in providing an inclusive community space for young adults who benefit from increasing their social connectivity and life skills through a diverse range of fun, affordable and creative social activities and projects.

Jac Guyton, chair of Lowestoft and District Mencap, said: "We started because we had Unity gaming inside the centre from 2010.

"It just grew and grew but eventually we didn't have the space for it to get any bigger.

The Fort in Lowestoft is tackling isolation by becoming a gaming hub for young people. Marcus Conque

The Fort in Lowestoft is tackling isolation by becoming a gaming hub for young people. Marcus Conquest, manager of The Fort with Ryan White having a game of cards. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

"At the time we only had space for trading card games, board games and six computers.

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"The landlord offered us the unit next door when it became available and we've been able to expand with 10 computers, three gaming consoles, Virtual Reality headsets and streaming platforms, and there's still room for the trading card games and board games in there."

The centre, which can also be booked for parties, is also looking for more gamers to stream on The Fort's official Twitch stream.

The Fort in Lowestoft is tackling isolation by becoming a gaming hub for young people. Picture: Sar

The Fort in Lowestoft is tackling isolation by becoming a gaming hub for young people. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Phil Martin, Mencap's community partner for Lowestoft: "It is a community facility that has really grown to do what the community needs.

"It is a benefit for people who want to play games and use facilities they might not have at home.

"Any surplus raised from renting the games goes back into the centre, so it really is a good community resource."

The Fort in Lowestoft is tackling isolation by becoming a gaming hub for young people. Picture: Sar

The Fort in Lowestoft is tackling isolation by becoming a gaming hub for young people. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Managed by The Fort chairman Ben Hollingworth and treasurer Giselle Czajka, the centre offers a key opportunity to socialise.

Ms Guyton added: "Quite a few of the more modern games don't work on older computers, so it's a nice place for people to come and play with others.

"People can come and pay for time on the machines, and they're only charged for what they use, so they don't have to use all their time in one go.

The Fort in Lowestoft is tackling isolation by becoming a gaming hub for young people. Picture: Sar

The Fort in Lowestoft is tackling isolation by becoming a gaming hub for young people. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

"It is great for aunts and uncles, or grandparents, to be able to buy time for their family when they might not have any idea what to buy for birthdays or special occasions."

The group also host Live Action Role Play (LARP) events, with plans in motion for a bigger and better offering this year.

Ms Guyton said: "We are planning on doing it differently this year, and having it over three or four whole weekends.

The Fort in Lowestoft is tackling isolation by becoming a gaming hub for young people. Picture: Sar

The Fort in Lowestoft is tackling isolation by becoming a gaming hub for young people. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

"It is amazing because it doesn't matter what your ability is, you can do it and be whatever you like.

"People with learning difficulties take part and become these amazing heroes battling monsters.

"It really helps bring people out of their shells.

The Fort in Lowestoft is tackling isolation by becoming a gaming hub for young people. Marcus Conqu

The Fort in Lowestoft is tackling isolation by becoming a gaming hub for young people. Marcus Conquest, manager of The Fort. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

"The weapons and shields look real but they're are all made out of NERF material so they're completely safe."

Ms Guyton admitted the group "took a knock" during lockdown, having moved into their new facility just weeks before.

"The pandemic was quite difficult for us. We only opened our larger centre about seven weeks before the first lockdown.

The Fort in Lowestoft is tackling isolation by becoming a gaming hub for young people. Marcus Conqu

The Fort in Lowestoft is tackling isolation by becoming a gaming hub for young people. Marcus Conquest, manager of The Fort. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

"Then when we reopened there were social distancing rules in place and a lot of people were still scared to go out.

"We still tried to do what we could while we were closed, and we held Dungeons and Dragons games over Zoom.

"We did take quite a knock and had to start building back up again, but then had another lockdown.

Anyone interested in volunteering can contact the centre on Facebook or Instagram, or visit The Fort.