FOR more than 50 years it was a place where children could go and have some fun.
But yesterday diggers moved in at the former Hillside Youth and Community Centre, in Cheltenham Road, Paulsgrove.
The first stages of demolition began at the boarded-up building, which was closed last May after it fell into disrepair.
It will make way for a new £1.4m two-storey community centre which will have spaces for community and youth groups.
It will also include an art room and a sports hall.
There was sadness and joy as neighbours gathered to witness the demolition of the former centre, which began life in 1958.
Glenda Jones, 65, of King Richard Close, Paulsgrove, said her five children Jeff, 44, Maxine, 43, Michael, 42, Garry, 41, and Lance, 34, had all gone to the centre.
‘It was a great place for them to go,’ she said.
‘They have a lot of fond memories about the place.
‘It’s sad to see the end of it.’
Jessica Davies, 34, of Cheltenham Road, said: ‘I used to go to the centre, but I’m really looking forward to seeing the new one.
‘It’s so important to invest in the future of young people.
‘It’s in a great place and central to people living in Paulsgrove and Wymering.’
Peggy Littlefield, 89, who received an MBE for her time as a youth worker at the centre between 1958 and 1996, said: ‘It’s a sad day but also a good one.
‘This is the beginning of the future for young people.
‘It was a hard life as a youth worker, but a very rewarding one.
‘Kids need something to keep them occupied.’
Demolition of the building will be completed by the end of the week and the foundations of the new centre will be laid in August.
Building work will then take 18 months.
The centre will be run by Portsmouth City Council and it will serve young people living in Paulsgrove and Wymering.
The new development is a victory for residents who campaigned for a new community building after the Wymering Centre was destroyed by arsonists six years ago.
Jim Patey, councillor for Paulsgrove, said: ‘The former Hillside Youth and Community Centre did a fantastic job of serving the local community for more than 50 years.
‘So many young people have passed through its doors.
‘Now it’s time to look after the next generation.’