Are you 18? Then you're too old: There's no alcohol, and it closes at ten. But Derby's new night-club is a lot more fun than drinking on street corners. Jojo Moyes reports

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Indy Lifestyle Online
IT COULD be any night-club. Coloured lights and lasers bounce off gyrating bodies on the dance floor. The floor shudders rhythmically to the bass. Onlookers sipping drinks and dangling cigarettes drape themselves over the chrome railings, while shadowy couples lounge on sofas in the corners. Outside, a BMW deposits two more customers, who stroll in, not meeting the gaze of the solid men on the door.

But unlike Ritzy's, Berlin's and the Pink Coconut, which nestle yards apart in the centre of Derby, this club - named after its postcode, DE2 - is based in a business park in Allenton, a run-down area of the city, and squats incongruously between Smith's Truck and Van Hire and a Seventh-Day Adventist church. Despite the neon sign and forbidding- looking bouncers, the average age of those inside is 15. Welcome to DE2, England's first purpose-built under-18 night-club.

'The bouncers here are all right - you can talk to them,' says Benji, 17, also known as Big Daddy B. He is one of DE2's regulars because 'there's nothing to do in Derby except for the roller rink', and he can't get into most of the pubs, partly, he thinks, because of his colour. 'It's a good laugh here. My mum doesn't know I come 'cos she lives in London, but my dad doesn't mind. I'd rather have the music than the drinking anyway.'

Sometimes he pays the pounds 2.35 entrance fee with vouchers from McDonald's, with which DE2 has a reciprocal voucher system. McDonald's, it seems, is the only organisation, apart from the local police, which is willing to support the club. The council is not interested, according to the organisers, and youngsters say the local pubs oppose it because they have lost custom.

Louise, 15, and Kirsty, 14, are part of that custom. Immaculately made up, with alabaster skin and enviably poised, Louise says: 'If this place wasn't here, we'd be clubbing together to buy a bottle of cider or Thunderbird (a fortified wine). We used to just sit around on street corners or down the park and get drunk. It's better sitting here. There's more to do. It's not like a youth club; it is a night- club.' This crucial distinction, it seems, makes it OK to be seen here.

David O'Shea, the club's promotions manager, says the owners' aim was to create a night-club without alcohol, and to 'get the kids off the streets' - a phrase repeated by staff and the clubbers themselves. The local crime rate, he says, has dropped since it opened in July - by 7.4 per cent, a 12-year-old boy adds helpfully.

'We're trying to treat them like adults,' says Mr O'Shea, who has the slightly earnest enthusiasm of a youth worker, but is quick to distance himself from what he refers to as the 'trendies with a bit of ping-pong' approach. 'The kids enjoy being out of the grasp of their parents. We tend to let them do what they want. There's a bit of damage every now and then, but they know where they stand with us. Our bouncers are trained by the police.'

A table nearby bears some jagged pieces of smoked glass from a video game, broken by a boy whose drunken friend was not allowed in. 'That's been the only bit of damage,' Mr O'Shea says quickly. 'We haven't even had any graffiti in the ladies' loo.'

In the lobby - the only smoking area - sullen girls in trainers are packed on leather sofas. A jostling crowd of boys orders drinks from the cocktail bar, poring over the menu. The fruit juice cocktails cost pounds 1 each and come with cherries and sparklers in expensive glasses. When the yelling becomes too boisterous, a bouncer puts his head round the door and the noise subsides.

Tasha, 15, is black, with long wavy hair and a loud laugh. Of course, she tries to get into pubs, she says, but the food here is good, Tuesday nights are free for girls, and the numbers of boys are increasing. 'I reckon it's all right, but it needs a few more people. Shut up]' she shouts, swinging round to punch an interjecting friend. 'We used to go to under-18 nights at Ritzy's, but there was too much fighting, so it finished. People treat you like adults here. I used to get in fights up Ritzy's. When you're drunk you start fighting, don't you? 'Cos there's no drink here, there's no fighting.' And no drugs either, the youngsters say.

But the most important thing, they agree, is not to drink, or even meet the opposite sex; it is the music - a mixture of rave and ragga, consolidated by a dance they call the Bogal. This involves a technique that looks not dissimilar to skipping on the spot - but, then, anyone over the age of 17 is powerless to understand it, let alone master it.

It is the boys who hog the floor, furiously out-dancing each other in an effort to win one of tonight's prizes: a record or a baseball cap. The girls, most of whom look older than the boys, prefer to smoke, talk, watch satellite television and generally wind down from the pressures of school and parents.

'Go to night-clubs afterwards and you'll see this lot legless,' DJ 'Waynie T', 19, with all- buttoned-up white shirt and frosted hair, says fondly of the teenage girls. 'They would normally be dossing round the streets, but the kids are giving up smoking just to have the entrance money. We still find the odd condom down the back of the seats, though,' he laughs. The kids' faces are expressionless.

'When I'm deejaying, I get handed bits of paper saying, 'I really want to get off with such and such.' You go round the seats, and all the kids are snogging. I gave this guy a baseball cap and T-shirt 'cos he was snogging this girl all night. He was only 11.' The staff insist that the clubbers are all 'just friends'.

'A lot of the girls here could get into night- clubs,' adds Waynie T, 'but this is cheaper and safer. Allenton's a rough area. Kids go joyriding, nick cars, smoke drugs. They come here to get away from all that.'

'The worst behaved kids we've had here were from the private schools,' says Becky, who takes money at the entrance. 'The girls are the worst. When we were giving out leaflets, one little girl said, 'What do you mean you shut at ten?' But we have to be careful. We have to get them out before the pubs shut.'

By 10.15pm the club is empty. Bouncers climb into their souped-up Capris; groups of children make their way home through the deserted industrial park; bursts of laughter punctuate the chilly silence. At a discreet, distance a couple of mothers wait in cars. 'Sometimes we laugh at the people who get picked up by their mums,' says one 13-year-old, 'but I wish my old man would give me a lift.'

(Photographs omitted)

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