Youth clubs face Council axe

NINE youth clubs in Waveney look set to close or be handed over to voluntary groups as part of swingeing budget cuts by Suffolk County Council, it emerged this week.

Proposals, to be discussed by councillors next week, could see three venues in Lowestoft shut or handed over within the next two years, along with others in Kessingland, Reydon, Beccles, Bungay and Halesworth.

Members of the county council's cabinet members will be asked at a meeting on Tuesday to approve the setting up of a new 'divestment fund', giving communities the chance to take over the running of existing clubs or start new ones. But the plans produced a stinging response yesterday from Lowestoft mayor Nigel Dack, who fears that more and more youngsters will be left with nowhere else to go – other than out on the streets.

'I am absolutely shocked,' he said. 'Basically, every single youth club will be closed or divested out within the next three years.

'The report even states that 'Suffolk has a high level of young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET)' which is 7.4pc of youngsters aged between 16-18, and this figure is far greater than those in Norfolk (5.4pc) and for the East of England (5.9pc). So where, I wonder, are these children meant to go?'

Under the county council's plans, a list of 'red', 'amber' and 'green' clubs has been drawn up.

The 'red' list covers clubs likely to be closed between April and September next year. It includes the Metro Centre and Morton Road Youth Club in Lowestoft, Reydon Youth Club, Kessingland Youth Club, Beccles Youth Centre and Bungay Youth Centre.

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The 'amber' list covers clubs likely to be handed over to independent bodies in 2012, and includes the Boston Lodge Youth Club in Lowestoft and Halesworth Apollo Youth Club.

Those on the 'green' list – including the Colville House Youth Club in Lowestoft – are well-attended clubs which do not currently have any other group to take them over and the council's 'divestment fund' will aim to find organisations willing to take them on.

A report to cabinet members states: 'The divestment of open access youth provision is a major component in the savings required from the Youth and Connexions budgets as a result of the coalition government's savings requirements.'

It adds: 'There are some clubs marked red which are up for early divestment because of poor attendance and support from the local community. However, there are some clubs up for divestment in year one because of their relative success and the fact they are well attended with considerable support from their local community.

'An example of this profile would be Kessingland which has community support and support from its parish council. Therefore, each club tells a story unique to its community.'

Earlier this year, the Journal reported how Lowestoft and Waveney's youth clubs were 'thriving' – according to a spokesman for the county's youth and Connexions service –as they often recorded the most visitors each week compared to other venues in Suffolk.

About 40 people from south Lowestoft attend Colville House Youth Club, in School Road, on a weekly basis.

And the club was praised by PCSO Norman Drew who said at the time: 'The club is doing a great job providing lots of activities and a place for young people to meet, and the facility is helping to reduce anti-social behaviour by giving young people somewhere to go.'

Mr Dack said he feared that with clubs closing, more youth would be left to roam the streets, sparking a rise in crime.

He said: 'With more and more youngsters being out on the streets with the closure or divestation of these clubs – as there is nowhere else for them to go – this links together with possible cuts to policing in Suffolk.

'So we could have more youngsters out on the streets and less police to serve us – that is a total imbalance!'

For teenagers Edward Bayley and Joe McGinn, the loss of the Metro Youth Club - of which they are regulars at the venue in Commercial Road, Lowestoft - would be a bitter pill.

The pair, who are regulars at the venue, told the Journal they felt feel they would feel weare being let down by the county council if the axe fellfalls on youth clubs. 'If the county council stops running the youth clubs I think it will be very difficult to find another organisation prepared to take them on,' said 17-year-old Edward, 17.

'It would be such a pity because there are at least 30 young people aged between 16 and 19 who attend the Metro every week and hundreds more attending the other youth clubs in Lowestoft and Waveney.'

Eighteen-year-old Joe wasis equally concerned and felt eels the county council wouldwill not be saving money if the closures weare confirmed.

'Every week hundreds of people attend youth clubs in the Waveney area and if the clubs are closed a lot of people will be bored and just hang around street corners,' he said. 'This will inevitably lead to some sort of trouble with noise issues - so the police and other organisations are going to have extra work.'

Both Edward and Joe both said they believed the county council wais being 'over optimistic' in thinking many of the youth clubs would will continue to be run by other organisations.

'It is not profitable in running youth clubs in monetary terms but is important to a lot of young people so it is something the county council should be encouraging and not closing,' said Edward.

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