Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Youth March coverage in Bristol Evening Post

Marching youngsters protest over proposed cuts to Somerset youth services

PLACARD-waving youngsters marched through the streets of Weston-super-Mare to protest against planned cuts to North Somerset’s youth service.

More than 40 youngsters took part in a march from the Grand Pier to North Somerset Council headquarters to hand in a petition protesting against the cuts.​March
Youngsters march through Weston-super-Mare
Molly Ashman and Sophie Miles present a petition against cuts to youth services to Mike
Sophie Miles, Molly Ashman and Charlie Lane with the petition at the Grand Pier

Authority leaders announced earlier this year it intends to slash its youth service budget from £1.142 million to just £282,736 by 2013.

Youth worker jobs will be deleted and funding currently allocated to a number of youth clubs across the district cut, with the authority asking community groups, parents, churches, schools, and town councils to help plug the gap in provision.

The move has left a question mark hanging over youth clubs right across the district, including Portishead which has just undergone a £1 million redevelopment.

The march was organised by teenagers Sophie Miles, 15 and Molly Ashman, 14, who both attend Nailsea Youth Club and Charlie Lane, from Portishead Youth Club.

Sophie – who handed a 600-name petition from Nailsea Youth Club members against the cuts – said: “I hope this protest sends a strong message to those in charge of the council. I hope they will now listen to what we are saying and will continue to put councillors under pressure.”

Molly said: “We are not going to let this issue lie and plan to lobby the council again further at its next meeting in January.”

Youngsters from The Barn, Clevedon, also joined the protest.

Vicky Bussey, 12, said: “If the youth clubs close, young people will have nowhere to meet and enjoy different activities. The youth club provides a safe place for us all to go and I am worried lots of young people will end up on the streets if they are closed.”

Charlie questioned the authority’s executive member for children and young people’s services, Councillor Jeremy Blatchford, who spoke with the teenagers outside the town hall.

Charlie, 18, said: “What the council is doing is not best for young people. I hope councillors realise we mean business and we will keep fighting.”

Overall the youth service will see the equivalent of 24 full-time youth worker posts cut.

The youth service will be replaced by a new community family service providing support to the 300 most vulnerable families.

North Somerset Council is facing making overall cuts of £47 million to its budgets over the next four years – £18.6 million this year alone – in a bid to balance its books.

Mr Blatchford said: "“I commend the young people but it is not possible to keep things as they are.

“We are talking with town and parish councils and a lot of other people who are seeking to work with our assistance to set up in the same buildings with the youth clubs.”

Youth workers who are currently part of the general provision would no longer be employed by North Somerset. They could be employed by others or self-employed and work for centres both within North Somerset and in other adjoining districts. Those organising youth clubs could call in other expertise in specific areas.

“This is a big change because the present system is very structured,” said Mr Blatchford. “We have 19,000 young people in North Somerset and only 300 use youth centres.”

He said youth centres are currently not open on Fridays and weekends because of staff terms. The issue will next be on the agenda at the budget-fixing meeting on February 21.

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