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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

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Tynedale: Youth clubs in fight for life after cuts

FOR decades, youth clubs across the district have offered a haven of support for teenagers, whether in town centres or isolated rural communities.

Margaret Stonehouse from Allendale Youth Project receives a cheque from Doug Ness, vice president of Allendale Lions. Youth organisations are increasingly dependant on community support for their survival.

From a simple snooker table and a sympathetic ear to educational courses and visits to far-flung corners of the country, these clubs have provided a centre for young people to socialise and learn outside of school.

But as the county council faces heavy budget cuts, what does the future have in store for these vital resources?

Gilsland Youth Club, which runs sessions for over 25 young people in the community, made a successful comeback after closure in 2007.

However it could now lose its funding from the Brampton Youth Initiative as the age-range of members does not meet the necessary criteria.

And it seems that this precarious financial situation is echoed at other youth clubs in rural communities.

Bellingham Youth Centre is currently held in the refurbished old magistrates’ court building, which is financed by the North Tyne and Redesdale Community Partnership.

The youth centre, which meets once a week, attracts about 20 young people aged between nine and 18 from the close-knit local community.

But although the youth workers who run the sessions are provided by Northumberland County Council, the running costs are the responsibility of the community partnership.

A trustee of the North Tyne and Redesdale Community Partnership said: “It costs about £4,000 a year to keep the centre open; we’ve managed by getting bits of funding from here, there and everywhere.

“Funders are happy to fund projects or capital expenditure, but they don’t want to know about running costs – and it’s those costs that we need help with.

“A youth centre, by the very nature of it, is never going to be in the position to generate income, so we’re in a very difficult situation.

“At the moment there isn’t a solution to create long-term financial security.

“We’re all aware that the funders who support these services are going to be considerably over subscribed.

“We will, by hook or crook, keep it open, but every year it gets harder.

“In Bellingham we are 17 miles from Hexham, 17 miles from Kielder and 17 miles from Rothbury.

“There’s no public transport after 6.30pm so there just is nowhere else for them to go.

“And if they didn’t have this facility, they would be standing around on street corners getting into trouble.”

Similarly, Allendale Youth Project is provided with youth workers by the county council under the agreement that they will meet all other costs.

The youth project is currently thriving, with 50 young people from the village regularly attending and a new junior session recently established.

The club rents a space in the basement of Allendale village hall with its own entrance and heating system.

Area youth worker for the west area Julie Humes, who also works with Bellingham Youth Centre, said: “At the moment we have a budget set for the year, we’re doing ok.

“To cover our costs, we apply for grants and the parish council is quite helpful.

“Thanks to a lottery grant, we’ve undergone a refurbishment and now have cooking facilities and all sorts.

“We are self-running to an extent, but nobody knows what lies ahead in the future.

“It’s not the fault of the county council, the Government has decided to cut its budget and the local authority has got to make cuts.

“It’s a strange situation and no-one really knows where it’s going.

“I do think that maybe local communities are going to have to be prepared for a future where we’re going to have to do more with less.

“But it’s like that for everybody, no matter what sector you’re in.

“Youth services are very important, we’ve got a fantastic group of young people who come every week.

“The older ones are now helping to run the junior sessions, and it’s great that they have somewhere to go.

“They need to have access to these services to get advice and help. It’s a one stop shop here and I definitely think we’ve got a part to play in anti-social behaviour.

“We do a lot of joint work with Haltwhistle; it’s about sharing resources, transport costs and being stronger together.”

Even though Julie is employed by the county council, she says the youth project has given serious thought to becoming a registered charity as Haltwhistle Youth Club did in 2011.

Haltwhistle Main Street Youth Club renamed itself ‘Young and Sweet’ after securing charitable status two years ago.

Becoming a registered charity means that the youth centre has a broader range of funding options and grants to apply for.

Young and Sweet, which meets at the former water tower at Haltwhistle’s railway station, is open three nights a week for four different sessions split across the age groups.

Running sessions for young people aged between nine and 19, Young and Sweet offers a wide range of fun and educational activities.

And having recently taken on the running of Bardon Mill Youth Club, the youth initiative currently works with 200 young people.

Youth work manager, Ayesha Banks said: “We decided to set up our own charity to make the youth work a constant and sustainable resource rather than being reliant on council funding.

“Being a registered charity means that more avenues are open to us in terms of funding and grants.

“So we have more to apply for and the more you apply for, the more likely it is that you are successful.

“We try to get funding from as many places as possible so we don’t have all of our eggs in one basket.

“At the moment, we know our finances are ok going into 2014, which is great. But generally we still work from year to year, so stability is still a bit tricky.

“Youth centres are vital because we allow the young people time with adults who will listen to them and care about them. It’s a chance for them to be themselves; the programmes we run are led by the young people.

“They tell us what they want and we base the programme around their needs. It’s important that we don’t decide for them.

“We do try to do something educational each session, but it’s informal learning, and we go on trips, such as a recent one to Edinburgh.

“It is an important resource. There are 200 young people who are gaining these experiences and learning, and if we ever lost something like that, it would be a real shame.”