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Residents speak out against plans to close youth clubs

Oakridge Youth Centre. Pic: Maureen Barlin/Flickr

Lewisham residents say proposed changes to youth services would be “devastating” and leave children either trapped at home or playing on the streets.

Under the plans put forward for consultation, three of the 11 council-run youth clubs would be closed: Oakridge Youth Centre, Grove Park Youth Club and Wesley Halls Youth Club.

Celisa Adams, whose two children attend Oakridge Youth Centre in Downham, said: “If the youth club wasn’t to open I wouldn’t allow my children to go outside.

“The part of London where we live is very difficult to access by local transport and it is very dark and quite woody.”

Joane Bailey, chair of Oakridge Action Group, which was formed to combat the proposals, said: “Downham is a very deprived area and there’s just going to be school and home and if they’re not going to be home, they’re going to be out – we hope not getting up to much mischief.”

The campaigners spoke to Eastlondonlines outside of a consultation meeting held at Bellingham Gateway Youth and Community Centre, one of three held at different venues last week.

A council document outlining the plans explains that the eight clubs which will remain open were chosen because: “They are based in areas where there is a high level of need, for example, where there are high crime rates, or lots of young people who are not in education, employment or training, or because they offer good quality space and facilities to deliver a range of activities for young people.”

Bailey said: “Although the council says there are alternative youth clubs, the way the borough is structured, the distance between the youth clubs is quite vast. With a lot of families on low incomes, they won’t be able to afford to send their children to these other youth clubs.”

As part of the overhaul, council services would also be pulled from nine other privately run clubs and centres. Instead, these organisations would have the opportunity to apply for council funding to deliver the services themselves.

Lewisham Council are facing substantial cuts from central government which will require £28.3m of savings over the next three years.

Mayor of Lewisham Sir Steve Bullock said: “We are doing everything we can to protect the things people value most, but the financial situation we face is very serious. While we will continue to work every penny of taxpayers’ money as hard as we can, the Government’s squeeze on public spending means we will inevitably face some very difficult decisions over the coming months.

“Supporting Lewisham’s young people is a top priority for me and it will remain so whatever decisions are made regarding future youth provision.”

However this offers little comfort for the children who may lose their youth club. Sabine, 14, told ELL: “Not going to youth club, not seeing all my friends I’ve made would be just devastating.”

The council document states that the authority will provide new services outside of youth centres: “We want to open up all the opportunities that are available to young people across a whole range of different settings, including sports clubs, music venues, theatres, outdoor education centres and art galleries amongst others.

“Currently, a significant proportion of our money is spent on maintaining youth centre buildings. Some of these are not used well enough.”

One alternative is ‘street based youth work’, during which youth workers will meet young people ‘wherever they choose to meet.’

However Adams does not think this solves the problem: “This is wrong because of the weather conditions in England and because I think it could cause our children to be vilified because when the police see our children in groups of more than four they’re deemed a gang and then dispersed.”

The consultation period ends on the December 31 and the mayor will consider the proposals and responses on February 13 2013.

 

Video – Filming: Cathrine Koppel & Gemma Charles, Interview & edit: Tomas Jivanda

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