We have a ‘dire shortage’ of youth clubs

A youth club in Felixstowe pictured in 2014. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

A youth club in Felixstowe pictured in 2014. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY - Credit: Archant

We’re only just inside the start of the school summer holidays, but how many families across Suffolk have already heard the cry of: “We’re bored...there’s nothing for us to do?”

Christine Abraham is chief executive of Community Action Suffolk. Picture: COMMUNITY ACTION SUFFOLK

Christine Abraham is chief executive of Community Action Suffolk. Picture: COMMUNITY ACTION SUFFOLK - Credit: Archant

Keeping children entertained, learning, socialising and happy - in a safe environment - of course isn't just for the school holidays.

This brings me neatly into something which has troubled me for some time, and which is an issue I know all too many organisations across the region echo as being a cause for concern.

We're facing a dire shortage of community-led clubs throughout our county which focus specifically on the needs and engagement of young people.

It's a matter which echoes national statistics, and which is leading to fears around the impact on mental health, susceptibility to gang culture, risk of crime and offending, and all manner of related factors triggered by declining ability to socialise in a community.

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Just a few months ago, a committee of MPs called for a review of youth funding cuts, after finding that English councils had scaled back funding of such services by 40% over the last three years.

In addition an exceptional report, produced in this region by Katie Tyrrell, research associate at University of Suffolk, has shone a light on exactly how young people are feeling about provision and opportunities specifically available to them.

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Katie's report unearths some really key themes, of which, perhaps the most notable are:

- Those living in rural areas are particularly starved of youth-focused opportunities

- A lack of transport creates a huge problem for young people unable to gain a sense of community and social inclusion

- Young people want safe indoor spaces in which they can spend time, seek support and develop friendships - but that these are lacking

The evidence is that many community-led youth groups are shutting doors and that young people are increasingly feeling at a loss as to where to spend time in a place that is secure.

Despite all their best intentions and preferences this could, if we're not careful, make such young people more at risk of mental health issues and lured into the very gang culture and behaviours which we all know we don't wish for on our doorsteps.

Since budget cuts from Suffolk County Council came into force in 2010, specifically related to youth provision, we know that all 36 local authority-run youth clubs were closed in a planned divestment between 2010 and 2013.

Whilst some were successfully divested to the VCSE sector, there are now only a handful still in existence.

In the interest of creating this post, I chatted to three community-led youth clubs in the county which were at one time enormously successful.

One had 60 young people attending every week - now gone.

One had two groups, covering eight to 12 year olds, and a senior session too, serving around 70 young people each week - now gone.

One was in a very rural location but had a really healthy attendee number from neighbouring villages also, and ran every Friday - now gone.

So why? Is it just about funding? Is it that there are less adults willing to volunteer to run these organisations? Is it that there are a lack of trained youth workers, in combination with a lack of funding to sustain their posts?

The truth is, it's likely to be a combination of these aspects - all of which spells doom for the youth-focused activities and facilities.

So what can we do about it?

For starters, I want to emphasise that one of the many services of support Community Action Suffolk offers, and has able to help with many times in the past, is getting start-up community organisations up and running.

If you are in a community which needs a youth club-style provision, and you have a few individuals keen to make that happen, we would very happily talk to you about what's involved and how we can help.

Another way we can help is to support volunteers with signposting to training, and even to find likely volunteers.

I'm a firm believer that community-led youth-focused provision is something that achieves an enormous amount for society as a whole.

This is not an area of decline and resource shortage which will be fixed swiftly, but I do believe we can all look more at the opportunities which might be out there for our towns and villages.

If we at Community Action Suffolk can help you in a step toward changing the status of youth provision in your neighbourhoods, then please do get in touch.

Email me on chris.abraham@communityactionsuffolk.org.uk

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