North Walsham centre loss will increase anti-social behaviour

Anti-social behaviour will rise across north Norfolk after the closure of a local youth centre, a leading councillor has warned.

North Walsham Youth Centre, which provides a place for teenagers to meet and socialise but also offers advice and support on issues ranging from education to sexual health, will close in May under a �24m county hall cutback in children's services.

Fifteen workers, who provided 22,500 hours of support last year alone, are losing their jobs on May 15.

Norfolk County Council's Liberal Democrat leader Paul Morse, who is a North Walsham councillor, has warned the closure would lead to an increase in anti-social behaviour in towns across the district.

'Disadvantaged and vulnerable young people will have nowhere to turn,' he said. 'That will lead to more antisocial behaviour, higher teenage pregnancy, lower attendance at school, all those kinds of challenges.'

It would place more strain on the police force at a time when they too were facing cuts, he warned.

Mr Morse added that the role of youth services had moved on considerably from just running youth clubs.

Most Read

'They're a lifeline for those that are struggling to find their way in the world,' he said.

It was 'completely naive' to expect the voluntary sector to take up the slack and that there was 'no hope' that the Big Society could fill the gap in services left.

At the same time as announcing the cuts to the youth service, the Conservative administration at Norfolk County Council also unveiled a �900,000 youth investment fund to support community-based groups.

Sharon Matthews, operational manager at the North Walsham-based Benjamin Foundation, which runs the Carpenter's Arms youth project in the town, said she was waiting to hear what that would mean for services in the area.

'We recognise the council's in a difficult position but it seems that young people have been very much hit by the cuts. I don't think they've really thought that through,' she said.

The foundation would inevitably have to take up some of the slack left by the youth centre closure, which could mean a important role for the Carpenters Arms whose future had also been in doubt.

'We've had to think long and hard about the future of the Carpenter's Arms. The one thing stopping us from closing it is that we know it will be the only youth centre come May,' she said.

The Monday night youth club held at the axed centre could be moved to the Arms.

Julie Alford, from the Holt Youth Centre, said that the cuts could present problems further down the line.

'I can see a lot of people being isolated. It seems that voluntary services and charities are probably going to be the way forward, but they need support.'

Volunteers could not 'just set up and start running' without 'some sort of skeleton network to support them.'

A spokesman for Norfolk County Council said all youth services would come to an end on May 6, and the council was still in the very early stages of looking at how to use the �900,000 available through the early intervention grant.

'The focus will be on supporting local communities to meet the needs of their own young people and we are looking at creating local Youth Advisory Boards to make decisions, with a focus specifically on supporting the most vulnerable,' she added.

The council encourage local community, faith and voluntary groups to take part in the Boards with the priority being to 'fund services rather than buildings.'