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OTTERY: Council to back youth campaign

Thursday, 13 March 2014

A campaign against proposed cuts to the youth service has been backed by Ottery St Mary town councillors.
At the March full council meeting last week, councillors received a presentation from users of the town’s Station Youth Centre and agreed to outline their objections to the plans in their response to Devon County Council.
King’s School pupil Alfie Weaver, 17, who is a volunteer youth worker, told councillors: “Young people are very, very concerned about the cuts and it is going to affect Ottery St Mary – the Station Youth Centre will close, no question.
“My worry is that we will be left without the network of youth workers that we currently have. Where is the training going to come from?
“Those youth workers are there to talk to young people about sexual health, drugs, family problems and domestic abuse – subjects that no volunteer should be discussing without training.”
He also told councillors that as many as 40 or 50 people use the centre on a given night, and that the centre is leased out to other groups across the community.
Responding to the county council’s plans, Councillor Roger Giles said: “This is an appalling proposal. These centres are not just places to go to play table tennis and drink orange juice – they are much more than that.
“I do not know why they are proposing to take an axe to this service. I urge Devon County Council to think again and retain these vitally important youth centres.”
Councillor Andrew Watmore said the council must do what it can to put “pressure” on the decision.
He said: “These cuts are somewhat unpalatable. Devon County Council has the capability to remove this service because it is not a statutory requirement.
“But it is a very important thing for Ottery St Mary – unfortunately, there is not a lot for young people to do in the evenings.”
Councillor Robin Mitchell said it was a “disgraceful move” to cut a “tremendously important” service.
Last week, Devon County Councillor Claire Wright’s proposal to divert £100,000 of funding from East Devon District Council’s office relocation budget to support the youth service was rejected by Conservative councillors.
She told Ottery town councillors the town’s youth centre provides a “safe, boundaried environment” for young people and that youth workers are “highly skilled professionals”.
Gerry Moore, chair of Sidmouth and Ottery Local Action Group, has also advised the county council that cutting the service would lead to an increase in anti-social behaviour.
In a letter to Devon county councillors, he said: “Some of the young people who engage with the service come from challenging family backgrounds and are perhaps on the cusp of criminal and or anti-social behaviour.
“But they often freely engage with youth workers - they feel safe at youth centres and with the workers themselves.
“This is much more than a universal service. Time permitting, they will carry out street outreach at ‘hot spots’ of anti-social behaviour and their presence on the streets at these locations has a calming and positive effect.
“If the service goes I can certainly see a rise in youth anti-social behaviour.”
Councillor Giles and Councillor Bailey were appointed to produce a written response to the consultation document and will report back to the town council before the end of the consultation period.


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