Our Youth Centre has been Dunne in – we must save it and provide the services young people need

A post by Councillor Tracey Huffer, Shropshire Councillor for Ludlow East.

In 2014, Philip Dunne gave an awkward lecture to young people at Ludlow Youth Centre. He attempted to explain why he was backing Shropshire Council’s move to convert half of Ludlow Youth Centre into offices. It was a rare intervention by Dunne in Shropshire Council’s politics. It was disastrous for Ludlow’s young people.

Since then, we have struggled. We no longer have the space and privacy in the Youth Centre we need for projects like Ludlow Young Health. Our budgets have been cut. From next April, we will be almost entirely on our own. The only services Shropshire Council is expecting to provide is outreach. Contacting young people on the streets. We already fund Ludlow Young Health locally. We will have to fund the junior youth club locally. We will probably have to pay for the Youth Centre.

We must reverse the trajectory backed by Dunne that has led to a catastrophic collapse of our youth services in Ludlow. We must transfer our Youth Centre into our control.

2014 protest at Ludlow Youth Centre

I want to take you back to 18 February 2014. The Conservative led Shropshire Council had decided to slash the youth budget and had its beady eyes on Ludlow’s Youth Centre. Gwilym Butler, the Conservative member for Cleobury Mortimer, had decided to convert half the Youth Centre to office space. A consultation was launched to gather views on whether this should go ahead. This was sham. Shropshire Council had already invited in the builders to start converting half the building into offices.

A by-election was coming up after Rosanna Taylor-Smith resigned from Ludlow North. Gwilym Butler decided he needed the heavyweights to justify an unjustifiable policy. In a rare intervention in council politics, Philip Dunne was drafted in to talk to young people at the Youth Centre and back the conversion to offices. The young people didn’t know who he was. He didn’t know who they were. But he gave them a lecture on local government cuts. Quite literally talking down to them. And above them. It was a disaster for Butler, for young people and for Dunne.

Since that day, we have struggled to keep youth activities going in Ludlow. The ambience of the Youth Centre was destroyed as corporate rules imposed by Shirehall banned posters and outlawed the constructive messiness that comfortable places for young people need.

But we didn’t just lose half the Youth Centre space. We didn’t just get office workers complaining about youth centred activities during their office hours. We didn’t just have concerns that there were people in the building when the most sensitive issues were being discussed.

The council slaughtered our Ludlow youth budget. The senior youth club was axed – that catered for 14 years of age and above. A paper that will go to Shropshire Council’s cabinet after the election is expected to restructure the council’s youth provision. We are not expecting any more money for our junior youth club. A club that’s hugely successful and very important. But Shropshire Council will not fund it.

Although we are likely to get some support for outreach services – contact with young people on the streets, everything else we do support young people out of school is down to us in Ludlow.

Ludlow Young Health is down to us. The county’s Clinical Commissioning Groups brought the Children’s Society in to support the wellbeing and mental health of young people under a project called BEAM. This was a countywide scheme but guess what? The only BEAM centres are in Wellington and Shrewsbury. Not a penny for rural areas.

Councillors, local charity workers and volunteers sat down in autumn 2018 and decided we needed BEAM in Ludlow. We negotiated a contract with the Children’s Society. We launched Ludlow Young Health to deliver wellbeing support for young people at Ludlow Youth Centre under the BEAM brand. We hadn’t got the money at the time but it came from everywhere including the Mayor’s Charity and Rotarians.

This project has been a huge success with more people being helped than we had expected. There have been tougher problems with young people than predicted.

As the contract comes up for renewal in coming weeks, we have two big issues.

The obvious one is money. We are working hard on trying to dig up more pots of cash to keep Ludlow Young Health on the road. Every year, we must now raise money for youth support that the government and Shropshire Council has withdrawn. Groundhog Day. Every year.

The second is the Youth Centre itself. After Dunne’s intervention, it was classified as a corporate asset by Shropshire Council. Our team of professionals and trained volunteers have found the space awkward to use. How to move young people, parents and carers around the building to ensure privacy. How to create the sense of a comfortable safe space. That’s because it’s like trying to hold confidential meetings in a coffee shop.

We need the whole building for youth use. Ludlow spent 25 years trying to get a Youth Centre built. It’s ours. It belongs to our community. It is not just another Shropshire Council building.

But the council says it is. It charges us around £2,000 a year for working with young people in the centre. We have tried so many times to get the charge waived – its just 0.004% of the council’s budget. But its is a huge part our local budget. We must to raise this money to pay for Shropshire Council’s bloated costs.

Shropshire Council has banned the constructive messiness that just goes with a centre dedicated to younger people. Its overheads are huge and it pays out more than £12,500 a year in cleaning costs for the Youth Centre.

We now know that if our Youth Centre doesn’t make enough bucks for the accountants in Shirehall, the council will sell it. In a paper published in July, Shropshire Council set out proposals to sell off any of its assets that do not make sufficient financial return. This includes community buildings like Ludlow Youth Centre.

It is over to us. Ludlow Town Council had the Youth Centre declared an asset of community value following a proposal from unitary councillors. We now need to work out how to transfer the centre to local control with local support and a stream of funding. Discussions are underway but critical meetings are delayed by election purdah.

If Philip Dunne had opposed the theft of half of Ludlow Youth Centre for office use five years ago, we would be in a much better position. He could have shown support for young people in Ludlow. He could have challenged the council. Instead, his only message on that fateful evening in 2014, he said that only money counted. He supported a process that I fear will lead to the end of Ludlow Youth Centre.

Our youth services are being Dunne in.

5 thoughts on “Our Youth Centre has been Dunne in – we must save it and provide the services young people need

  1. Oh dear the end of austerity seems it is not, another Tory lie…youth will be back to kicking cans and hanging around the town centre once again. Something originally when the centre was set up the police were happy to have them somewhere warm, safe and supervised.
    A return on investment? Are we thus going to ask the councillors to repay the millions when the Shrewsbury cash cow shopping centre fails..?
    I despair at the way this is all going, yet they still keep getting voted in.
    Cop shop – unmanned.
    Hospital – ward by ward slowly being closed
    Youth Centre – Death Knell sounded
    Recycling – gone

    Not sure that is the end of it but it does seem to be a backwards direction to what we British were very proud of, taking care of those less fortunate and providing facilities for our kids….

    I sigh once again……Wish the party I sent my £20 to David Owen and David Steel for was in power for sure….

  2. Yes totally agree Andy, why does SCC ignore our needs in Ludlow, rural communities struggle to remain as such when services are cut.
    Young people are great but need support as I feel they have a lot of pressures put upon them today. The success of BEAM project is proof of this and invaluable.
    I expect SCC will be looking at library closures (again) in 2020…thank goodness we have such a resourceful manager there…

  3. Andy, I very much support your efforts to protect the Youth Centre for the purpose for which its was intended – to nurture young people and help them to help themselves. Ludlow has a proud history of youth involvement that, to my knowledge, goes back at least to the late 1960s/early 70s when my father, who’d learned the twin skills of self-reliance and teamwork in the jungles of Burma serving with the Chindits under Orde Wingate, chose on retirement to run the territorial reserve group in Ludlow. His ‘thing’ then was to enlist as many head teachers as would listen persuading them, like him, to give up their weekends to help organise adventure training. Whilst in Wales on one such weekend, he learned of the death of his second daughter, my sister Patricia, at the age of 25 from the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. Today, as. then, such tragic events underline the need to nurture and support young people as they try to make their way in this world.

    Philip Dunne is a good and popular MP, rightly so because he works tirelessly on behalf of the community. From his work at the Ministry of Defence, he also knows full well the role that leaders can play in supporting the development of young people.

    He is a land owner and a successful businessman. But first and foremost, Philip is a parent. As such, he knows that money alone cannot buy a young person’s wellbeing. He also knows – as does the Council because it has been well publicised over many years – that Ludlow’s future depends on the wellbeing of upcoming generations of young people. The point is made clearly in every iteration of the Local Plan.

    We hear how some inner cities are succeeding against the odds in tackling issues of mental health, deprivation and crime. Let Ludlow become a beacon for our myriad rural communities.

    Philip, as a local man, an MP and, above all, as a father, this a real opportunity for you to show a-political, non-party leadership. Don’t just protect the Youth Centre as it stands – use your considerable powers to extend its scope for Ludlow’s benefit, now and in the years to come.

  4. I previously lived in Ludlow and my family still do. I worked with a couple of organisations locally that supported young people with learning difficulties.
    It disheartens me greatly that Youth services in Ludlow are being totally ripped apart. Reduction in drugs, crime, violence and providing positive futures start with facilities such as this one.
    I support your cause wholeheartedly and hope you can continue to raise this issue until someone does something about it.

    I feel angry when I read comments about how Dunne is a ‘good local MP’ and a family man with Children. Please note that he will have the money to support his children to partake in chargeable activities. I doubt many in the Town have his spending power to provide for their own children.
    During the last 10yrs of Dunne’s Tory government being in power we have faced serious cuts to libraries, youth centres, police, NHS and financial support to young people with learning difficulties; who often get very little say about their futures. Ludlow is a beautiful town that has dealt with a lot of loss thanks to austerity and yet, people continue to blindly believe that Philip Dunne supports them. If he had any kind of love for his constituents he would condemn Tory cuts and stand up as an independent. Unfortunately, I don’t think he will.

  5. No youth provisions will lead to ‘an outreach bus’ fine but by not having a base to stay in leaves them on the streets. Their talents creativity etc will go to waste. Starved of knowledge opportunities when they can they will leave the area. It will become run down for lack of people who will have a belief in the area. As the adults get older who will support them? Co-operating with each other gives a vibrant community of/for ALL ages
    Developing a youth AND community building for ALL ages to use could unite the area and give it life for the future.A campaign for Crowd funding could be to start the idea off

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