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.
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.