Wiltshire Council urged not to cut youth service funds

Young people at a youth club
Image caption More than 1,100 people signed the online petition in the first 48 hours opposing the proposed closure of youth centres

A petition of more than 1,100 names has been gathered in two days calling on Wiltshire Council to protect its youth service and about 150 staff from cuts.

Twenty-four youth centres are under threat from proposals to save £500,000 from the county's budget.

The council said only 8% of teenagers use the services and a consultation is under way on proposed changes.

A decision on future youth provision will be made when the full council meets on 22 April.

Glynn Root, who started the online petition, said 20 years ago the service changed his life.

'Nothing for us'

He was involved in a music project called Base Connections at Grosvenor House in Salisbury which is under threat of closure under the plans.

"I would beg them to consider the implications of shutting down the services," said Mr Root who now works in the banking industry.

"The emotional support I was given was vital to my development at the time.

"Where would that £500,000 be spent should the youth of Wiltshire not have anything to channel their positive energies into? I think it would be swallowed up by police budget."

The Grove as it is known has put on film and video workshops, run a radio station and published its own magazine as well as offering a base where young people can talk through problems ranging from bullying to addiction.

Keith Gale was a youth worker at the Grove when Mr Root was a regular.

"What happens to young people when they haven't got dedicated professional people to fall back on?" said Mr Gale.

"Where everybody matters - that's the motto of Wiltshire Council and young people matter."

Rosie, 16, described the Grove as "an escape where everyone's equal".

"What we do with the radio, it makes me feel like I'm contributing to the community," she said. "If it closed I'd have nowhere to hang out and would probably end up hanging round parks and being considered a nuisance."

Kat, 18, said: "We need to get more people involved - lets focus on getting people to us not getting rid of what we have. I trust the staff and they help you. If it goes there'll be nothing for us."

'Modern activities'

Laura Mayes, Wiltshire Council cabinet member for children services, was invited to respond to the concerns raised in the petition but has so far not done so.

In a statement Ms Mayes said plans for revamped community centres across Wiltshire - the council's preferred option for future youth service provision - would provide "modern activities" that better reflected young people's needs.

"We welcome this debate and I would urge everyone involved in this petition to take part in the youth activities review consultation - we want to hear from you," she added.

The community centres will form the heart of a campus with libraries, leisure centres, a police presence and specialist services like housing, revenues and benefits all on the same site.

But the Unite union said if the current youth centres were shut a "vital lifeline" for young people would be lost.

Unite regional officer Alan Tomala said: "We face the real possibility that by the end of August we will have no youth workers, empty youth centres boarded up and young people hanging around outside them with nothing to do."

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