Battle to find funding for last youth project in town

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THE charity behind Thetford’s last young people’s centre has promised to fight to keep it going as cuts hit the town’s youth services.

The Meet Up Café on the Redcastle Furze estate was started in December 2009 by the Benjamin Foundation, which runs youth facilities all over Norfolk. The charity received help from a Department for Communities and Local Government fund for kick starting projects in deprived areas. That fund ends in April.

Sharon Matthews, the foundation’s operational manager for children and young persons’ services, said: “We thought that would give us 18 months to persuade Norfolk County Council to give money to keep it going but the economic climate has changed so much it’s going to be more difficult to get funding.

“We’re going to fight tooth and nail to stay there because we know what these young people are fighting against.”

Thetford’s Government funded youth advisory service Connexions has already closed.

Mrs Matthews said: “In larger centres there might be some choice for younger people but in your smaller towns, once Connexions goes, once county youth workers are gone, you’re left with nothing for young people.

“Thetford has no cinema, no 10-pin bowling alley so there’s not even a commercial offering for young people there.”

Meet Up offers youngsters a wide range of activities including a cooking club, courses, media skills, arts and crafts and social help.

Last week Thetford county councillor and Liberal Democrat spokesman on child services Mike Brindle accused Norfolk County Council of making cuts that hit youth harder than any other age group. It has promised a £900,000 Youth Investment Fund but details of who will get that have yet to be announced.

Mrs Matthews said: “I don’t want to get political, but it’s difficult not to when youth services are being cut. There is a bit of naivety in thinking you can do it all with volunteers, you need qualified staff.

“We really value our volunteers but they need monitoring and support. I would be happy volunteering but I’m not skilled or qualified in counselling very disturbed children. We work in partnership with county youth services that soon won’t exist.”

She pointed out that the foundation’s most highly qualified volunteers are trained by county youth workers.