Town Council calls special meeting to resolve Bradley Stoke youth work crisis

BSTCA special meeting of Bradley Stoke Town Council (BSTC) is to take place this Wednesday (25th February) at 8:30pm in the Jubilee Centre, Savages Wood Road.

The meeting has been called to decide how youth work is to be delivered in the town from 1st April, after it was revealed that South Gloucestershire Council (SGC) is unlikley to be able to take on responsibility for the service before 1st June.

A closed meeting of the Town Council on 3rd December last year decided to divert youth work funding from Southern Brooks Community Partnership (SBCP, the current provider) to a “partnership” arrangement with SGC, with effect from 1st April 2009.

However, when Bradley Stoke Councillors met with SGC’s Youth Service on 17th February, they were told that the necessity for a fair and transparent tendering process means that a new provider is unlikely to be found before 1st June. That leaves a two month period of uncertainty between the end of the current SBCP contract and the start of the new provider’s contract.

Last Wednesday’s meeting of BSTC’s Finance & Leisure (F&L) Committee saw Councillors unable to agree on how youth work in the town should be delivered in the estimated two month period of uncertainty after 1st April, so a special meeting of Full Council has been called for this week to discuss the matter further.

SBCPRelations between BSTC and SBCP have been strained for some time, in the main because of the Council’s view that SBCP has provided an insufficient level of reporting on community work (rather than youth work) funded by the Council.

BSTC’s decision to divert youth work funding from SBCP to SGC (which does not preclude SBCP from continuing to run the service, should it successfully contest SGC’s tendering process) has upset staff and supporters of SBCP, many of whom interpret it as an unjust criticism of the quality and effectiveness of their work over the last eight years.

Rumours circulating after the 17th February meeting between BSTC and SGC suggested that the Town Council might appoint its own youth leader to cover the interim period, but this was denied at last week’s F&L meeting, where maintaining the status quo (i.e. extending the SBCP contract for two months) or having no provision were the only options initially discussed.

The F&L meeting also heard Councillor Brian Hopkinson, architect of the plan to remove control of youth work from SBCP by 1st April, expressing the view that SGC had “failed to deliver” and had “wasted the winter months”. Cllr Hopkinson also said he had some suggestions for personnel to run the new service and the meeting went into closed session to hear these (we understand they involve some of Cllr Hopkinson’s friends at Patchway Baptist Church).

Julie Snelling, Director of SBCP, has told The Journal that the organisation is “unwilling to accept” the Council’s proposal of a two month extension from 1st April, adding that “all youth work in the town is likely to stop from 1st April while a new tendering process is put in place”.

A letter circulated by SBCP to parents and young people in the town on Friday highlights the achievements of the organisation’s youth work in Bradley Stoke and calls on supporters to lobby Councillors and attend Wednesday’s special meeting.

Skate Park Competition 2008
Happier times for SBCP youth work at the 2008 Skate Park Competition

How the Bradley Stoke youth work crisis unfolded

With the completion of the redeveloped Baileys Court Activity Centre in early 2008, one room of that site was designated a “dedicated youth space”, meaning that it would not be let to other hirers and could be decorated and furnished by the youth club members.

Town Councillors then withdrew free room hire for the youth club at the Jubilee Centre, on the grounds that the dedicated room at Baileys Court could be used instead – if the youth club wish to continue using the Jubilee Centre, it would have to pay the going rate.

But members of the Jubilee Youth Club said they couldn’t travel across town to Baileys Court and successfully applied to the Big Stash Lottery Fund for a grant of £8,000 to keep the Jubilee Youth Club going for a further year.

The possibility of running a youth club at the Brook Way Activity Centre was first raised in June 2008, when Cllr Brian Hopkinson proposed spending an additional £16,000 p.a. for two nights per week at that venue. That proposal was rejected as being “premature”, as a major review of youth provision by SGC was already underway and Councillors wished to hear its outcome before committing further expenditure.

Councillors seemed more receptive to the idea when it was again raised by Cllr Hopkinson at the September 2008 Full Council meeting. This time he was advised that the idea could be discussed as part of the forthcoming Town Council budget setting process for 2009/2010.

That same meeting heard a presentation from SGC’s Chris Herriot, who outlined the District Council’s draft Youth Service Future Strategy, which includes plans for a youth work ‘hub’ to be built in about 18 months time in the grounds of Bradley Stoke Community School (BSCS). The new ‘hub’ would be open seven nights a week and, in addition to all the usual youth activities, would have an emphasis on media and the performing arts (a specialism at BSCS), he said.

The draft Youth Service Future Strategy was subsequently put out to public consultation (13th Oct 2008 – 9th Jan 2009), the results of which are still awaited.

The Town Council’s decision to enter a “partnership” arrangement with SGC was made in December 2008. That will see all youth club nights move to the Council’s Brook Way Activity Centre and will make the “dedicated youth space” at Baileys Court redundant, barely more than a year after it was created.

Allegations by Cllr Hopkinson that SBCP’s provision has been “tokenistic” and aimed only at youths aged 13 and under have been flatly denied by the Partnership’s Director, Julie Snelling, as has the claim (in a BSTC press release on 10th December) that young people have been “turning their backs on the current youth offering [in the town]”.

Pond Clearance at Jubilee Green
SBCP youth workers and club members help to clear the Jubilee Green pond

Lib Dem Councillor Jon Williams, until recently a trustee of SBCP commented:

“My real concern here is that SBCP is being criticised when it’s met all the targets set. BSTC, despite promising to set up a sub group to monitor youth work, failed to do so. Reps to the Youth Steering Group boycotted it because I was the Chair and so failed to get the information they said they wanted.”

“In addition they have made no attempt to involve young people or the youth workers in their decision making process. It’s disgraceful.”

At the recent F&L Committee meeting, Cllr Williams informed his fellow Councillors that he has now resigned his position with SBCP, in order to better represent the youth of the town. He later explained to The Journal:

“It is with regret that I have had to resign from the Southern Brooks Community Partnership in order to represent the young people of Bradley Stoke. I was founder member of the management committee in 1988 and have seen it grow to become a well respected and pro-active organisation working hard for the communities in the area.

Because councillors have to declare their interest in organisations they are involved with and because the Partnership are the current deliverers of youth work in the town, I was barred from taking part in meetings that discussed the future delivery of youth work in the town.

I have real concerns that the Conservative administration are seeking to disrupt youth services in the town because of a few councillors who think they know best. They have made no attempt to ask young people what they want and are making decisions without any factual information to support them.

I’m in favour of getting the best service possible for young people, but they need to be consulted and listened to. At the moment no-one is doing this and I feel that my role as a local councillor is to stand up for them which I couldn’t do as a Trustee of the organisation. I hope my involvement will help get the best deal for them.”

The Chair of BSTC, Cllr Robert Jones, commented that he believed everyone on the Council shared a common view of where they wanted to get to with youth work in the town, but admitted that they are struggling to find agreement on how to reach that goal.

Mark Forsyth, Chair of the F&L Committee, issued the following statement on behalf of BSTC:

“Bradley Stoke Town Council have confirmed, in our latest budget, a record amount of investment for youth provision within the town and it is important, especially in this current economic climate, that our young residents get the most out of this spending. It is also important for the Council Tax payers of the town, that the town council does its upmost to ensure that less of it is swallowed up by bureaucracy and more of it gets through to the front-line where it is needed.”

“We have therefore taken the decision to review our current funding arrangements for youth provision. This will involve us working more closely with South Gloucestershire Council so we can get the best value from the resources that both councils are putting into this area. This will ensure that the tax payers of Bradley Stoke get the best value for money, whilst the young people of the town get the best possible facilities and service from the available funding.”

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