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Community leaders raise concerns about the future of @21 in Leek

By Leek Post and Times  |  Posted: August 02, 2014

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A youth support venue is under threat of closure if the volunteer group which runs it does not find fresh funding.

The potential demise of the @21 Project in Leek, which offers a wide range of support for young people, is being blamed on youth workers across the county being made redundant.

The venue, at No 21 Market Street, is run by a committee of volunteers and supported by two part-time youth workers who are employed by Staffordshire County Council.

However, 400 paid youth workers across the county are set to lose their jobs and the committee of @21 now fear for the future of the project, which has been running in Leek since 1996.

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Chairman of @21 Liz Cartlidge said: "The problem we have got is that the county council will be sacking youth workers. We don't know when this is going to happen yet as they are still in middle of a 45-day consultation.

"We have worked out that, to keep @21 going, we will need to employ two part-time youth workers, which will cost around £5,000 a year, and then there is the rent for the building which is £1,200 a year, along with all the other running costs such as heating and lighting, as well as funding for different activities we run.

"The nature of our work is it is not just a youth club. We do all sorts of support work such as focusing on bullying, drugs, drink and healthy eating. Our work goes much deeper and so we need qualified and professional youth workers who can advise young people on topics such as jobs and teenage pregnancies."

At the last Annual General Meeting of @21, it was revealed the project had £7,200 in its bank account ,which means it will be able to keep going – but only for up to a year.

Mrs Cartlidge said: If we don't find the funding then we would have to close @21 within 12 months, if not before.

"It would be a blow if we had to shut down. I would like to appeal for funding and have asked both the town council and district council for help."

Leek Town councillors recently discussed the issue of @21.

Deputy Mayor of Leek, Councillor Pam Wood, said: "We are all aware that youth services are in jeopardy at the moment, but @21 is not run by Staffordshire County Council although the staff are employed by it.

"It's a mix of Churches Together, Youth Services and the police. They need trained staff with the sort of work they do, such as working with young mums."

Town councillor Charlotte Atkins, who is also a county representative for Leek South, said: "@21 does some great work. I remember meeting some mums there who were lacking so much confidence that they would not even go to the Haregate Centre for the Breakfast Club.

"But then after the help and support they had at @21 they now have the confidence to go."

Ms Atkins added: "It is only a small space at @21 but they do so much there I think that a lot of people think that volunteers will fill the roles.

"But to practically run a youth centre is a huge aspect.

"Youths are not always the people that volunteers want to help. That is why youth workers have all that training behind them, and obviously volunteers prefer to have guidance of a professional."

Mrs Wood added: "I think we, as a town council, should invest to keep this facility going."

The issue is set to be further discussed at the next setting of the town council precept.

Anyone wishing to financially help @21 can call Mrs Cartlidge on 01538 360323.

Robbie Marshall, Staffordshire County Council's Cabinet member for Health and Wellbeing, said: "We are in the middle of a confidential consultation process with the trade unions, therefore at the moment it's not appropriate to go into detail, especially as that detail is likely to change several times until the process is complete.

"Though the discussions we are having are confidential, they are based upon information and proposals that have been public for some time and discussed publicly on numerous occasions.

"Once the process with the trade unions is complete, the county council will be able to share detailed plans with communities."

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