Youth workers striving to reduce shocking figures that reveal hundreds of children are committing crimes in Blackpool are calling for more support from politicians.
After The Gazette revealed the alarming numbers of children, some as young as 10, being dealt with by the police, council bosses and the resort’s MPs moved to praise the positive work done to keep youngsters out of trouble.
It’s happening in spite of the council cutting funding
Now those youth workers have said they need action as well as words to support their “vital” work, as they battle funding cuts and even the potential loss of premises while trying to help the town’s most vulnerable youngsters.
Figures released by the Ministry of Justice show 603 offences were attributed to 10-to-17-year-olds in Blackpool, including crimes such as drug use, burglary and public order offences.
This included 139 youths charged with attacks – 44 of which were in the 10 to 14-year-old bracket.
Teams of youth workers, running award-winning projects in the town, have said there is a direct link between their work and fewer offences committed by youngsters, and say this shows their work needs all the more support.
Jed Sullivan, one of the trustees of Blackpool Boys’ and Girls Club (BBGC), said: “There’s a lot of good youth work going on but it comes from the voluntary sector, filling in for the local authority decimating its youth budget.
“It’s happening in spite of the council cutting funding.”
BBGC runs drop-in youth clubs at two Blackpool sites, at Queens Park in Layton, on Laycock Gate, and on Mereside estate, on Bowness Avenue, for children and young people aged eight to 25, as well as groups for young people with learning difficulties.
Youth worker Dave Blacker said: “We believe Coun Taylor was right when he said there is “good youth work” going on in Blackpool, and that you’ve got to “divert them from crime and into positive activities”.
“As an organisation now entirely independent of council funding, due to austerity cuts, we believe our two centres do exactly as he suggests, and it is our members who are the greatest advocates for encouraging their peers to join.”
Commenting on the crime figures for young people, Lawrence Hancock, who runs the award-winning Boathouse Youth, a project for young people in South Shore, said young people needed to be offered “positive” ways to spend their time.
He said: “Young people need positive relationships to make positive choices.
“Children go to school, and that offers positive relationships, but they spend more time outside of school.
“So taking away positive activities for young people, it’s almost a given that the devil makes work for idle hands.
“An investment needs to be made to provide positive influences for young people.”
The Boathouse Youth celebrates its sixth birthday this year, despite coming close to closure in 2011 due to difficulties in securing funding, and continues to open daily to help around 400 children, offering activities and holidays.
Its service does not come for free, however, and the club is reliant on charitable grants from a raft of organisations. BBGC is in a similar position, though it has managed to celebrate its 80th anniversary this month.
It had also been threatened with closure in 2013, after its council funding was slashed and it still faces a somewhat uncertain future at its Layton base as redevelopment of the Queens Park estate is ongoing.
But bosses at BBGC have said they can show clear links between their youth clubs’ work and fewer incidents of anti-social behaviour or criminal activity by young people.
Mr Blacker added: “We work with young people in that age group who do get in trouble for anti-social behaviour. We try to change that behaviour and set high standards that they hopefully take away from the youth club.
“It’s common sense that while they’re in the youth club, safe, then they’re not on the street causing trouble.”
Council supports ‘real impact’ of youth work
Council bosses who were forced to make cuts to public funding for some of Blackpool’s historic youth clubs, operating in the resort’s most deprived areas, have said they remain fully supportive of their work.
In the face of £14.1m of cuts, Blackpool Council slashed its £600,000 youth services budget for the 2013/14 financial year and established a Youth Fund, of £250,000, to plug the gap.
Coun Ivan Taylor, the authority’s cabinet member for education, said: “I very much value the work that is going on and is making a real impact.”