The public meeting will be held at The Manor House Youth Centre, Little Aston Road, Aldridge, next Thursday 13th June 6-8 pm. I urge anyone interested in the youth service as it is now and how it might be in the future to attend this meeting. There are many questions that need answering.
It was 6th April 2011 that Walsall Council announced the sale of The Manor House in Aldridge. The house is one of the few historic buildings left in Aldridge, it has a fascinating history, is Grade 2 listed and lies within a Conservation Area. For many years now, back to the 1960s it has been the home of the local youth service. I've written about how I feel about the service that has been given to the community by many dedicated youth workers before and will not go into that again. What does need to be covered however is the behaviour of Walsall Council and our local councillors in the last few years.
It's worth returning to my FOI request made on 10th May 2011. It was very simple.
"On 6th April 2011, the council announced the sale of Aldridge Manor House. My question is: Once the sale is agreed and goes ahead will the Youth Club held at the Manor House be closed or will it be relocated to other premises in Aldridge?"
It took until 5th July 2011 to respond and no explanation was given as to why a simple FOI request should take so long. The response was one sentence.
" I can confirm that any decisions in the future relating to the Youth Club will be subject to consultation with all interested parties and will include efforts to relocate the service."
As far as I've been able to ascertain the only consultation thus far carried out has been with the young people who have used the centre since April this year. There has been no wider consultation with the community at large. There also appears to have been no effort at all in attempting to relocate the service. Instead we are left with the mind blowing decision that youth services for Aldridge are to be run from the back of a van. It's fair to say that there are other areas of Walsall where this type of service is to be imposed in the name of cuts or 'efficiency savings' and perhaps people in those areas need to start campaigning for their local youth service too.
The general community it seems are quick to point the finger at young people and accuse them of being responsible for all the ills that come under the label of anti-social behaviour even if they're not responsible, so this sort of decision to abandon a decent youth service does affect everyone in the community and not just the service users because it is the community at large that will suffer the consequences of our young people not having a permanent place to go, staffed by youth workers with a permanent base.
Councillor Rachel Andrew has promised (in press releases) that youth work will continue in Aldridge and other areas with a mobile service and pop-up youth clubs. John Morris, Local Area Manager gave details of where such services have already been successfully implemented. I took a look at this services in other areas and without fail, each one still has permanent bases or hubs for the young people of those areas. The pop-ups have been utilised during school holidays in order to reach out to areas not normally covered by youth programmes in order to attempt reductions in anti-social behaviour where there have been problems and yes, they've been successful. The same goes for mobile services. They are seen as a supplement to the main youth service work. In all of these schemes although some have seen the closure of some youth centres, hubs have been created from where the pop-ups and mobile services have been run from.
This is not happening in Aldridge. Instead we potentially see a youth service for the area run from the back of a van. A vacancy has already been advertised for a 'mobile' youth worker. The first question that ran through my mind was where does a young person go if they need someone urgently, if there is no permanent base for the youth service?
On hearing of the definite closure of The Manor House Youth Club on 31st August I emailed all six local councillors for further information. Cllr Ansell, may he rest in peace, did respond immediately advising me to contact Cllr and Leader of the Council, Bird which I duly did. Neither he nor Cllrs Flower, Harris, Sears or Rochelle have ever bothered to respond to my communication. Cllr John Murray has been more helpful and provided this response:
""I have received a reply from the officer concerned with Aldridge Youth Club which responds to your queries in the following way:
1, The decision to close Aldridge Manor House followed the review of the Councils office accommodation through AM2010 led by Property Services.
2, The related business case and ‘Smarter workplaces’ report was agreed by Cabinet on 13th April 2011.
3, The report was identified as requiring a key decision and that it impacted upon ‘all wards’
4, Section 10 of the report refers to consultation activity and states ‘Consultation has been held with CMT/Cabinet, Strategic Property Board and Services which will be involved in the delivery of the programme’.
5, I am not aware of any other consultation activity with the community related to the decision to close AMH.
6, IYPSS are working with a range of services, young people and the wider community to develop an exit strategy from AMH and a programme of alternative provision to be delivered from September 2013.
The only one of your questions not answered above is the one regarding the associated minutes of a scrutiny or cabinet meeting. I would refer you to the minutes of the cabinet meeting held on 13 April 2011, which are available on the council website.
Please let me know if the above answers your questions or if there is anything else which I can do for you regarding this matter.
Councillor John Murray"
I thank Cllr Murray for his assistance. For the other councillors I just say that I am not impressed with what appears to be a lack of concern for the young people of this area. Perhaps you've been too busy campaigning on other issues that aren't really even issues yet?
Although some questions have been answered by Cllr Murray for example and also by press releases, many haven't. The Council seem to be being evasive about certain direct questions, such as where can I see a copy of the Impact Assessment? I'm beginning to think that maybe an Impact Assessment on the consequences for all of the community in closing a permanent youth service in Aldridge has not been carried out. If this is so, then the Council are acting illegally. If one has been carried out why will nobody tell me where I can find it?
It also seems that this decision has not been discussed at Council or Cabinet since April 2011. So who made the decision to abandon a permanent youth centre for Aldridge and when?
Other questions that occur to me and for which local people need answers to are:
What efforts were made to relocate the youth service of Aldridge and who by?
What consultation has taken place since July 2011 and who with? Now I know that the subject was discussed at a local area committee meeting back in February but cannot locate any information regarding other consultation and Cllr Murray is not aware of any that has taken place either. How does this consultation fit in with the response to the FOI request?
What buildings have been identified in Aldridge as suitable for a pop-up service?
Where will the youth workers for Aldridge be based? Back of a van?
The vans; how many young people will they cater for actually inside and what facilities will be available for them within? I've seen the basketball hoop on the back of one van. Impressive!
What will the costs be for converting vans for using as a mobile youth service?
What are the potential savings in the closure of The Manor House?
What will happen to all the fabulous fixtures and fittings, equipment etc currently used at The Manor House?
Will the mobiles be able to support all of the courses and work done with young people? For example in recent years there have been courses for food hygiene with a proper recognised qualification awarded on successful completion. Are mobiles the best places for confidential and private counselling services that our young people often need and want?
Do our local councillors and Council honestly believe that they will be fulfilling all the necessary criteria in meeting what is a statutory service for this area?
Perhaps these questions will be answered at next weeks public meeting. If you have any and are unable to attend the meeting then please do contact me at taxwizzardATgmailDOTcom and I will be more than happy to raise them on your behalf.
I've concentrated on the loss of a permanent youth service but have said nothing about the sale of The Manor House itself. Just one question: what will become of it?