19 Apr 2011

‘Hoodies’ take youth centre funding fight to David Cameron

A group of teenagers fighting cuts to youth funding in and around David Cameron’s constituency tell Channel 4 News they are being “ignored”. The youngsters want the Prime Minister to intervene.

Oxfordshire County Council may include the Prime Minister’s constituency but it is not immune from funding cuts being experienced by all local authorities.

And his Premiership is little comfort to hundreds of teenagers in the area who fear their youth centres will close as a result.

Read more: Spending cuts check special report

The teenagers have staged a series of protests, including a “hug a hoodie” demonstration, in reference to David Cameron’s now famous speech in 2006.

Beth Wishart, who is 14, attends Eynsham Youth Club which, under new plans, will have its council funding withdrawn. She helped to set up a Facebook page called Save all UK youth centres.

Beth told Channel 4 News that any youth centre closures would have a detrimental effect long-term: “If we didn’t have the youth centre we would be on the streets, maybe causing problems, and because of the cuts there would be less police to sort out young people.”

If the centre at Eynsham is forced to close, Beth and her friends would have to travel five miles to Witney.

For 18-year old Charlie Riley her youth centre has been more than simply somewhere to meet friends: “I’ve been going for three years now and I think really it’s saved my life.

“David Cameron’s the MP for Witney and round there, so he should just fight for Witney.” India Antell, 13

“I have depression etc and they’re always there for me to make sure I get what I need or if things are really bad they point me in the right direction.”

Kieran Butler, 14, attends Witney youth centre, which is a short walk from David Cameron’s constituency office: “If the youth centres do close down there will be nowhere to meet friends..there will be no freedom to play with other kids and you’ll be saying goodbye to it and all the members of staff you’ve trusted and loved over the years.”

Pressure on the Prime Minister

The teenagers in Oxfordshire have delivered hundreds of signed postcards to the Prime Minister’s constituency office in Witney.

But so far David Cameron has not responded to the young people’s pleas for help.

Read more: Cutsmap - show us the spending cuts

India Antell, 13, goes to Eynsham youth centre and told Channel 4 News the Prime Minister should intervene: “He’s the MP for Witney and round there, so he should just fight for Witney.

Her message to the Prime Minister was clear: “It’s your youth club, we’re your kids in a way and we need your help.”

Channel 4 News asked David Cameron for an interview on the young people’s campaign but has so far had no response.

Youth centres in Oxfordshire, in Prime Minister David Cameron's constituency, are facing funding cuts

‘Merging services’

Oxfordshire County Council insists it is premature to talk of youth centre closures.

It has to save £16.9m by 2014/15 from its Children, Young People and Families directorate.

In a bid to do this, officials are proposing to merge services relating to young people under the banner of “Early Intervention”.

The council claims the new centres will deal with children who have problems in school, are involved in substance misuse or anti-social behaviour.

The local authority says it currently funds, either fully or partially, 26 dedicated young peoples centres. Of those, seven will become so-called “hubs” for the early intervention services, including the centre in Witney.

Campaigners are worried these centres will not provide traditional youth services for youngsters coming in off the street.

But in a statement given to Channel 4 News the council said: “These hubs would continue to offer evening and weekend sessions to young people.”

Another six centres will become “satellite centres”, feeding into the main hubs.

The remaining 13 centres face a more uncertain future, as council funding will be pulled.

Talks are taking place with local schools and voluntary groups in a bid to keep them open and a Big Society fund has been set up for all community-led initiatives.

Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet will vote on Tuesday about whether to push ahead with the changes, which will save £4m a year.

More on spending cuts across the UK