Market Drayton youth club protest planned over closure fears as hundreds sign petition
Furious youth workers will protest publicly after being told by Shropshire Council that funding for their thriving youth club will be pulled.
Market Drayton Youth Club has provided for 10- to 16-year-olds for more than 20 years, but it is due to close at the end of March due to Shropshire Council's plan to stop funding open access clubs and instead provide six 'outreach' workers to cover the whole of the county.
Now those who run the club are to hold a public protest and urge Shropshire Council to reconsider before they are forced to close.
One of those protesting the move is William Falcus, a youth support worker for the Shropshire Youth Association who works at the Market Drayton club.
He said: "There has been a youth club at the Phoenix Centre for over 20 years now.
"There is a blatant need for a project like ours in this area – we are now the most-attended club in Shropshire, averaging 70 kids across our junior and senior sessions each week."
Market Drayton Town Council had said it could host the club's sessions for the next few years at its community centre the Zone, in the Fairfields estate, while a more permanent solution is identified.
But Mr Falcus said that the Zone's sessions would be capped and unable to cope with 70 children per session, while the children from the youth club might be unwilling to attend sessions there.
The youth club hosts arts and crafts sessions, games and educational activities.
Mr Falcus said that the latest intake of more than 25 senior attendees (aged 16-18) felt that the youth club is "the only thing for them to do in a quiet, rural town such as our own, aside from going to the skate park or hanging around on the streets".
"This opinion is shared by many of the parents of our junior attendants who say we offer the only safe, social environment for their children outside of school and without us they simply wouldn't have that source of enrichment and enjoyment each week."
The club's provision was previously reduced last year, with sessions cut from two hours to one-and-a-half hours and an entry fee of £1 per child introduced.
Then, earlier this month, the club was told formally of Shropshire Council's new plans. The children who attend were "infuriated" when they found out, Mr Falcus said.
"We believe this act of taking support away from all those already receiving it in clubs such as our own will inflame the need for young people’s support services to a workload far greater than something that can be handled by just six people," added Mr Falcus.
"What are Shropshire Council thinking?
"And besides that, how on earth do these six outreach youth workers intend to form the same trusted bonds, or offer the same safe space and support network that we can at our club?
"We believe the annual cost of funding our service is a worthwhile investment in our younger generation, an investment that will be recompensed in lower juvenile crime rates, involving vandalism, violence, loitering and drug use, and also earlier intervention when it comes to domestic crimes and online safeguarding catastrophes.
"But perhaps most importantly it will be recompensed in the well-socialised, confident, caring young leaders which we encourage at our club, with lots of experiences to share and stories to tell and who feel they have a sense of belonging in their community.
"We believe the youth community we have established is an integral part of our community as a whole and offers our younger generation a means through which they can engage with their wider community."
The club's children have been writing to the council talking about how important the club is to them and how much they enjoy coming.
Meanwhile the youth workers have started a petition, 'Save Market Drayton Youth Club from Closing', which has more than 700 signatures online.
View the petition at bit.ly/2Q1HJTL
They intend to hand it to a council representative next Wednesday, March 18, when the club will hold a peaceful protest with parents outside the Phoenix Centre from 6pm.
Mr Falcus said that the town's police community support officers and Market Drayton Methodist Church will be there to show their support, while North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson and other youth workers from across the county have also been invited.
"For our event to be a success, we feel it is really imperative that we gather as much of our local community together to send a strong and clear message to Shropshire Council that we believe our society needs youth clubs, this is how we want to invest in our younger generation, this is what we want our taxes to fund," said Mr Falcus.