Agreed on Tuesday October 15th 2019
Shropshire Council launched a Youth Work Consultation on September 9th closing on October 31st. This invited responses from children and young people and their parents, public and voluntary sector services and Town and Parish Councils. It is concerned with universal, open access groups as well as more targeted support, such as outreach or detached youth work with more vulnerable youngsters.
2. Current Position:
With the ending of Shropshire Council grants to youth organisations, Church Stretton Town Council has sought to identify the local need for youth services, with a view to expanding on its previous periodic funding of short-term youth projects, undertaken by the South Shropshire Youth Forum. This supplemented the work of the well-established and well-supported uniform youth groups, sports groups and church youth group. The Council has also supplied a popular adventure play area in addition to two play areas for younger children.
In the autumn of 2018, the Council undertook a large-scale youth consultation in collaboration with the local Academy. This identified a substantial demand for an informal meeting place away from school, in which youngsters in the 12-16 year age range were able both to relax and to engage in a range of activities, e.g. computer and board games, cooking, drama. As a result, a youth drama group has recently been started in the Mayfair Community Centre and discussions are continuing on re-starting an open access youth club. It is probable that these activities will need on-going financial support. A Youth Council has been formed and this is already closely involved in the drafting of a Community-Led Plan 2020-2036. It is recognised that youth activities need to have higher profile within the town, relative to the many groups for the older generation.
Given that only a third of students at the local Academy actually live in the town, with the remainder bussed in from as far afield as Bayston Hill, the cost and availability of travel is a major constraint on youngsters from the rural hinterland. Of local villages, only Cardington has its own youth group.
In common with most communities, Church Stretton has long had a small group of disaffected youth, who tend not to engage with organised youth groups and congregate mostly in public parks. There is often evidence of alcohol and drugs use, as well as spates of petty vandalism. It is this group that poses the greatest challenge and requires long term engagement from a trained youth worker, conversant with the local community, able also to train up and support local community volunteers.
3. Town Council response to the outlined Youth Support model:
- We accept the need to place emphasis on working with the most vulnerable young people, especially to guard against the risk of county drug lines;
- We welcome the proposal to have area-linked youth workers who get to know their communities and train up and support local community volunteers. Given that Shrewsbury has 20 youth workers, it is assumed that, in this large rural county, the proposed team of six youth workers will work in market towns and their surrounding rural areas. It will be essential that this small team also trains up and supports local community volunteers.
- We recognise that a stronger locality approach is needed with Town Councils exercising a greater role, perhaps convening local fora of stakeholders to promote local collaboration and greater civic recognition. They will, hopefully, be able to learn from each other in developing this new role. Town Councils should also be able to look to feeder Parish Councils for financial support.
If Shropshire Council is proposing to reduce its role and responsibility in this area, it needs to define what financial and organisational support it is willing to give to Town Councils, upon which they can depend.
It will be vital that support to Town Councils, such as from the Shropshire Youth Association, is available to them in seeking additional sources of funding.
Shropshire Council also needs to engage with Parish Councils in exploring what financial travel support can be given to the otherwise isolated youngsters living in rural areas, so as to promote more demographically viable rural communities, as per the Local Development Plan.
- We strongly endorse the need for stronger referral networks between youth workers, teachers, school nurses, and mental health workers. Recent reports have identified an alarming breakdown of support for youngsters experiencing mental health difficulties, having to now wait months to see a counsellor at a time when enhanced access to social media is exacerbating juvenile vulnerabilities. It is incumbent on Shropshire Council to take the lead in addressing this urgent issue with the NHS and schools.
The net effect of these proposals will be to increase the financial and organisational burden on Town Councils. It is, therefore, essential that Shropshire Council provides financial and organisational support to Town Councils in taking on this additional role and that the resultant financial burden is equitably shared between all Town and Parish Councils, however mediated by Shropshire Council.