More than 80 Wembley young peopl crowded into the Town Hall tonight to meet with Ann John (Council Leader), Muhammed Butt (Deputy Leader) and Mary Arnold (Lead Member for Children and Families) and passionately defended the Dennis Jackson Club and Wembley Youth Centre. The meeting followed a commitment made by Ann John at the Wembley Area Consultation Forum when youth raised the issue of cuts in youth provision.
Ann John outlined the Council's financial difficulties and put the blame squarely on the Conservative led Coalition government. She said that the Council was having to take controversial decisions including the closure of six libraries, reduced waste collection, closing day centres for the disabled and closing the Welsh Harp Environmental Education Centre.
She said, "I can't tell you how many e-mails and letters we have received on these and other measures. People feel passionately and there are difficult decisions coming up on Children's Centres. We will be taking a lot of other unpopular decisions."
She emphasised that no final decisions would be made until the budget setting meeting on February 28th.
Speakers from the floor politely but passionately made the following points among many others:
- It is more expensive to send young people to prison than to run youth clubs to keep them out of trouble
- I am a peer volunteer at a Youth Centre and as a performing arts student able to use the space to provide dance activities for others. Where can I do that when it closes?
- What are we doing for the youth? Not just dance and other activities but we need debates to make us think
- Cut back some of the activities rather than closing the centres
- Our Muslim girls' group provides basketball, ice skating, bowling, first aid training and enables them to do more outgoing activities in the future
- The youth club kept me smiling and motivated me when I don't think any other place could have done that
- I was new to the country and didn't know much English but the club helped me learn English with projects like youth and drugs and preparing for interviews
- It is not just basketball and other sports, we do driving theory classes, first aid training and craft activities
- We are coming up to the 2010 Olympics but our facilities are being taken away
- We understand your difficulties, we want to work with you and what what we have already. Can we do some fund-raising?
One speaker said that he had attend his centre as a small child and now volunteered as a young adult on music activities:
"We want you to come and see what we are doing. I haven't seen any of the managers (councillors?) at the centre. We want you to come and see more and do more. The centre has been neglected by the council. You give us so little that cutting it is an insult. Are chicken shops going to become our youth centres?"
What the councillors said:
- People are waking up to the fact that if you don't make provision now you have problems later
- This is the worse financial situation local government has ever faced
- We didn't come on the Council to stop doing things. It's painful. We don't like it.
- We need to think outside the box and look at staffing costs and get a breakdown of the hours
- The cuts in respite care were painful. Do we stop meals on wheels, care at home?
- We promise to take on what you say, go away and talk to other councillors in the Labour group and look at the budget but we won't be able to spend extra money and other people will be hurt
- If we can do something, we promise we will. We'll try and do what we can.
Brent Green Party have always pressed for enhanced youth provision as a vital community resource and strongly back the participation of youth in the democratic process through school councils, youth councils and youth parliaments. We welcome the mobilisation of Wembley youth over this issue and support their campaign. Their speeches last night were clear, confident and convincing and challenged many of the current stereotypes of young people.