Give Sunderland kids a place to play, says youth worker

Peter Curtis is applying for planning permission to open Community Sports Hall in Southwick.
Peter Curtis is applying for planning permission to open Community Sports Hall in Southwick.
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A YOUTH group was told it could not use a run-down council sports hall just days before civic bosses bemoaned a lack of teen venues in Sunderland.

Not-for-profit organisation North East Sport hoped to transform shut-down Southwick Sports Hall into a hive of activity again.

But dedicated youth worker Peter Curtis – the driving force behind the bid – was told the organisation could not take on the hall’s lease as it was being put up for sale as part of cost-cutting measures.

However, days later, he received an email from a council officer complaining of a “lack of venues for delivering youth provision” and asking for suggestions.

The email, sent to members of Sunderland’s North Voluntary and Community Sector Network, singled out “Southwick, St Peter’s and Fulwell wards”.

Director of North East Sport, Chris Johnson, said: “The sports hall is worth next to nothing on the open market, but it could be priceless to the kids of Southwick and the Southwick community.

“If the council is just trying to get cash for the family gold, it should head down to Cash Converter. There are plenty of them in the town centre these days.

“The council’s decision to auction off community assets to the highest bidder just further demonstrates why they can’t be trusted to look after the bank account.

“For a council to make such a song and dance about avoiding redundancies, then hold a car boot sale of the people of Sunderland’s resources is an insult to our intelligence.

“Given that the council is struggling to pawn off St Hilda’s School just over the road from the hall, you’d think they’d snap the hands off someone offering to pay a commercial rent for a much smaller site and use it for the continued good of the kids.”

Peter, 39, who set up the community interest company to coach kids in deprived areas of the North East, hoped the centre would become a base for NE Sport and could also be rented out to other local sports clubs and groups.

“If we are unable to secure suitable, cost-effective, indoor facilities through the autumn and winter months, we risk having to cancel sessions which are run for the benefit of local children,” he said.

“This would be a disaster for us and a huge loss to Southwick as a community.”

Councillor Mel Speding, Cabinet Secretary of Sunderland City Council, said: “The City Council is facing, along with not just councils but the rest of the country and indeed the world, considerable financial pressures and more than £55million has been taken out of this year’s budget.

“It has to look at all and many different options for savings and efficiencies.

“No decision has been taken and, as already stated, the city council is preparing to invite offers for this site and building.”

“This is part of the on-going process of identifying what options are available to us for continued best delivery of youth provision in terms of resources and facilities.

“Our voluntary and community sector colleagues including North East Sport are an integral part of this continuing consultation and we are in regular contact with all our partners.”

Twitter: @janethejourno