A PIONEERING youth scheme that has helped thousands of young Wearsiders get their lives back on track today faces an uncertain future.
The Phoenix Project has slashed teenage offending rates across the city and won countless awards, acting as a template for similar schemes across the UK.
But its long-term future has been thrown into doubt after a decision to axe Sunderland Central Fire Station, home to Phoenix for the past 14 years.
Today supporters of the scheme urged Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority not to turn the “disaster” of closing the station into a “catastrophe” of losing the project.
Brigade bosses have told the Echo they are “reviewing” the scheme, along with all their “diversionary” activities with young people across Tyne and Wear.
Fire bosses announced plans to axe Sunderland Central in the coming three years as they face making cuts of £5million.
Not only will it leave the city centre without a fire station, but it will leave Phoenix without a home.
Councillor Iain Kay, whose ward covers the Railway Row station, has observed the work of Phoenix on a number of occasions.
He said: “From my own experience, I can say the work carried out with these young people is incredibly impressive. There is an under-recognised commitment to supporting and helping them.
“If we lose the fire station, it’s a disaster. If we lose the Phoenix Project, it would turn a disaster into a catastrophe.”
The scheme, which works with 11 to 17-year-olds, gives young offenders and truants a chance to spend time with firefighters, learning about the consequences of arson. A certified course, they also learn about first aid and team-working, as well as addressing issues of antisocial behaviour.
As a result, evidence has shown that a high percentage of those who complete the four-day course did not go on to offend, with many opting to enrol in further education.
A study of Phoenix found that 44 per cent of offenders taking part committed no more crimes, while 33 per cent committed fewer crimes. Almost all those who took part said they saw a boost in self-esteem and confidence.
Councillor Margaret Forbes, who sits on the Fire Authority and voted against the closure of the station, said: “The overall thrust of Phoenix is of huge benefit to the city.
“It’s a vital project, particularly in areas of deprivation. I think we should be looking to tap into other areas of funding to make sure it keeps going.”
The success of the project led to multiple awards, including from the British Community Safety Awards in 2001, the Youth Offending category of the National Community Care Awards in 2002 and the Partnership and Collaboration Award in 2010.
A spokeswoman for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service said: “The Phoenix Project is part of the our diversionary activities with young people across Tyne and Wear.
“These activities have been reviewed recently and consultation carried out with partners about their future. This work is not yet complete but the Fire Authority will make decisions about diversionary activities in the coming months.”
Councillor Bob Price, who covers the Millfield ward where the fire station is based, opted not to comment on the fire station closure due to his role on the Fire Authority. Coun Price had abstained from voting over the move to axe the Railway Row facility.
The Echo this week launched its ‘Hold Fire’ campaign which is asking fire bosses to reconsider its decision to close the station.
The future of the station is again due to be looked at a meeting of the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority on Monday.