Sunderland youth groups under threat as funding cuts bite

XL Youth Village, Thompson Park, Sunderland, 5/6 2010.'Photo �:Mark Pinder/Guzelians.'Credit Mark Pinder only.

XL Youth Village, Thompson Park, Sunderland, 5/6 2010.'Photo �:Mark Pinder/Guzelians.'Credit Mark Pinder only.

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YOUTH groups across Sunderland are in crisis as devastating cuts leave many fighting for survival.

Council spending on youth services – which help tens of thousands of young people – fell by more than £1million from £4,157,368 in 2009/10 to £3,132,689 in 2011/12.

Clubs that support, guide and provide advice are now facing an uncertain future, with many fearing they will close.

A report leaked to the Echo paints a bleak picture for groups in Sunderland, detailing how services could close, staff may lose jobs and how they have been hit by funding issues.

Youth services in the city employ 525 people, support 197 volunteers and, in 2011/12, helped 30,039 young Wearsiders.

But it is not council cuts which are causing the main problems.

Reductions in national funding grants are systematically destroying decades of work in the city’s youth sector, according to group leaders.

“Effectiveness can take a number of years to achieve, recruiting and retaining professional staff, training and establishing a trusted reputation within the community,” claimed one youth leader.

“Years to build, seconds to take away.”

Groups have already seen a loss of £334,048 due to reductions in contracts and funding coming to an end. The overall figure is expected to be much bigger.

The report estimates up to 69 organisations could close in the next year, 12 will make staff redundant and 11 will be forced to cut the services.

Staff say they have endured salary cuts, managers have turned into fund-raisers, and many work long hours, leading to higher levels of stress.

Project managers are struggling to afford the basics, while others are cutting hours and wages, rather than make redundancies.

Sunderland’s MPs today demanded urgent action to maintain standards of youth services.

Houghton and Sunderland South MP, Bridget Phillipson, said: “At a time when the UK has the highest level of youth unemployment second to only Spain and Greece, the Government seems set on cutting back the majority of funding and grants available to these essential services.”

Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson demanded youth services are made a top priority.

She said: “This is the reality of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’. While millionaires get tax breaks worth £40,000 a year, charities and voluntary organisations which do great work in communities like ours, often trying to turn around the lives of the most vulnerable young people, are facing closure or having to reduce their activities at precisely the time they are needed most.”

Many groups in the city are reluctant to speak about funding issues as they are applying for the next round of cash, which they hope will ensure their survival for another 12 months.

Councillor Pat Smith, cabinet member for children’s services at Sunderland City Council, said: “The council and its partners continue to support opportunities for young people in many youth groups and projects.

“While we face a major period of change and there has been a loss of many national grants, we have a continuing commitment to our core offer of ‘youth work’. This offer includes extending the age range for young people accessing provision and introducing provision for younger children aged eight to 10 years old.

“These regular activities are enhanced by additional provision through the sports, leisure, training and IT facilities offered by the mobile XL youth villages and the two XL buses.”

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