Anger over youth service restructuring

A YOUTH worker has spoken out about his concern for the future of the district’s youth clubs.

Dave Hamilton, of Knaresborough Road, Harrogate, says a recent restructure of the youth service (now known as youth support service) has seen experienced, senior members of staff made redundant.

Mr Hamilton, who was awarded an MBE for his services to young people in 2008, was a senior youth worker at Bilton Youth Club until last week when he was forced to take the lower position of youth worker or lose his job entirely.

He said: “Youth workers across the county find themselves angered and upset by the re-organisation of youth provision. Across the country youth provision is in decline, while across the county youth workers (many who have been involved in the front line delivery of youth work for several years, some of whom have served the young people for in excess of two decades) have been made redundant.

“Up and down the country youth clubs are closing. North Yorkshire County Council says that is not the aim but you look at the fact that the council has got rid of senior youth workers then surely that signals its aims.”

Mr Hamilton, who also works as a special instructor at the Pupil Referral Centre, on Grove Road, said he feels the lengthy consultation period on the restructuring seems to have been “a legal requirement rather than a listening process”.

“We have not been able to get any answers to our questions. The service always asks us to speak to the young people and get their opinion on issues but there were not consulted on this,” he said.

“It has not been dealt with in the best manner. This restructuring has affected a lot of people who have dedicated themselves to the service. Some people have been left in the cold. I have been lucky.

“The situation for other colleagues is not so positive. They have been left in a heartbreaking position, as they have no role within the new structure, neither have they been offered this demoted role as part of the redeployment process. I am aware that colleagues have thrown heart and soul into giving their best to the children and young people who attend the youth clubs.”

He added: “It does not appear that the parents and youngsters themselves have had much of a say in this process and that cannot be right, can it?”

Mr Hamilton says that among the clubs in the district that have lost their senior youth worker are Jennyfields Youth Club at Harold Styan Community Centre, Casper’s Youth Club in Starbeck and Tockwith Youth Club.

When the news that Mr Hamilton could face losing his job as senior youth worker at Bilton Youth Club was made public members of the club came out in force to show their support for their leader by writing an open letter to the paper.

In total, 23 young people signed the letter, many of whom left their own comments, praising the youth club and its staff.

Among the supporters who left a comment was Bilton Youth Club volunteer Nat. She said: “I have known Dave for over eight years. Before I met Dave and started coming to the club I used to hang around with the wrong crowd. If Dave hadn’t given me chances I would’ve probably ended up on the streets taking drugs. I am now 23 and volunteer at the club. He has helped me so much, both personally and professionally. Without him, things would not be the same. I, along with a lot of the young people at the club, would stop coming.”

Lewis Johnson, 14, has been using the club for three years. He said: “Dave has done so much for me and for everyone at the club. He has helped me learn how to fish, which he does through the junior angling club, as well as raising money for the air ambulance.”

Ceri Davies, of Wilsill, near Pateley Bridge, wrote to the Harrogate Advertiser this week to voice support for the youth service: “Few people realise the importance of this service and the very dedicated work youth officers provide. It is a much undervalued service and is particularly important at a time when young people throughout the country are facing such daunting problems.”

North Yorkshire County Council’s principal youth support service officer Louise Dunn said: “As a result of the county-wide staffing review of the youth support service there has been an increase in the staffing overall and the numbers of full-time youth support practitioners in the Harrogate area has increased.

“In some places in Harrogate there has also been an increase in the activities provided.

“These changes have come about in order to continue to develop our universal offer to all young people but also to provide more focused, longer term and strategic support to some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged young people in our communities.”

Coun Arthur Baker, North Yorkshire’s executive member for Youth Services, said: “We believe we have created a first class youth support service which will be of great benefit to the young people of North Yorkshire.

“We have continued to invest in our young people because helping them to develop their skills, to maintain good health and wellbeing and to achieve across a broad range of activities is crucial to the vitality of this county.”

l Let us know your views. Email or write to Harrogate Advertiser, 1 Cardale Park, Harrogate, HG3 1RZ.