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Making youth a priority

The issue of young people hanging around on street corners has been listed as a priority concern by community groups in North Oxfordshire. All 13 Neighbourhood Action Groups (NAGs)  raised the subject as a worry. District councillors have now taken up the mantle and plan to investigate whether young people are being antisocial - or whether it is simply people's perception that they are up to no good.

The task group chairman hopes the cross-party group will be able to restore confidence in young people across the district. She said: "Every Nag believes young people hanging round on street corners leads to antisocial behaviour. What the task group wants to know is if this perception is justified. Are the groups causing trouble or are they simply minding their own business in a public place We also hope to find out what motivates young people to hang around on street corners. If it is because there's nowhere else for them to go, then the council must look at what kind of facilities could be provided. This is a very safe place to live, but people don't always believe this. If we do find out there is an antisocial behaviour problem then we can look at ways to address it."

OOPS The only problem is that this news item refers to CHERWELL DISTRICT COUNCIL. Our own district council have no plans for a fact-finding task force!! ED



Also tucked away in the Station Mill Planning Report is an interesting item about a Youth Centre. It's in an itemised list of requests from the County Council asking for developer contributions towards infrastructure costs which total a measly 20,855 for this whole development which will sell for close to 3m.

"Existing Youth Facilities need to be extended or relocated in Chipping Norton to provide for an expanding population including that caused by new development. The cost of a new youth centre is estimated to be 550,000. This would provide for 1108 11-17 year olds in Chipping Norton. This is the equivalent of 496.39 per youth. On this basis and the dwelling mix proposed, a sum of 492 is needed towards Youth Centre Infrastructure serving Chipping Norton". It seems that there will be just one youth in these fourteen flats.

The interesting new information is  that the County seem to have costed a Youth Centre and are now collecting money towards it, Perhaps its time for them to start talking to the town about their plans because we are still in the dark about it!


1m for a new Chippy Community Centre  WOW!

Oxfordshire County Council have been successful in getting a government grant of 800,000 towards the 1m cost of a new Chippy community centre to be built next to the school - along Glyme Lane just past the old tennis courts. The new centre will be the base for

Youth clubs for juniors (ages 9 to 13) and seniors (14 to 19), counselling services, health and fitness activities, advice and guidance around drugs and alcohol, performance arts and multi-media access

The Integrated Youth Support Service will support vulnerable groups through prevention and early intervention methods, with a particular focus on youth crime and anti-social behaviour

 Adult Learning programmes including parenting classes, IT courses, job-related sessions and access to qualifications such as GCSEs and NVQs

This very ambitious outcome is a bit different from the idea of a standalone Youth Centre which has been discussed in the town for the last couple of years. We have been lobbying hard for  money from a very stretched OCC budget to try and get a new Youth Centre but have only been moving slowly up the county priority queue. The Town Council recently made an offer to sell one of its own properties to contribute to the cost of a simple building costing around 250,000. Even this was proving difficult to achieve - given that the property market has collapsed. Things changed dramatically earlier this year when Councillor Hilary Biles persuaded Louise Chapman - who is the OCC Cabinet Member in charge of Youth Services - to come to Chippy with her Children and Young Peoples Services Team and listen to our case. Around the same time the Department for Children, Schools and Families announced a big new scheme which made grants available to local authorities who were developing innovative approaches  by "co-locating" social services on one site that had previously been supplied in different places. This was because there was evidence that this "co-location" approach produced better and more cost-effective results. Moreover, it was expected that such facilities would best be provided on or next to school campuses. This was a "competitive" bidding process and any proposal would be in competition with others from all around the country. Louise and her team saw their chance. They were already working on a big grant application to this new fund for a scheme in Banbury so a Chippy Centre was included in the programme. Applications had to be in by the end of March. There was a lot of fast action involved. Congratulations to them. The special needs of Chippy added to the fact that parts of the town have a high Social Deprivation score provided the basis for a strong case. They put together a superb bid and won! This was really smart work. In one step we had jumped the County queue!! Hilary and Louise had proved a couple of really canny operators. We were lucky to have them pressing our case.

What everyone in town needs to understand is that we only got this money because the proposal made was to locate several social services on one site. We get a fabulous new 1m building that will house a Youth Club but only on the strict conditions that the new building must also host other social services and must be located on an accessible site close to the school. The challenge now will be to provide within this overall plan a Youth Centre with as much of its own identity as possible - hopefully with its own entrance and direct access on to a games playing area. A detailed Planning stage must now follow and the County have promised consultation. However completion is due in 2011 so there won't be too much time for talking.

This is a terrific new addition to the town's facilities. Things are really moving forward.


Controversial Plans for the New Youth centre

Last night at the Town Council a row broke out about the plans for the new 1m Youth Centre - which - amazingly - still seems to be on the cards despite all the cuts which the County Council are making to their budgets.  Readers may remember that the County were very fast on their feet last year in applying for a grant from Central Government. This was a sort of "special offer". to councils....put together two or more of your social services on a single site (preferably a school) and there's big money available. In record short time the County produced a very smart proposal for Chippy linking Youth Services with Adult Learning. They used as evidence of local support  the offer which the Town Council had already made to contribute the proceeds of selling Greystones (estimated at 200,000) towards a new Youth Centre. The County Council succeeded in getting a 800,000 grant. Wow! Thats the best thing that's happened to the town for quite a while. An absolutely brilliant bit of fast thinking by the County - superbly executed. They haven't been thanked enough yet. Mind you there is an incredibly demanding timetable. The building has to be commissioned by July 2011 - which means you have to start building by May 2010 at the latest. Detailed architectural plans were briefed urgently last Autumn and the Town have been pressing to see them. The Town set about the complicated job of preparing Greystones for sale and have been under pressure from the County to guarantee when the money would be available. Meanwhile the County announced a swingeing Cost saving programme and for a time it looked doubtful whether the Youth Budget would find the money to actually operate  the Chippy Youth Centre - once it had been built. Hilary Biles and Louise Chapman fought like tigers to keep the Youth centre in the plans and for the moment it looks as if they have succeeded. But there is plenty of sniping going on from some of the senior officers at County Hall and one in particular seems to have decided that there is no way Chipping Norton will be able to raise 200,000 and that the County will be left to pick up the tab so they better drop the whole scheme. In the middle of all these dirty politics the Youth Service have been struggling on to try and complete the planning for the Centre itself. The last thing they need is more unhelpful criticisms. A couple of weeks ago three councillors were shown the plans for the first time and were mightily impressed. They left excited that the prospect of a bright new state of the art Centre was so close. However they made it clear that as a condition of the town's contribution they needed to be sure that proper consultation would take place with the Youth themselves and the organisations using the Centre. The County officers promised that such a consultation would begin soon. The whole situation is still a bit delicate - what is essential is that the Town maintains an enthusiastic support for building the new centre. It could still so easily be lost.

Its never been clear in Chippy who actually does talk for the Youth of the town. There are usually a number of competing factions on any issue - never agreeing. One body that has always considered itself authoritative is the Management Committee of the present Youth centre. It contains a heavy representation of middle-aged teachers and ex-teachers like ex-Mayor Don Davidson, ex-Mayor Jo Graves and ex-Mayor Rob Evans. What they know about what the youth of today are thinking is anybody's guess.  Unfortunately the present Youth centre is not much of an advertisement for their committee. Starting completely afresh is one of the main attractions of the new project. Perhaps the committee knows it is about to become one of the casualties of a major re-organisation and is feeling slightly defensive. Anyway the Committee reckons it should have been consulted about the design and planning of the new centre and is angry that it hasn't happened before now. They clearly intend to go down fighting.

Last week they saw the plans for the new building for the first time. They were very put out that nobody from the Youth Service came to the meeting to explain things. This prompted a number of postings in the Forum by Tym Soper the Committee Chairman. "Seen the revised plans tonight, I really hope someone who knows what they are talking about gets to have a say. The plans are full of design faults. Theres an awful lot of design over substance. Showed some young people who were really not impressed. Why is the youth centre committee and the young people of chippy being ignored on this project" " the people who have been part of the process so far don't seem to know what they are doing"  "a badly designed building". At the Town Council meeting last night Rob Evans and Jo Graves expressed similar dissatisfactions. Rob reported that the Committee had written to the Youth Service demanding a proper meeting at which its views should be considered. A little bird tells me that they were actually delegated to  ask the Town Council why the Management Committee had not been invited to attend the meeting between the Town Council and the County and to make their protest strongly felt.  Councillor Alcock suggested that this kind of dismissive strong negative criticism was a pretty sure way of finally burying this project. After all - he suggested - the people that had briefed and drawn up the plans for the Centre were not exactly amateurs at their job. Councillor Graves heaped scorn on the idea that the people who had designed half a dozen Oxfordshire Youth centres (including the new 2.5m one in Banbury) deserved any attention. "Experts" she said " are usually wrong. We know that from experience".  "So what exactly is it that you are not happy with" Councillor Alcock recklessly pressed on into the jaws of the snarling Management Committee members. "I saw the plans and they looked to me like a very agreeable layout of a coffee bar and chill-out area, some offices and a huge activities room - with direct access out on to a barbecue area and the school playing fields.  Completely separate entrance. Most of what we had asked for as far as I could see". Contemptuous snorts from Committee Members Graves and Evans. "Well come on "- Councillor Alcock ploughed on -  "tell me what is the terrible design fault that has led the Management Committee to get so hot and bothered and threaten to march on County Hall What is it that is leading you to jeopardise this whole undertaking because of your conviction that County officers have screwed it all up"  He might have added - "What is it that the key power brokers on youth issues in the town have decided to take up as a major concern and fight about to the death"

Now dear reader if you have followed me this far you may have already developed a theory of your own about what could possibly have led Rob Evans to be mounting a kamikaze attack against the plans for our new Youth Centre. It surely couldn't be party political spite. This  isn't a left wingers revenge against the wicked Tory-led OCC  Is it perhaps some act of loyalty to old friends at County Hall who Rob worked with when he was the county councillor. None of these. Councillor Evans assures us there is a solid basis for the Management Committee's strong objections to the plans. Hear this. Hold on to your hats. I could scarcely credit what I was hearing last night.

The new building has a pitched roof. The Management Committee is of the view that given the new craze among "yoof" for extreme sports of all kinds that there is a serious risk that the town teenagers will clamber up on the roof of the proposed Youth Centre and indulge in some very hazardous skateboarding.  They are shocked that this has not been considered by the County Council architects and feel that it is only their own closeness to the habits of wayward Chippy youth which has enabled them to highlight this potentially disastrous design flaw in the 1m building. They demand to be heard. I think they are going batty. Oh and there is one more crucial thing - according to the Management Committee. Youth Club members must have loos of their own. It is quite unacceptable for them to share loos with adults. What on earth is that all about then I would have pleaded with the Committee to keep their objections quiet but its too late - they have already written to the Youth Service. Lets hope they think its all a bad joke.