Youth services have been hit terribly hard in our city because they are not seen as 'protected funding' by our national government or local council. As chair of governors of a local school I know full well that when funding is irresponsibly cut from community services it's our our public services that pick up the pieces.
The YMCA provide really first rate services here and despite severe cuts to their funding have found ingenious ways of maintaining their work by doing things like partnering with local schools to share budgets. But even that isn't enough to weather another set of cuts that will reduce their funding by hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The YMCA in Marmion Road, near Stoneham Park, in Hove was built in the 1930's. For generation after generation it has provided the space and facilities for exactly the kind of structured activity that young people desperately need. But the building needs at least £100,000 of investment, which the YMCA don't have. So they are looking into options regarding it's long-term future which range from fund-raising through to developing the site into housing and investing the proceeds into youth work.
Due to a few mistakes, word about the possible closure leaked out and YMCA staff and local residents found this out by reading about it in the media. People were understandably very upset.
When I found out ten days ago I went to see the CEO of our YMCA, David Standing. I offered to chair a public meeting as a matter of urgency so that residents and parents could understand what was happening and make sure their voice was heard.
The meeting took place yesterday and it was really good of David and the national Chair of Trustees for YMCA, his senior team, plus the architect responsible any potential redevelopment to attend. As always in these situations I'm keen to work with local politicians from all parties so it was really good of Tory ward councillors Gary and Robert to come and fully participate too.
As you'd imagine, the meeting was well attended and at times heated as people voiced deep concerns about the loss of yet another community facility. But this is the sign of a healthy community and a productive public meeting and I learned a huge amount from the meeting.
The YMCA have not agreed anything about the future of the building yet and services are protected for the next 18 months regardless of any decisions about the long-term. Questions that were put to the YMCA about the timing of decisions, the amount of fund-raising that would be needed to keep the building operational, and the planning process, will all be answered in the coming weeks. I'm looking into ways of keeping residents informed as many aren't on social media, so next week my wonderful teams of volunteers will distribute an update to keep people in the loop.
In my experience the void that is created when communities find out decisions are being made without their knowledge is usually filled with anger. Now I'm MP I was really keen to call this meeting so the community can begin to feel part of the process that will now unfold. I have committed to keeping people updated and to chairing further meetings - it's important we capture the insight and expertise of residents so that we as a community can come together to tackle the problems that cuts to services will inflict on young people and others who reply on community-based services.
One possibility for the way forward is to part-develop the site. This was an idea that came from a local resident and will now be explored by the architect and YMCA team. See, good things happen when we come together!
And rest assured that I will be taking these experiences with me to parliament too in order to hold those people making decisions at the top fully accountable for the impact it has in our neighbourhoods.
All the best, Peter