Parish councils fill youth work void

By Gabriella Jozwiak

| 13 May 2013

Parish councils are stepping in to provide youth services where local authority budget cuts have reduced provision, according to a youth sector leader.

Young people in Horsham will soon have a parish council-based youth worker. Image: NTI Media

David Wright, chief executive of the Confederation of Heads of Young People’s Services, said he had seen examples across England of parish councils “filling the gap in the work that local authorities were previously doing”.

His comments came after 11 parish councils in West Sussex announced they have formed clusters to deliver hyper-local youth services.

Youth provision has been significantly hit by budget cuts in the area, after West Sussex County Council announced it would remove at least £4m from its youth services budget in 2011.

Each of the five clusters will hire full-time and part-time community youth workers to deliver provision from local schools, churches or businesses.

The projects are being funded by the parish councils to the total of £150,000, derived from a combination of revenue they collect via council tax and grant funding from local housing associations and the Rotary Club.

West Sussex County Council and local charities have also added to the funds and will provide non-financial support.

The scheme is being supported by Horsham District Council, which approached the parish councils to discuss how they could work with local young people, and facilitated consultation sessions to assess needs in the community.

Sue Rogers, Horsham District Council's cabinet member for a safer and healthier district, said people in the community were dedicated to providing a “sustainable service for their young people”.

Wright said this model was common in areas where a real community focus on young people’s needs existed.

“Primarily this kind of work arises when people in a community say, ‘We’re concerned about things for our young people to do,’ especially in villages where that provision has disappeared because the youth work has traditionally been open access,” said Wright.

“It’s effective because it keeps provision going,” he said. But Wright added that the form of provision was not a like-for-like replacement for local authority-provided youth work.

“It does miss out some things that existed when local authorities delivered services, such as access to training and reviewing of the quality of the work,” said Wright.

“If you don’t do this, we may have the provision, but the quality may be variable and this is a concern.”

The parish council-delivered youth work in Horsham is expected to begin in June.

The provision will not be the only services available for young people in the district, as West Sussex County Council’s Youth Support Development Service will continue offering intensive and targeted support to young people with complex needs. 

Other parish councils that have employed youth workers with similar remits include Basildon Parish Council in Essex and Iver Parish Council in Buckinghamshire.

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