PROTESTERS have taken to the streets to rally against controversial cost-cutting plans to shut youth clubs.
Scores of placard-waving, chanting campaigners marched through Chesterfield town centre on Monday to oppose Derbyshire County Council’s proposals, which cast doubt over the future of 29 youth clubs in the area and could see up to 157 support workers made redundant.
The Tory-led council – which needs to save £100m over the next five years – is proposing to offer grants to voluntary and community groups so they can provide activities for 13-to-19-year-olds instead.
Sixteen-year-old Greg Roberts, who has attended Eckington Youth Club for two years, said: “The council thinks it’s acceptable to pick on young people – but we’re not standing for it.
“Youth clubs and youth workers are so important and provide so many things – not just activities but support and advice which can be life-saving.
“I just hope the council listens to us and understands that if these plans go ahead then lots of youngsters will be affected.
“Whatever happens, we won’t give up without a fight.”
Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins said the proposed cuts were “appalling and short-sighted”.
The rally was followed by a packed public debate in Chesterfield’s Winding Wheel where dozens of angry adults and children grilled council chiefs.
Speaking through a voice-activated wheelchair, one disabled youngster said: “I enjoy meeting young people at my youth club.
“I don’t know how that will happen if it closes down.”
Other youngsters called on councillors to visit the county’s youth clubs to consult with them personally, while Labour Cllr Amanda Serjeant accused the council of making a decision before the end of a ten-week public consultation.
Cllr Barry Lewis, Derbyshire County Council’s cabinet member for young people, said: “I know not everyone is happy about these proposals – but we are listening and we are taking note.
“These are tough times and we have to be realistic about what we can and can’t do to save money.
“It’s right we look at youth services and support and expand activities for our youngsters.
“I believe this is the beginning of something very new and very exciting for our young people.”
More than 1,200 people have signed an online petition against the plans.
Talks on the future of the county’s youth clubs will end on March 18. To take part in the consultation, visit www.derbyshire.gov.uk/youthservice2012.
• For more pictures and to see a full list of at-risk youth clubs, see this week’s Derbyshire Times.