CROYDON IN CRISIS: Town Hall reporter KEN LEE on the latest casualty of the council’s financial mismanagement
The Legacy Youth Zone, a flagship development of Tony Newman’s Labour council, built with £3.25million capital investment from the Town Hall, is to lose all of its £300,000 annual grant from the local authority from the end of March next year.
The decision was conveyed to the Legacy Youth Zone’s management in a letter sent last month, confirming that its revenue funding is the latest casualty of the council’s financial collapse under Newman.
The Legacy Youth Zone aims to offer the kind of youth services which help to keep youngsters off the streets and out of gangs and involvement with drugs and crime. But the council’s decision to end the Youth Zone funding came just days before 14-year-old Jermaine Cools, from nearby South Norwood, died from stab wounds inflicted in a fight on the borough’s streets.
The decision to cut the funding altogether is understood to have been agreed by Callton Young, the council cabinet member for finance.
The letter, from Kerry Crichlow, the council’s “director, quality, commissioning and performance improvement, children, young people and education directorate” (got all that?), was sent to Barnabas Shelbourne, the Croydon Legacy Youth Zone’s CEO.
Inside Croydon has obtained a copy of the letter, in which Crichlow says, “As you will know, we have been transparent with you about the council’s continuing financial challenges and impact of these on funding for discretionary services.
“While that is undoubtedly a factor, the work we have done as part of our transformation has highlighted the need for more robust commissioning arrangements which we as a council we are now putting in place [sic].
“In this context I am afraid I have to confirm that at the end of the Operational Agreement the council’s current revenue funding will cease as per the original timeline anticipated in the agreement.
“I realise that this will be disappointing news, and want to stress that this in no way diminishes our commitment to continue to work in partnership with CLYZ as a valued provider of youth services for young people in Croydon.
“Having supported CLYZ to establish and embed itself in our community we are committed to continuing a close relationship. While the current funding stream is coming to an end there are a number of other opportunities which we would like to explore with CLYZ.”
The Legacy Youth Zone has received £300,000 from the council towards its running costs for each of three years it has been in operation. Registered as a charity, the Legacy Youth Zone has also managed to raise around £1.8million from sponsors and donors, following a model from the Onside youth clubs around the country.
Crichlow wrote that the council’s £300,000 annual grant had served as “… a practical commitment to establishing a firm foundation for what is now a fantastic resource for young people in the borough”.
Crichlow added, “That Legacy has been able to secure the remainder of the operating costs of over £1.8million over 2019-2021 is a testament to the centre’s effective fundraising through successful bidding for grants, through patrons and donors and of course through membership fees from young people.”
The management at the Legacy Youth Zone now faces the prospect of plugging that six-figure funding hole left by Croydon Council, potentially through winning contracts from the Town Hall to provide some youth services.
Some of the local businesses and commercial sponsors – some “founder patrons” who were signed up for £25,000 per year – who were contacted by Inside Croydon expressed disappointment, and some anger, at the manner in which the council’s financial mismanagement has now left them expected to make good the difference.
“It’s been tough times for all businesses,” one sponsor said, on condition of anonymity.
“We have committed to providing some funding for the Youth Zone, as part of our community action. But when we agreed to sign up, it was very much with the view that the council was effectively match-funding what we and other sponsors would be providing.
“We will want assurances that the Youth Zone can continue to operate even with reduced grant income from Croydon Council.”
The Legacy Youth Zone, on Whitehorse Road, opened in September 2019, to much trumpeting from the now discredited former council leader Newman, Alisa Flemming, the cabinet member for children and education, and other local politicians.
The centre offers a significant service for the youth in the north of the borough, with activities ranging from wall climbing to music studios, with a host of sports and classes in between, all for a nominal annual membership fee and 50p per session. The Zone is reckoned to have 6,000 members signed up, with around 2,500 of those regarded as “active”, regular users of the centre and its activities.
The Youth Zone was affected by lockdown last year, when it was closed for four months in the first part of the pandemic. The management organised online fitness classes for members and special sessions for small groups of the most vulnerable, as well as providing hot meals for just £1 each. Around 15,000 food parcels were distributed to the community by the centre in March and April 2020.
The Zone’s funding cut comes against the backdrop of across-the-board budget reductions at the council totalling £38million proposed for 2022-2023.
Overseeing the process in the cabinet is Callton Young, one of those seeking selection by Labour to be the party’s candidate for executive Mayor in next May’s local elections.
In his selection material, Young makes a point of highlighting the need for more youth provision.
Writing of how his own children were born and raised in Croydon, Young says, “They feel let down just now. Croydon Labour must turn things around. We must create strong, safe, communities.
“We must provide good youth provision and equip young people to escape negative pressures that give rise to increased mental health and physical ill-health and can lead to lifestyle choices that put them and others at risk.”
For the Legacy Youth Zone, delivering that “good youth provision” just got that much tougher.
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