Crime will ‘skyrocket’ if youth funding is cut

Marsh Community Centre manager Rebecca Joy Novell,  Keanna Johnson, 12, left, and Annalee Johnson, eight, second from right.
Marsh Community Centre manager Rebecca Joy Novell, Keanna Johnson, 12, left, and Annalee Johnson, eight, second from right.

“It will wreck the Marsh”.

That’s the message from youngsters at Lancaster’s Marsh Community Centre, which faces thousands of pounds worth of cuts to its annual budget.

Children as young as eight made their feelings known about Lancaster City Council’s proposals to withdraw £13,650 of annual funding to the Willow Lane hub, described as a “lifeline” by staff and the community.

Council leader Eileen Blamire said she was sorry, and that the council was having to cut funding to “things I’ve fought for my entire life”.

The removal of the money would mean the community centre could no longer provide after school sessions for children aged between four and thirteen.

Annalee Johnson, aged eight, said: “I play lots of games, I see my friends. I feel safe here and I have a laugh.

“Please let it stay open.”

Another girl, aged 10, said: “I’ve got people to talk to here, and they listen too.

I like seeing everybody here and a lot of people come.”

Trainee youth worker Stephen Dobson, 25, said Marsh Community Centre had saved his life.

He said: “I was a youngster here once, and if it wasn’t for this place I’d probably be dead by now.

“A lot of the kids don’t get any nurturing. There’s obviously a drugs issue down here and that’s one of our biggest battles.

“If this funding is taken away a lot more people will be hanging around on the street and crime will go back up.”

One girl said: “It will wreck the Marsh.”

Coun Richard Newman-Thompson, Cabinet member with responsibility for finance, said the £13,700 pays for project workers to deliver the sessions.

He said services for young people would be concentrated on Salt Ayre Sports Centre.

Marsh Community Centre manager Rebecca Novell said: “A lot of what we do in these sessions is prevention work to stop more acute problems in their older years, such as drug use, offending and mental health problems.

“We currently work with a 14 year old who was arrested for dealing heroin as well as a young man who was shot in the head at the age of 12 due to gang involvement.

“The level of need here is much greater than I suspect a lot of Lancaster residents realize.

“The police have told us that if these sessions close, the level of anti-social behaviour and crime will sky-rocket.

“We were already struggling financially and if this money is taken, I cannot see how the centre can survive past April.”