Recently I’ve been worried about the Woodbridge Youth Centre and all those who use it. And now I’m sharing both information and my own concerns about this situation.
The Centre houses a number of spectacularly useful and important groups for young people, including Just 42 – the only open access youth group in 400 square miles of Suffolk Coastal; provides rehearsal room for the Company of 4, offers meeting places for various groups; and is the only place between Leiston and Felixstowe which can provide meeting space for children and young people in a safe, non-school setting. Already, the centre is used for something like 170 different meetings a month of one sort and another.
However, if you look at it cynically, the Woodbridge Youth Centre’s Kingston Field site is also one of the last pieces of prime development land in Woodbridge. My concerns were aroused when I was told that a three-year lease promised a year ago to one of the groups that used it had failed to materialise. I then discovered that decisions about the future of the WYC appeared to be occurring without any traceable reference to any elected member at County, District or Town level.
It was as if some of the council officers involved were acting as entrepreneurs rather than caretakers. And suspiciously as if they had forgotten that they did not own the land, and were supposed to be administering the site on behalf of the people of Woodbridge. Having first raised the matter with the County Council in May, I eventually got an email telling me that indeed, the group in question
“ were offered a three year lease. However, it became apparent that there was a need to look at the bigger long-term future of the building and occupants following the start of the Our Place discussions… The intention is to continue to renew the annual licence, while the options are considered.
I didn’t think that this covered the issue completely, not least because I discovered that there seems to have been an unilateral decison made as to the best usage of the site : the development of yet more sheltered housing for old people. ( As if there isn’t really quite a lot of this in Woodbridge already!). And because, after a whole year this other (again unilateral) decision to downgrade a 3 year lease to an annual licence had not been mentioned to anyone until I started making a fuss. And because I have been representing Woodbridge since before the inception of the ‘Our Place’ scheme and I had never been party to any discussions on the subject!
I am therefore raising the following wider concerns on behalf of the councillors and residents of Woodbridge:
a) “it became apparent that there was a need to look at the bigger long-term future of the building and occupants” As this sentence is in the passive - a timehonoured way for bureaucrats to avoid telling anyone who said what, when and why to whom – I have asked who it was to whom “it become apparent’? I know, it was not to me, nor to the building’s occupants, nor to the Town Council, nor to the residents of Woodbridge.
So far I have had no answer.
b) “There appears to be a lack of space in Woodbridge generally.” I have asked for this remark to be disambiguated, so that everyone can be clear whose lack of space is being referred to. Past conversations and emails suggest that it doesn’t refer to the young people of Woodbridge – the group who really do lack space in Woodbridge. Rather it refers to the amount of sheltered, and care provision in Woodbridge. If this is the case, it is not true. There are already 660+ units offering such to the elderly people in Woodbridge – and that excludes those who prefer to live in standard housing!
Just to remind you, there are 7500 people in Woodbridge, and because of the amount of sheltered housing already, 3000 of these are in the ‘grandparent’ age group. Many of these have contacted me with concerns about the extreme lack of facilities there are for young people – particularly those people who grew up here and raised their own children in past decades!
c) The email mentioned “the start of the Our Place discussions” ( which supposedly consist of ‘officers working alongside elected members to develop local service solutions‘.) Yet any discussions as to the “bigger long-term future‘ clearly took place without the presence or knowledge of me, and as far as I know, of any other elected member. The start of these particular Our Place discussuons must have occurred quite a long time ago, bearing in mind the lease has been witheld without any reason for a full year
In conclusion – and because localism is about joint decision-making from the start – I have asked SCC to approach no organisation with any proposition whatsoever without having discussed in advance the various available options for the site with all the stakeholders. That is – at the very least – myself (as County Councillor), the members of Woodbridge Town Council, the current occupants, and representatives of other youth stakeholders within Woodbridge.
I have shared my concerns with the town council, and they are very supportive, and I’ve convened a meeting of all the youth groups this Friday.
We all need to make sure that our town’s youngest generation does n’t get marginalised and forgotten. After all, they will be supporting us one day!