Bognor Regis Herald — Play Streets for Bognor? Town Council’s new Youth Worker also talks with young people
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A few months ago, Bognor Regis Town Council looked at how it is listening to local people and decided it could do a lot more. It started by deciding to create a new Community Engagement and Environment Committee. So far it has opened up its meetings so that residents can discuss ideas and concerns with councillors rather than sit through “agendas minutes and reports”. It holds regular town surgeries e.g. in the Precinct, soon also in Grandad’s Front Room, and the forthcoming Annual Electors Meeting in March will focus on hearing from Town electors.
NEW TOWN YOUTH WORKER SEEKING KIDS’ VIEWS
But the Council has also focused on a single Topic around which a Topic Team was formed, the issue was Youth Provision — what do they want, it brought people together who are involved with young people and recently the Council appointed a Youth Worker whose job it is over the next few months to find what it is kids want. Keely Hardy, an experienced youth worker from Sheffield, has taken up the challenge, has met a lot of local activists, and is now going out to find young people “where they are”.
She enters a scene where County Council cuts over the past five or more years have decimated the former provision. First club to go was that held in the Youth and Community Centre in Westloats Lane (the old Boys Club) followed by 39 Club, North Bersted Youth Centre and Pagham & Rose Green Youth Centre. At one time only Number 18 Project in Waterloo Square remained. Then County withdrew its staff from there and opened FindItOut at Glamis Street, controversially doing the same job as N18. That continued its work until recently when its management decided that it had had enough of having to deal with its landlord, Arun District Council.
The Phoenix Centre purpose-built at the new Regis School has fine facilities but is not open to young people generally. It is perhaps telling that on the major Site 6 housing developments ion Bersted and Felpham, which will have many young people, there are 2 new community centres but no youth provision.
39 Club spent 4/5 years getting a new licence from West Sussex to reopen in part of their former premises at Glamis Street, for one evening a week and its revival has been a little rocky.
The Town Council has a partnership in this new area of work (many parish level councils are doing the same as their county youth programmes collapse, in Parliament on Wednesday Labour Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn challenged the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s Question Time last Wednesday that Austerity had caused the loss of over 600 youth centres and 3600 youth workers nationally). The Council has teamed up with Sussex Clubs for Young People, a organisation covering W and E Sussex and Birghton & Hove whose worker, Chris Cooke, sits on the management group established by the Council for this project (Councillors Martin Smith and Jan Cosgrove also) providing the professional support for Keely who has entered her new task with great enthusiasm and determination.
Chris is keen to reach out to neighbouring parishes where there is also concern about young people’s needs especially as they do not know much about the niceties of ‘parish boundaries’.
The Town Council is hoping that a picture will emerge of what kids actually want, that the partnership can be extended to other parishes and that alomg the road new facilities and provision can be established based on this important work.
PLAY STREETS IN BOGNOR?
The Committee is now looking at its next single Topic- the idea is to focus on one idea/issue at a time and to work to create a response based on public views and ideas. Councillors are not short of these but the idea is for new issues to come from residents and the latest has indeed been suggested by a local person, that of Outdoor Play and Play Streets.
Many years ago, children were most characterised by playing outside. Today the situation has changed radically and with huge concerns about social experience, health/exercise/obesity and much else. Today’s child spends about half the time kids spent years ago. Parental safety conerns have been touted as a key cause but backing this new idea, Town Councillor Jan Cosgrove says that his work over 38 years with Fair Play for Children of which he has been National Secretary since 1991 shows the extent to which kids have lost out. He authored a report Stolen Streets Stolen Childhood which estimated that children had lost up to 3/4 million acres of street space where they habitually played, mostly with discreet adult supervision by parents and neighbours.
“People talk about new play areas needed but Fair Play also has discovered that there are around 21,000 play areas across the country, and the ratio is about 750 under 15s per playground! Even to bring it down to 100 per acre were worked out would cost at least £6 billion AND 95,000 acres of land — where they live! That is why Fair Play supports opening up residential streets, taking back space for our kids.”
This idea is spreading across the country with programmes having started in Bristol, Hackney and many other locations, there is a national body now, Playing Out. The Town Council community engagement Topic will look at how this might be taken forward, and it seems there is also County Council interest in the idea. The Committee is keen to hear what residents think about such an idea in their areas.
Jan: “You know we hear a lot about loss of community. As a Town Councillor you will hear me yabber on about Regeneration etc blah blah. But you know, in my heart I have the feeling that this idea will do more to regenerate our streets and town than we might imagine. That is what folk are finding across the country as the streets are taken back not only for our kids but by them.”
Martin Smith, Chairman of the Community Engagement and Environment Committee is delighted with the progress on the Youth Worker project which he feels is a first indicator the Council is moving in new, more people-friendly directions.
As part of its Civic programme the Council’s Policy and Resources Committee agreed recently that there should be a Young Citizen’s Award annually, the young person to be nominated by the Town Mayor based on criteria laid down by the Council, a further recognition of the importance it places on recognising not only their needs but also their achievements.
Also for the past two summer holidays Town Council funding has enabled free Play Ranger sessions for younger children on Hampshire Avenue Rec serving children and families in Hatherleigh Orchard and Pevensey Town Wards which all converge there. It is hoped that this can be undertaken again this summer.
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