Blow as North Walsham’s Carpenter’s Arms youth drop-in shuts its doors during the daytime

A leading north Norfolk youth worker has hit out at the 'raw deal' facing 11-to- 25-year-olds as a town's last social venue for young people closed its doors during the daytime.

Students starting the new term in North Walsham this week will no longer be able to spend lunchtimes at the long-established Carpenter's Arms youth drop-in, on Market Street,

The latest blow comes after May's closure of North Walsham Youth Centre, and last autumn's loss of the town's Connexion's service for young people; both victims of Norfolk County Council spending cutbacks.

The Walsham-based Benjamin Foundation, which took over the struggling Carpenter's Arms four years ago, has blamed declining use of the venue and funding pressures for the decision to scrap daytime opening.

Marian Mehl, northern area youth services manager with the charity, said there had once been up to 75 young people a day, mostly from Walsham's Paston Sixth Form College, using the drop-in, which had been open between 9am to 3pm from Monday to Friday.

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But since March numbers had dwindled to about 10. Some students had used facilities such as an X-box and computers, but had not spent money at the Carpenter's cafe which the foundation had increasingly relied on to defray the venue's running costs.

A three-year grant, worth about �50,000, from the Henry Smith Foundation had run out in July and Ms Mehl said that despite many attempts, they had not been able to find alternative sources of funding. As a result a part-time worker had been made redundant.

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Grants were still available for young people in special categories, including those with disabilities, carers, or behavioural problems, but there was nothing for ordinary youngsters.

'I really feel quite strongly that ordinary young people get such a raw deal,' she said. 'They have cut back on so many services, until there is nothing left for them. Next people will be complaining that young people are getting into trouble and hanging round the streets - but they've stopped the work we do to prevent that sort of thing happening.'

Joe Phillips, student president at Paston, said the drop-in would be 'sorely missed'.

He added: 'It offered pool, milkshakes, chips, somewhere to talk. It was a great place to hang out.'

Young people felt powerless as services were removed one by one. He added: 'It seems as if there are none left at our disposal. Everything is going downhill rapidly.'

In a letter to Paston staff and students, the Benjamin Foundation pledges that it remains committed to providing young people in the North Walsham area with services. The Carpenter's Arms will stay open on Wednesdays and Fridays, from 6.30pm to 8.30pm, for popular youth club sessions, and school holiday activity days.

The charity believes the decline in numbers may have been because they were no longer answering young people's needs and Ms Mehl wants to hear from anyone with fresh ideas. She can be contacted on 01692 404821.

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