Funding race on to save North Walsham’s hugely successful Kickz project

A hugely successful project aimed at keeping young people occupied and out of trouble will fold unless cash can be found to keep it going for another year.

Hundreds of 12 to 19-year-olds from across north Norfolk have enjoyed sports and activities included in the Kickz programme, in North Walsham.

The scheme has been hailed as the best in Norfolk, leading to a dramatic drop in local anti-social behaviour (ASB) and improving relations between youngsters and the police.

But funding for Kickz - which offers activities including football, street dance, boxing, basketball, sex education, drug and alcohol abuse prevention workshops - will run out at Christmas.

Backers are now urgently trying to raise �34,000 to fund it for around 400 young people who have signed up for the thrice-weekly evening sessions at the Spenser Avenue sports centre.

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They say it is one of the last remaining activities for young people in North Walsham following a succession of closures over the past year.

Spending cut-backs by Norfolk County Council have seen the loss of the town's youth centre, Connexions service and, in the latest blow, the Benjamin Foundation announced at the beginning of this month that its Carpenter's Arms youth drop-in on Market Street would no longer be opening in the day time.

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County councillor Paul Morse, who is on the Kickz steering committee, said the North Walsham project was seen as the success story in Norfolk where similar schemes are run in Norwich, Yarmouth, King's Lynn and Dereham.

Walsham attracted between 50 and 80 young people to each session. 'It's a particularly significant part of youth provision in North Walsham, especially in the winter months. The number of places for young people to go in North Walsham has never been good and all the recent closures make it even worse,' said Mr Morse.

'I'm firmly of the view that young people are getting a raw deal out of the current public expenditure cuts and I think young people in North Walsham are getting a rawer deal than most. I hope the local community can do their bit to help.'

North Walsham figures produced by Kickz show that in 2010 ASB rates reduced during session times by 57.5pc and by 22pc overall, and that 42pc of those taking part were girls, compared to a national average of 10pc.

Inspector Matthew Dyson, who is also closely involved with the North Walsham project, said it was well managed by coaches, struck a good balance between activity and discipline and had received national recognition.

Police attended every session which had improved their engagement with young people and built relationships in a 'non police' environment.

'Although a definitive link between lower crime rates/anti social behaviour cannot be made, I have no doubts that some of the crime and ASB reductions we have experienced over the last few years have involved the programme playing a contributing part,' he said.

Nationally Kickz sees Premier League clubs, along with others in the Football League, working with police and other partners to engage with hard-to-reach youngsters.

Dan Crouch, community cohesion officer with Norwich City Community Sports Foundation, said the Norfolk project had been funded for 18 months by the government's Youth Sector Development Fund and had involved 42 partners.

'North Walsham has certainly been one of the most successful in terms of numbers and outcomes. There seems to be minimal provision in the town for that age group otherwise,' said Mr Crouch. 'We are now under pressure to find some money to keep it going.'

Organisers were submitting bids to grant-giving bodies and researching other possible sources of funding and Mr Morse said they would like to hear from any business or individual willing to contribute. Ring 01692 402003.

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