Stay of execution plea for Diss youth base

Calls were last night made to grant a stay of execution to a Diss community building which became victim of a Valentine's Day massacre of public service cuts.

The axe fell on the Diss Youth Resource Base this week as a result of Norfolk County Council cutbacks, which has left a popular youth band and other groups and clubs looking for a new home.

The decision has prompted user groups and local councillors to call for extra time for the doomed building, in Shelfanger Road, which will start winding up at the end of next month.

Under the county council's proposals, external users will be asked to leave by March 31 and the authority's own youth service projects will run until May 6.

Mike Booty, director of the South Norfolk Youth Symphonic Band, which was formed almost 40 years ago, said the group could not survive without rehearsal and storage space and called on people to write to the county council, local MP and David Cameron to air their opposition.

'There is nowhere for us to go. We have been looking for a long time and we thought one day that it might be closed. There is just nothing available that has the storage facilities we need.'

'We are asking for a stay of execution because there is not time and no way between now and the end of the March to raise funds in five weeks. We will fold if we have nowhere to go,' he said.

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The decision to close the Diss centre, which is a base to 14 youth workers, comes as Norfolk County Council made �24m of cuts to its children's services department on Monday. However, a �900,000 fund has been set aside to support local groups wanting to run services.

The Diss base is also home to a youth club, young parent classes, and dance school.

Jenny Chamberlin, local county councillor, called on the authority to grant the facility a 12 month stay of execution to allow local organisations to get together and take on the building.

'It is a building that belongs to the Norfolk residents and therefore should be kept in community use. We are re-writing local government and it should be down to local people to take ownership,' she said.

Alison Thomas, cabinet member for children's services, said the county council had 'worked hard' to keep community groups informed about the impact of budget cuts on youth bases.

'We are discussing alternative premises with the South Norfolk Symphonic Band but we cannot justify or afford to maintain an expensive building for their storage purposes. We would encourage them to continue to explore alternative arrangements and will provide what advice and support we can within the resources available.

'It may be that they wish to work with other local groups to see how they might set up a trust that could explore buying the building,' she said.

Deborah Sarson, town clerk, said Diss Town Council did not have the budget to take on the youth base, which costs �25,000 a year to run. However, there was an opportunity for local groups to get together.

'It is far too early, but we are as concerned as anyone else to ensure the provision of youth services in the town and we are aware there is huge public concern,' she said.