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Youth centre to shut and be sold
Published 09/06/14

HENLEY Youth Centre is to close and the site put up for sale.

The trustees say they can no longer afford the £45,000-a-year running costs and have found it difficult to attract volunteers.

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The centre and HOT Frog café will continue to run until the site in Deanfield Avenue is sold and income from the sale will be put towards youth projects in the town.

The Thamesfield Youth Association, which runs the centre, blamed Oxfordshire County Council’s decision in 2011 to withdraw the centre’s annual £25,000 grant. The council denied it was to blame.

Clive Wilkinson, chairman of trustees, said: “We have tried everything but we have no choice but to sell the site. Since the complete withdrawal of our funding by the county council we have found it increasingly difficult to attract volunteers and raise the amount of money needed each year to keep the centre open and staffed.

“The centre costs £45,000 a year to run and we have been spending increasing amounts on the building and have had to go into what little reserves we have.

“Most other youth centres are in buildings that are run as a community facility, with cubs, scouts, aerobics classes and so on, which brings an income stream.

“We have to fund-raise every year as we have no income stream. We can’t carry on as we are — the youth centre is just not viable any longer.”

The charity will continue to help fund the Flying Frog youth clubs at Henley YMCA and the d:two centre in Market Place as well as support the Henley Skate Park Initiative.

Mr Wilkinson said: “We are not abandoning the young people, it is about using the money in a more effective way.

“The decision was not taken lightly and we are still committed to providing youth work in the town which may involve working with other groups.” He admitted the numbers of youngsters attending the centre had fallen from between 20 and 30 to fewer than 10.

Mr Wilkinson said: “Things change. Our computer room only opened eight years ago but we have just decommissioned it because everyone now has their own laptop and mobile phone. They don’t need a computer room.

“We have to move with the times and that is what we are doing.”

Town councillor Elizabeth Hodgkin, a trustee and administrator of the centre, said: “Of course we are sad, but we have tried everything we can to make it work.

“It is no good throwing money at the building and when you go into reserves it makes you think that you can’t go on forever.

“What we are planning to do is the best way of looking after young people.”

Town councillor Kellie Hinton, who attended the youth club as a seven-year-old, said: “When I heard it was closing I was really saddened. Regardless of how many children attend, it is a service that you can’t put a price on.

“It makes sense to sell the building, which is in a prime location, and get some money to create a new youth centre somewhere or to provide a service for the young people of Henley.”

The youth centre has been in the town centre for more than 50 years having moved to Deanfield Avenue in 1961 from Thamesfield House in Wargrave Road, which is now a retirement home.

The association agreed to move in return for an annual contribution towards the centre’s overheads from the county council.

However, in 2011 the council said it could no longer afford the grant due to “unprecedented budgetary constraints”.

The trustees argued that the agreement was binding in perpetuity but the council stood firm after taking legal advice.

Henley Town Council pledged to give £10,000 a year for three years.

Oliver Makower, who stepped down as chairman of the association in December and whose grandfather, Ernest, was a founding trustee, said he agreed with the decision to sell the site.

He said: “If my grandfather was here he would have seen that things have changed and what is needed for young people nowadays.

“What the current group of trustees proposes to do seems wise and the sale of the site would create a healthy sum to be redistributed.

“It is imaginative and sensible as otherwise the building would need to be refurbished, which would take an enormous effort.”

In October, the association’s annual meeting heard that the youth centre was forecast to lose £20,000 a year and its future was uncertain.

Town and county councillor David Nimmo Smith said that while it was sad the youth club was closing, it would present more opportunities.

He said: “The county council is yet again painted as the reason for the closure. This is untrue. The youth centre was limping along when I became a county councillor in 2005.

“Since then, the county council has re-organised the way that youth provision is provided for by targeting our reduced resources, not just helping to keep buildings open.

“There are currently only seven regular attendees to the youth centre, which is unsustainable. How can it be justified to keep open a building for so few?

“Cholsey is a good example of what is being carried out nowadays. There is a new village hall and one room is used a few evenings per week for a youth club.”

He added: “It [Thamesfield] will be able to put more money and resources into helping more young people through the likes of Nomad and the YMCA, which will give greater outreach to a wider section of the community.”

Haslams estate agents are acting on behalf of the association and will be marketing the youth centre in the summer.

Published 09/06/14

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