By Rebecca Curley, Local Democracy Reporter, 17 June 2019
Drug trafficking, substance misuse, drinking and knife crime among teenagers is now not just a city problem – but something experienced by youngsters in Surrey.
For some people gangs of teenagers hanging around the streets can be intimidating or a nuisance.
But what is the reality for the youngsters sitting at a bus stop or kicking a ball about in a skate park?
Over the past few months councillors have been raising concerns about the lack of youth centre and youth worker provision in the county as hours have been cut and a recruitment freeze has left some youth centres closed for months on end.
In 2018 Surrey County Council (SCC) cabinet members agreed to slash the number of hours of youth service provision from 794 hours a week across Surrey to 618 hours saving £2.46m with a recruitment freeze and integrating functions.
The Edge in Epsom has been temporarily closed and no decision has been made about the future of Lakers Youth Centre in Woking gutted in a fire two years ago.
Surrey Police figures released earlier this year show an increase of 20 serious knife crime offences in 2018/19 compared to the year before.
On Tuesday next week (25 June) SCC cabinet will consider a further report into Early Help which states between February 2018 and March 2019 there were 11,698 children and young people referred for support.
According to the Equality Impact Assessment 37% of referrals are aged 11-15 which “implies an immediate need for support for young people aged 11+”.
One charity that has been working with teenagers on the streets is YMCA East Surrey.
The charity was awarded funding from Surrey County Council’s Local Committee for Reigate & Banstead for a pilot scheme to look into youth provision in Redhill.
This proved so successful funding has now been sought to expand and open a youth club.
“Young people are telling us that they are scared,” says Stuart Kingsley, head of youth services at East Surrey YMCA. “They don’t want to be on the streets. They are scared about being on the streets.”
He said they are vulnerable when they are out there and so are targeted for things such as County Lines – gangs using teens to take drugs across local authority and police borders.
The charity used the £3,000 community safety grant to fund a detached street youth worker scheme for Redhill.
Every Wednesday night two youth workers have been engaging with young people on the Cromwell Estate and town centre talking about what they want and need.
The project reached around 40 young people aged 10-21 years and has been so successful the YMCA has now secured funding from the Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner to help continue that project in Redhill.
And another grant from a private donor will allow them to open a youth club two nights a week from September at Christ Central Church in the heart of Redhill.
The charity, which covers Epsom and Ewell, Mole Valley, Reigate and Banstead and Tandridge boroughs and districts, has a youth service department working with children aged 11 – 18 as well as up to 30 for those with disabilities.
The work includes one-to-one mentoring, youth centres, detached work with youth workers talking to children on the streets and mental health support groups.
Stuart, who has been a youth worker for over 30 years, adds: “Youth work is about sowing the seeds and looking at the other side of the coin. It’s about educating young people informally in a safe environment where they can learn and develop. Not all young people have positive and supportive role models in their world. They hear or see something negative on social media. We need to reframe that.”
He estimates they have reached out to 400 young people a week through their work.
But what about the future as Surrey County Council continues to restructure its Early Help provision?
Cabinet next week will review changes to the Early Help service which include provision being given based on need.
The paper states SCC will spend £1.718m on contracts to deliver Early Help for children aged up to 19 years or 25 years with those with special needs between January 2020 and March 2022 as it looks to more charities, voluntary organisations and faith groups to help support young people.
A SCC spokesman said: “Surrey County Council is carrying out a review of the ‘Youth Offer’ to understand existing provision, any gaps and opportunities to shape these valuable services going forward.
“This will include discussions about maximising the use of existing youth centres with the voluntary, community and faith organisations and the District and Borough Councils.”