DEFIANT campaigners have launched a bid to save two facilities for young people from the axe.
Loud chants of ‘Save Our Centres’ could be heard as protesters held a rally against controversial proposals which could result in the closure of the Youth Connections hubs in Burns Square and Leven Road.
Officials have put them on a hit-list as they look to make budget cuts.
Closing them would save £240,000, with the council looking to offload resulting ‘redundant property’.
Council bosses stress that no budget decisions will be taken until councillors analyse feedback from a public consultation, but campaigners say they refuse to stay silent.
John Houston, who has helped to launch a petition against the plans, said: “We argue that these savings could be realised from other areas of council expenditure before hitting the hardest in society.
“These community organisations assist some of the most vulnerable people and dovetail with many other services to provide safe, warm, secure and accessible accommodation for all kinds of community groups.”
Mr Houston says that the centres have been ‘a godsend’ to the area and helped to keep young people off the streets.
He added: “Less than thirty years ago the community of Larkfield for example required specialist conflict-resolution community workers from Northern Ireland to engage with local service providers with the aim of tackling youth crime.
“This was after many years where levels of youth crime were out of control and gangs roamed streets or occupied police cells.
“Young people faced a bleak outlook.
“Part of the long process of building strong, safe and sustainable communities was to create organisations like Youth Connections and attempt to answer the long-held views of the public that there was simply ‘nothing for our youngsters to do’.
“Through its community hubs the Youth Connections organisation sees a regular monthly footfall of nearly 4,000 people.
“This petition and campaign seeks to save both centres.”
Ten-year-old Aaron Fulton, who attends St Andrew’s Primary School, says he would be devastated if Youth Connections was to close.
He told the Tele: “If Youth Connections closed then I would start crying because when we are here we have a good time and we are happy.
“My life would be boring without it.”
Michael Arthur, 13, a first year pupil at Notre Dame High, also despairs at the thought of losing the community facilities.
He said: “I think we are doing a great thing by standing up and saying we will not take any of this.
“We will save these centres.”
Lorna Dowds says Youth Connections is vital for children and young adults with additional support needs, such as her son Billy Love, who is 12.
She said: “I would be really sad if we no longer had this place as it has been a godsend for Billy and the other kids with additional support needs.”
Also throwing their weight behind the campaign are Arlene Keogh and Sandra Keogh, who run the women’s initiative for socialising, health, education and skills (Wishes) group from the Burns Square centre.
Arlene said: “We have over 20 members coming along every week.
“It would be a tragedy if we were to lose it.”
A spokesman for Inverclyde Council was keen to emphasise that no decision had been taken yet.
He said: “The council has, as part of its plans to balance the budget, developed 40 budget savings proposals and increases to charges.
“These proposals, including one about Youth Connections, have been subject to a public consultation which has been open to the public and groups across Inverclyde.
“Responses to the public consultation will be fed back to councillors before any budget decisions are made in March.”
An online petition against the Youth Connections closures proposal has already gathered over 500 signatures.
The petition is online at www.change.org/p/inverclyde-council-save-youth-connections-from-council-cuts
Source : GreenockTelegraph