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27 March 2007: The views of Bookham youth are 'normally by-passed', says Bookham youth leader Emily Scott. For many of the young people of Bookham and Mole Valley 'to express their opinions and ideas effectively, and for these to be acknowledged as a positive contribution towards the community,' she says, is 'an unaccomplishable feat.'

Scott is best known for her prominent role in last year's campaign against the threatened closure of the Bookham Youth Centre. Writing in the Bookham Residents’ Association's spring Bookham Broadsheet, she says, 'Young people are an abundant and valuable resource, willing and eager to suggest new and exciting ideas on topics affecting the community; why not harness this input and encourage the young people of Bookham to have their say?'

Instead, she says, for many Bookham youngsters, 'positions of influence may seem to be adult domains which are inaccessible and perhaps rather daunting to them.'

Scott goes on to encourage local youth to join Mole Valley Youth Voice and Millennium Volunteers, where 'not only are young people able to contribute their views and give up their time and effort towards bettering the community, they can now feel their voices are truly being heard.

'And about time too! [These] organisations allow the normally by-passed opinions of the youth of Bookham to be listened to, understood and acted upon. Those who really want to feel they are a piece of the community puzzle are now able to feel as though they may play a part, however small, in the Bookham Community.

'Mole Valley Youth Voice is a youth council, with the aim to involve young people in defining which council services should be available to youth, inform young people about local democracy, and to give them a voice. As well as holding monthly meetings to discuss current affairs and issues which are relevant to the young community, they hold numerous events for the youth of Mole Valley, including conferences, music nights, and Youth Showcase Evenings to recognise the achievements of young people.

'Millennium Volunteers is a National organisation which actively promotes, rewards and encourages volunteer work amongst the ages of 16 and 24, helping to arrange volunteer placements and projects with the objective of enhancing the community.'

Youth Centre campaigners fail to achieve SCC meeting

Local papers reported last November that Bookham Youth Centre has been given a reprieve.

Since then, however, MVDC Cllr David Walker (Con, Bookham North) and John Pagella of the Bookham Residents’ Association (BRA) have failed to get Surrey County Council (SCC) to agree to a meeting to work out how a local management committee for the Youth Centre could be set up, managed and run.

Progress is frustratingly slow, says Pagella: 'We have been hoping to have a meeting with the SCC Estates Department for months to discuss the basis on which the project can work. So far they have not been able to meet us. We are available, but for no reason we can understand, they are not.'

Pagella says SCC has a number of other Youth Centres 'and apparently are trying to formulate a consistent approach.' While this is understandable, 'it will not take us forward if, when we eventually hear what they propose, it is not appropriate having regard to local circumstances.

'We need a process whereby we can discuss the details. And that requires a meeting which has yet to take place and is long overdue.'

Writing in the latest BRA Broadsheet, BRA chairman Peter Seaward says: 'We are now optimistic that a solution satisfactory to both SCC and the club users will be found. This should place the youth club more firmly under the control of the village and we will be seeking more volunteers to participate in the management of the centre.'

This seems to point to one option, a not-for-profit charitable organisation run by local people, as the favoured solution. But this could founder on two grounds. One is that there is no guarantee of enough local volunteers to staff the organisation adequately. The other is some local doubt about why unelected local people should be expected to run facilities that the taxpayer has already paid for.

In the light of Pagella's comments it looks as though this solution could also founder if it doesn't fit SCC's one-size-fits-all approach.

31 July 2006: Youth Centre future hangs on finding management volunteers

The Bookham Youth Centre could close even if village representatives present a business plan acceptable to Surrey County Council, says Bookham Residents' Association (BRA) chairman Peter Seaward.

Seaward chairs the executive committee of the Bookham Community Group (BCG), a body set up to save the club. The BCG is a loose federation of the BRA, the Bookham Community Association (which runs the Barn Hall), Churches Together, local scout groups, the Centre's users and youth workers, local councillors and schools.

All those represented on the BCG want to know how they can specifically take a major role, says Seaward. 'However,' he warns, 'it won't succeed unless we find a management group that's willing to take it on board. It needs people to do that.' He estimates it would take at least four committed individuals to form the Centre's management committee.

As reported two weeks ago (see below), the BCG and its executive committee are working with SCC to draw up a two-year business plan for running the Centre after SCC transfers its running 'but not its bricks and mortar' to a charitable trust, probably in the autumn. The business plan assumes the SCC will underwrite the Centre at least two years.

'At the moment we are going through a process of understanding the revenue issues and some of the capital implications,' Seaward told the Bugle. These implications arise from the maintenance cost of the building. 'We understand the numbers reasonably well. But we think what we need to understand is on what kind of terms would Surrey be willing to licence [or] lease the building back to the community.'

If SCC were to transfer ownership only under a full repairing lease, Seaward says, 'We just couldn't do it.' It would be better if SCC were willing to grant the BCG a licence to run the Centre. Seaward says he understands '74,000 is available in the capital budget to do whatever needs to be done to bring the Centre back into a reasonable condition. The structure is sound but the building needs redecoration.

Even if the lease-licence issue can be resolved, the Centre has to become profitable. The SCC estimate is that the Centre was losing £30,000 a year. 'The first thing this management committee has to establish is who are the users, what income might they generate, and what other income might be available,' says Seaward. He points out that, 'None of the halls round here is a big money spinner.'

Seaward confirms the Bugle's report that under SCC ownership the Centre cannot seek rate relief but would be able to do so as a charitable trust (see below). He adds that it might also have access to national lottery and other funds. Emily Scott, who has led the campaign against the Centre's closure, has been working on this, says Seaward.

Whatever happens, says Seaward, the first priority is that 'the maintenance of the provision for the kids has to be ensured and maintained.'

The SCC too will keep a close eye on this. As Seaward points out, Surrey's interest is in the provision of youth services, not in running a community centre. At the moment the centre is being used by U3A, pilates groups, badminton and table tennis clubs. Funding for youth centre comes under the education budget and that's already under pressure.

Writing and photography courses in new ELP programme
As reported here in a recent paper review, one source of income for the Centre might be the fledgling Effingham Learning Partnership (ELP). The ELP programme, just published, includes digital photography, creative writing and money management among the courses on offer over the next year. Some courses are specifically for adults but others will be designed for adults and children working together.

The full programme, just published in the first ELP newsletter, is as follows:
Cooking with the Kids 'Taster course for adults and children working together.
Your Amazing Brain ' Taster course for adults looking at different learning styles and practical techniques to support your child.
Creative Writing Workshop - For adults, focusing on a range of techniques from writing books, plays, short stories, to TV and radio.
Nordic Walking - Taster course for adults and children together introducing one of the most sociable and effective exercise techniques around.
IT refresher courses for adults who may feel they have been passed by in the IT revolution, a chance to develop/refresh those skills...
Digital Photography 'making the most of your camera, a beginners' course for adults and children working together.
Money Management for Teenagers 'advice for adults and teenagers on this taxing subject.
Cycle Trails 'five week course for adults to familiarise them with local cycle routes and build their confidence so that they are happy to take their children out and enjoy the countryside together.

Many of these courses are free and will be funded or part funded by Surrey County Council's Family Learning Unit.
If you have any suggestions for adult or family learning activities which you think would be popular within in our community, please contact Kathy Ashford, ELP Manager at the Howard, on 01372 453694 or email

13 July 2006: Figures and staffing are a moving target

As the fight to keep the Bookham Youth Centre open creeps forward, there's still something of a mystery about its current financial status.

Various documents doing the rounds in the spring and summer had the Centre's yearly losses running variously at £18,000, £20,000 or even £30,000. And the somewhat alarming figure of £70,000 was mentioned.

The latest info appears to be that the income is running at around £20,000 and the outgoings at around £30,000, which leaves a gap of only £10,000. Earlier in the year, however, the income figure was put at only £9,000. The £70,000 figure is the amount needed to get the building back into something like decent repair.

Perhaps we'll soon be treated to the full story from the six-strong executive committee of the Bookham Community Group, a body set up to save the club. The job of the executive committee, chaired by Bookham Residents Association chairman Peter Seaward, is to negotiate with Centre owner Surrey County Council (SCC).

Two year business plan
Besides Seaward the executive comprises: Debbie Hill, who represents the Smarty Pants pre-school group; Conservative Councillor Clare Curran (for MVDC councillors); James Penny (youth representative); Kate Rice (Youth Centre), and Mel Commandeur (Churches Together). Emily Scott, who led the Centre's highly effective media campaign against closure, was also invited to join.

The committee is drawing up a two-year business plan for running the Centre after SCC transfers its running 'but not its bricks and mortar' to a charitable trust, probably in the autumn. As a charitable trust the centre would be able to reduce its rates paid to MVDC and other costs.

The business plan rests on the assumption that, if SCC granted the Centre a lease, or underwrote its running, for at least two years then the centre would be able to increase its rental income from £9,000 to £18,000 a year. SCC would provide the current level of youth leadership staff 'though what that is, exactly, is a further mystery since even some of the staff can't agree about their roles.

Assumption of closure
SCC had threated to close the Centre along with 14 of Surrey's other 41 youth centres. But the 15 were given a six-month stay of execution in the run-up to the recent district elections. This was widely interpreted as a sign that Surrey wanted to close the Centre but preferred to wait until the elections were over before announcing the closure.

SCC's statement, released towards the end of March, said the plans were 'being revised to give more time to develop new approaches to providing services for young people in Surrey.'
SCC said a review had 'exposed poor charging policies where youth centre buildings are rented to other users. By looking to increase charges, the council's youth service will largely cease to subsidise other users. This means important funds will not be diverted from youth work to pay utilities bills. The current arrangements,' said Surrey, 'are not feasible in the longer term.' The executive committee believes the centre could make savings and achieve a higher income by increasing the centre's use. At the moment the centre is only open a few nights a week and isn't used much during afternoons or, perhaps surprisingly, at weekends, when its potential clients aren't in school.

Earlier position
In April Conservative SCC Councillor for Bookham and Fetcham West James Smith told the executive committee that, by reducing costs and increasing rent for the Centre's use, it should be possible to reduce the current annual overspend of the Club from £30,000 a year to below £10,000 a year.
Earlier this month the Effingham Learning Partnership, a group of 12 Effingham-area schools led by the Howard, said it would consider running classes at the Centre. First, however, it would carry out a survey of possible interest in its services over the next few weeks. The ELP idea was to offer family learning projects 'in parenting and cookery with a link to the healthy schools initiative.'

The Bugle wishes the Centre well. Even so we can see several worrying signs in the way the its future is being decided. Why can't we yet see a simple cash statement of the Centre's incomings and outgoings' Who actually runs the Centre now, and how many staff will the Centre have under the new dispensation? And why aren't the meetings of the executive, which is deciding the future of an asset we own as taxpayers - open to the public and the Press?

The Bugle's editor attempted to report one of these meetings and was excluded not by a decision of the executive as a whole but on the whim of the chairman, Peter Seaward, without reference to any of his fellow committee members.

Given this penchant for secrecy, it is absolutely essential that the terms and conditions under which the charitable trust is set up are decided and approved to meet the demands of the community, not one individual. It is no slight whatever on the present executive committee to point out that, even if they can be trusted, that can't be guaranteed for all time. So they have to be accountable, and the same applies to the trust they set up.

The executive must put all its proposals for any action 'including drawing up trust deeds' to a meeting of the Bookham Community Group (BCG) for approval. Future meetings of the BCG must be advertised on the website of the Bookham Community Association (BCA), which runs the Barn Hall.

These meetings must be open to any Bookham resident who wishes to attend. Full records must be kept of all meetings of the executive and the BCG published, preferably on the BCA website or in the Bookhams Bulletin. The financial statements must also be fully available. Given the present confusion over the state of the Centre's finances, this is the least Bookham is entitled to expect.

Youth centre reprieve:

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