Stormont funding bid in aid of ‘one-stop shop’ for teenagers

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LARNE Borough Council has agreed in principle to seek Stormont funding for a “one-stop shop” (OSS) project for young people who claim that bars are “the biggest youth club” in the area.

Subject to obtaining the grant aid from the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers (OFMDFM), the Larne and nine other Northern Zone authorities will establish drop-in centres providing information, support, counselling or referral services on issues including drugs, alcohol, and sexual health.

It is hoped the local Youth OSS will be set up on Main Street, because of its central location which is perceived as safe, neutral and accessible for all. It will accommodate voluntary sector and other groups that can provide advice and support to younger people.

The OSS would be open on two weekend evenings and one evening midweek, with hours and days to be confirmed at a consultation event for young people and staff. Larne Community Safety Partnership will provide transport for young people across the borough and in particular those from rural communities.

Councillors, who opted last month to back the funding bid on a majority decision, heard that recent research suggested that as teenagers get older they are less likely to frequent youth clubs, with a high drop-out rate at 14 or 15 years old. Many young people in the Larne area told researchers that they felt there was a lack of activities for them, which meant they became increasingly bored and more likely to be involved in anti-social behaviour.

Further research suggested that pubs were “the biggest youth club in Larne” and that a drop-in centre would be “money well spent”.

Respondents in another survey, published in September last year, identified a significant gap in services for teenagers aged 13-18, adding that it was felt that “hanging around the streets of Larne, or drinking and socialising in bars, was their only option”.

Councillors were told that “provision of services for this age group must be provided in a way that meets their needs, can be accessed by all service providers in one location and in an economically viable manner”.

The council is bidding for funding through the Social Investment Fund run by OFMDFM. Both the council and the North Eastern Education Board are to match-fund the scheme, with the local authority’s contribution possibly aided by the Fort James Fund, which was set up after closure of the paper mill to provide facilities for young people across the borough.