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Youth protests at Community Centre cutbacks

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Sandys Community Centre - residents are protesting against cutbacks (Photo David Skinner)

Frustrated West End youth have peacefully protested against a drastic cutback in hours and events at the Sandys Community Centre, which they say has left young people out in the cold.

According to Government, the Centre will reopen next month.

Calling for Government to look into the administration of the Boaz Island facility, a group of young men with placards yesterday took to Malabar Road.

They told The Royal Gazette that the Centre has been an integral part of neighbourhood life in a community that has seen its options for recreation curtailed since the closure of the Sandys 360 sports facility last year.

“It’s been open 20, 25 years — it’s never been closed down like this,” said Keija Simmons, 19, of nearby Malabar Close.

“It’s always been the best thing about Boaz Island. Everyone in the whole neighbourhood comes to the centre. There are people in their twenties, thirties, real adults that go down there. This is all we’ve got.”

Sandys Community Centre, on the south side of Boaz Island, has been popular for adults as well as young people for decades, but this week began closing early at 6pm.

It came after a litany of issues with the Centre going back a year. Residents complained that long-serving community centre workers have been moved on to other Government jobs, that funds had been spent on refurbishing offices instead of recreation, and that there has been friction between young people and new staff.

The latter point was acknowledged by a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Community, Culture and Sports, who denied that staff at the Centre had argued with young people but said they had been subject to “abusive and foul language when attempting to enforce Centre policies”.

“Lately, there have been threats made, and in an effort to address these serious concerns, the Centre is currently under review.”

Staff from the Department of Youth, Sport and Recreation were aware of concerns, and will meet with residents next week to develop “an action plan to re-establish the Centre”, she said.

Mr Simmons responded that young people were “just frustrated, going to the Centre and asking why it’s not open”. With the facility closing early, he said young men “usually go out to the end of Boaz Island where everyone hangs around — but there’s usually trouble and a lot of Police there, and it’s not good for young people”.

As the group gathered with signs at the roadside, a resident said: “These children ain’t got nothing — where are they going to go? Sit on the walls? It’s ridiculous.”

Mother of four Carol Jackson told The Royal Gazette: “I entrusted my children there, and they took it away.” She said a popular worker of 17 years had his hours cut, while four others had been moved elsewhere and replaced with inexperienced staff. She acknowledged that an after-school programme was still running at the school.

According to the Ministry, youth programmes have continued at Sandys Community Centre, including a summer camp, which was offered for the first time in 2014.

The October and Christmas camps were held off due to “facility operations”, a spokeswoman said, but the Centre remained open during the day.

Closing the Centre at 10pm on weekends instead of the usual 11pm was “based on trends”, she added.

“However, staff are aware and permitted to remain open if there are special events.”

Progressive Labour Party MP Michael Scott, who represents the constituency, said that there had been changes introduced at the Centre that had upset staff and young people. “As the MP, I am just appalled that the place was allowed to be so mismanaged,” he said.

“There were unpopular changes largely wrought by new management which impact staff and percolated down to the clients. There were unfortunate interferences with programmes there. They didn’t want the young boys to be in the same room as the older boys, as it was felt that the older ones would have a negative impact on them.

“There were really odd interventions which rubbed everybody the wrong way. They feel justifiably put out about it.”

Residents said that they had brought their grievances to former Minister Wayne Scott last June but had not seen administration at the Centre held “accountable”.

Added Mr Scott: “I frankly think that the new Minister, Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, will get it right — she has been very responsive whenever I have reached out to her.”

The Ministry spokeswoman said the frustrations of young people had been heard and that Community [Centre] staff had been out to meet residents and hear concerns. She maintained that changes to the facility and its programmes had received “positive and encouraging” feedback.

“The Centre has an open-door policy,” she said, adding that as late as Wednesday night “the Senior Supervisor and Senior Community Worker were in discussion with some of the young gentlemen who are feeling displaced, to lend clarity. It would appear there are several misconceptions and unfortunately there is information being disseminated after staff meetings — this information is embellished and inaccurate.”

Sandys Community Centre - residents are protesting against cutbacks (Photo David Skinner)
Sandys Community Centre - residents are protesting against cutbacks (Photo David Skinner)