Cutting Middlesbrough

From the Breckon Hill community enterprise in Middlesbrough:

Okay. You could argue that I’ve lost all perspective, but in my lefty way, I’ve started to suspect that George Osborne would prefer just to blanket places like Middlesbrough’s Breckon Hill community centre in napalm.

The centre has a daycentre for adults with disabilities, an accredited ESOL training programme, back-to-work support for people who are looking for jobs, computer classes, a youth club, a cafe with affordable meals and so on.

And that means they’re all bloody well here, aren’t they, George? – people with learning and physical disabilities, worried locals whose cafes and takeaways are going bust in the slump, youth offenders who want work experience on projects (that were once) funded by council, discarded public sector workers who want to retrain for jobs that don’t exist – you’ve got the whole, lowborn lot of them, George, right here in one building. You could pretend concern for their service needs and blather on about Big Society on Dave’s behalf, or you could just cut the paperwork and open a can on them. Boom.

Between 400 to 800 people come through the doors of this centre in any given week. They prize it highly and need it badly, so naturally, it is due for closure. The centre is – perhaps ironically, or perhaps not, in these plotless times – a victim of its own popularity in a roundabout way. The loss of direct council funding isn’t the problem – the centre does not, as manager Amanda Buck tells me, rely on a direct council grant to keep and manage its buildings. It relies on room-hire income that it makes from community and council groups that rely on council funding. Those groups are losing their funding, which means the centre is losing a vital income stream.

“Nobody’s got the budget to hire the rooms out, so we’ve had a decrease in staff and a decrease in grants available to the facility – even though we’ve had a 38% increase in people requiring our services.”

The groups used the centre in big numbers because it was so accessible – central and wheelchair-friendly, with parking at the school next door and its own sensibly-priced cafe (for which the centre grew its own produce).

Lottery provided some funding for six years, but the centre trust doesn’t expect that funding to continue forever and is paying Amanda’s salary out of reserves (the payments will stop in July). The government cut the Future Jobs Fund last year – that paid for a staff member and work placements for young people keen for employment. You need barely be conscious to see where this is all going: Middlesbrough has the worst jobless rate in the country (a prize it takes in a competitive field).

We will return in six months or so to see where it has all gone.

Here are some pictures deptfordvisions took of people using centre facilities when we visited a couple of weeks ago. I wonder if George has even seen movies about lives like these.

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