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Cuts threaten success of £270m MyPlace youth centres

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News feature: Projects by several high-profile architects are at risk, while seven MyPlace schemes have already been mothballed

A government report (see attached) has raised serious concerns about the future of the innovative £270 million MyPlace youth centre programme and the financial viability of proposed projects.

The Department for Education-sponsored evaluation of the 70 state-of-the-art centres, including those that are currently under construction, said that without ‘adequate or secure funding the full potential of the MyPlace programme [would] not be realised’.

It found problems had been exacerbated by the economic crisis and that the spending review and subsequent local authority cuts led to over-stretched staff at schemes that had already opened.

The release of the report into the initiative, which was originally hailed as ‘possibly the largest ever investment by the government in youth facilities’, comes just weeks after seven high-profile MyPlace schemes were effectively shelved despite previous funding approvals.

Among these supposedly approved projects controversially refused Big Lottery funding, were Hawkins\Brown’s Plashet Park scheme in Newham, London, Guy Holloway and Jonathan Dunn Architects’ St Mary in the Castle project in Hastings, Kent and Surface Architects’ proposed centre in Hull.

The report reads: ‘Initial planning for MyPlace projects did not envisage the current circumstances of economic uncertainty and need for fiscal tightening.

‘Maintaining quality and the ideals of MyPlace depend on continuing financial viability – and that is uncertain for a number of projects.’

It continues: ‘The gap between the aspirations embodied in new state-of-the art centres, with their enthusiastic and committed workers and volunteers, and the realities of the financial climate, is a serious one.

‘Those organisations that looked to the state for significant funding – especially the more local and smaller organisations – are now facing major problems.’

Irena Bauman, whose practice Bauman Lyons is working on the Wakefield MyPlace scheme, believes the ‘inspired’ programme has been torpedoed by ‘lethal government cuts’.

The focus of effort for these fledgling centres has shifted away from the original aims

She added: ‘The focus of effort for these fledgling centres has shifted away from the original aims. They are now charged with securing their own viability rather than the future of the disadvantaged young. It is a fallacy to assume that all services can be social enterprises.’

‘Without continuing investment from the government to nurture these organisations we might witness another heartbreaking failure of hopes, endeavour and creativity and another affirmation that there is unbridgeable schism between the rhetoric of  the Big Society and the government’s action to enable it.’         

Richard Scott of Surface hopes funding for his practice’s project in Hull may be found elsewhere and says the practice is still treating it as a ‘live scheme’. He said: ‘Following an appeal in June, sadly the Hull MyPlace did not receive Big Lottery funding. It would have been significant for the city centre of Hull, bringing together a 900-capacity auditorium, youth enterprise facilities, activity studios and cafes in a dramatic design.’

This is certainly going to harm the MyPlace project and means some will go to the wall

Anthony Hudson of Hudson Architects, the architects behind the Open Norwich MyPlace centre, said: ‘The fact there is no legal requirement for local authorities to provide youth services means many see this as one area to reduce costs. This is certainly going to harm the MyPlace project and means some will go to the wall.’

He added: ‘The initiative is still an extremely exciting idea, but it does need a good mix of business acumen and commitment to youth projects.’

Sarah Curl of Curl La Tourelle, which completed the £6.5 million Sutton Life Centre in south London last year, fears that changes in youth strategy could throw up further problems for the initiative.

‘Current funding issues experienced by local authorities will probably lead to more focus on targeted access [of the disadvantaged], which would be in line with current policy.

‘This runs the risk of stigmatising the centres funded through MyPlace. Facilities then become labelled as being places for rough kids, and so “nice” kids don’t want to use them. They then become problematic.’

The story of the shelved Solihull MyPlace scheme (HYPE) - by an insider

At the time of the change of Government (in 2010) HYPE was a viable project and was working towards an April 2012 opening. But the Government immediately froze the programme cutting off the flow of funds.

In December 2010 HYPE was given the go ahead to resart the project and start spending again, subject to achieving a June 2012 completion. HYPE protested, after a seven month freeze, the programme would now finish in late 2012. No dice.

By March 2011 it was agreed to do a feasibility on accelerating the progrramme, appointing Turner & Townsend to assist. The conclusion of that was that there were too many identified risks for the project board to go along with accelerating the programme to less than 21 months. The funder was advised that late 2012 remained the earliest completion.

The funder declared breach of contract and withdrew the grant, albeit paying for the feasibility study.

HYPE remains a viable project. Given the capital funds, it could be delivered in 21 months. The area of North Solihull is desperate for the facilities which HYPE could offer.





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