Political and community representatives have claimed the decision to close a local youth centre will leave Ballyclare with a lack of youth provision.
Concerns have been raised after staff at Ballyclare Youth Club received an email confirming the facility, which is built on the grounds of Ballyclare Secondary School, will not be reopening.
The email from the Education Authority offered the staff “alternative employment” although it was stated “it would not be in the Ballyclare area”.
This alternative employment would be at a centre in New Mossley, Rathcoole or Carrickfergus.
If the staff do not want to take up this offer, they can apply for voluntary redundancy.
Speaking to the Times, Youth Support Worker, Eleanor Johnson said: “This vital service has been operating since 1978, with hundreds of children coming on a regular basis. The closure of Ballyclare Youth Club is shameful. While we are being offered alternative employment in other centres, we are more concerned with our own young people in Ballyclare. The young people are the future and need all the support in this fast moving society, both inside and outside of school.”
South Antrim MLA, Paul Girvan said he will be taking the issue up with the Education Minister. The DUP representative explained: “Provision needs to be given to facilities for young people in Ballyclare and the surrounding area.
“I will be in contact with Peter Weir over the issue. Ballyclare Youth Club provided a vital service for many years in the town and with the closure of the youth centre, a base needs to be found in the town for this service to be able to continue. The staff at Ballyclare Youth Club had a good relationship with the young people of the town and this continuity needs to be kept.”
UUP Cllr David Arthurs has had a long association with the centre. Describing the closure of the facility as “a sad day for the people of the town”, he said: “There was a shortage of youth provision in the town even before this decision was taken. Ballyclare is going to continue to grow, with hundreds of homes set to be built over the next decade. It’s an attractive town for young families to set-up home due to its close location to the motorway. The children moving to the town will need schooling as well as activities to keep them occupied in the evenings.
“The Youth For Christ team are being inundated with a lot of young people turning up. They do a fantastic job, but sadly they don’t have the facilities to accommodate the large numbers of young people who are now having to find other places to go following the youth club’s closure.”
PUP representative Scott McDowell believes the young people’s voices need to be heard. He said: “It’s a real shame the central hub in the town for young people is closed permanently. The big problem now is where will these young people go? Will anti-social behaviour increase? There’s a familiar pattern emerging in many areas where the voices of young people are being ignored. Ballyclare needs proper facilities for our youth and this is one subject that we will not allow to be swept under the carpet.”
The Times attempted to contact the Education Authority for a response, but none was forthcoming at the time of going to print.