Monday, 22 June 2009

Saving the youth venue

The Commitment to Young People, 1997, made by Newcastle City Council was an important step in the city’s approach to our youth. The Loft was a great initiative to support this commitment.

The role of The Loft is one of youth development, by providing “diverse, meaningful and relevant arts and cultural activities” (Sustainability Review Report, p.99).

The impressive range and quality of the services offered by The Loft, and the significant benefits that accrue from them to both young people and the general community are clearly evident in the material provided in the Sustainability Review Report Appendices, and these benefits are not contested in any of the report documentation.

Did you know? The site of the current Youth Venue is the Council-owned heritage-significant former School of Arts building and the site of one of the city’s earliest libraries.

Evidence in the Sustainability Review Report documentation supports the view that a strategic review of youth services might identify an even more important role for The Loft (for example, see Sustainability Review Report Appendices, p.186 mentions that the Loft is in an excellent location to provide an identified unmet need for a welfare based drop-in service for young people).

Multiplier Effect
Material in the Sustainability Review Report Appendices states that The Loft attracted $273,000 of external funding in four years (Appendices, p.169). In this sense, The Loft’s activities provide the Newcastle community with significant added value to the investment that council makes in funding it. This multiplier effect is not acknowledged in the main Sustainability Review Report.

The surprising statement in the Sustainability Review Report that “The Loft ... does not provide welfare services or spiritual development services” appears to be a lame attempt to point to a deficiency in The Loft’s services, as some kind of argument for its closure. The statement is neither accurate nor fair.

In fact, as the material in the Sustainability Review Report Appendix confirms, The Loft does actually provide some welfare services (for example, the Project Coordinator’s brief involves working with disadvantaged and marginalised young people Sustainability Review Report Appendices, pp.168-169).

But the primary purpose of The Loft was never to provide welfare services – its role is one of youth development, by providing “diverse, meaningful and relevant arts and cultural activities” Sustainability Review Report, p.99).

Nor was The Loft ever intended to provide “spiritual development”. In fact, most other youth services in Newcastle are provided by organisations closely linked to churches, so a service that operates in a secular environment makes a significant contribution to the diversity of local youth services, and this should be perceived as a strength rather than a weakness.

The Report’s resort to this odd and irrelevant reference to The Loft’s perceived deficiency in providing services that it was never intended to provide is a reflection of both a lack of apparent appreciation in the report for the role of The Loft (despite the abundant information in the documentation that explains and exemplifies this), and an indication of the failure of the Sustainability Review Report to make any substantive case in favour of closing The Loft.

Payback Period
The Sustainability Review Report does not mention the more relevant statement in the Appendices (p.189) that “it would be prudent to provide at least 5 to 10 years of continued excellence in provision of youth services to make the capital investment [of relocating to The Loft building] worthwhile”. On this basis, a decision to close The Loft would be financially imprudent.

Back to the Future
The option recommended by the Sustainability Review Report (that is, closing The Loft and selling the venue) was specifically considered in the Service Review of The Loft undertaken in 2007. That review concluded that:
This model would create the highest level of savings for Council, however it would also ignore the identified needs of young people in the community. This would constitute a net loss to youth services in Newcastle as no other providers are likely to fill the gap in the short- to medium-term future.

...this model contradicts Council’s commitment to youth, reduces Council’s ability to implement strategies in the Community Plan, and it may also be problematic to convert the existing premises into viable commercial space.

(Sustainability Review Report Appendices, pp.195-6)

Nothing has changed to alter the validity of these arguments.

At a time when unemployment and dislocation among young people is increasing there is an urgent need for the Loft to remain in its current position and to continue to provide its valuable services.

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