Many charities, community groups and voluntary organisations across Tyrone fear they could close, or would have to reduce services, due to funding cuts.
The European Social Fund (ESF), which provided about £40 million a year for hundreds of community groups, was recently halted as a result of Brexit.
Also, other monies are being reduced due to financial pressures faced by government departments.
Dungannon Youth Resource Centre, which caters for hundreds of young people, is just one local organisation affected, after being told that vital funding from the Education Authority is no longer guaranteed past the end of this month.
Senior youth worker with the centre, Barry McGinley, explains the difficulties they are now facing.
He said, “Over the last couple of weeks and months, the landscape has changed regarding funding.
“Although there has been more money put into the Mid Ulster area, our service here in Dungannon cannot continue as we have been doing because our funding is being reduced.
“We now have to close on Monday nights for the first time in many years.
“Up until recently, we had six staff, but now we have three as we have had to cut our caretaker, admin staff and our own salaries.”
Having been forced to sacrifice many specific services and aspects of the youth resource centre, Barry fears the ’devastating effect’ this may have in the long run.
He continued, “Due to staff cuts, we’ve had to close our pool room.
“It almost broke my heart doing so because it’s a good outlet, and a lot of the young people coming here like to hang around there.
“Our outreach service is also gone, which means we can no longer get out and about in Dungannon to let young people know we are here if they need any help or guidance with issues they may be facing.
“A lot of those issues would be undesirable and revolve around alcohol, drugs and being open to exploitation.”
With their popular Monday nights no longer feasible, Barry says the youth club has also had to sacrifice their regular Saturday afternoon activities.
“We usually have a large number of young people coming here on a Saturday, as it was maybe the only day of the week that they could make it over and it suited them well.
“They could play a variety of sports including basketball – which doesn’t happen any other time of the week – and get involved in quizzes and things like that.
“But now that’s all gone.
“It’s just terrible that young people are being denied these services.”
Barry says that the uncertainty over whether they can sustain the youth club beyond the next few weeks is ‘unnecessary and unjust’.
“We have always had a brilliant relationship with the Education Authority over the years, especially on a local level.
“It has worked well; it worked for the young people, and it worked for us as staff.
“But now, we have lost trust. We just don’t know what is going on.
“We have funding for one month, maybe three – if we’re lucky… We’re just not sure yet.
“But the trust is gone, and a lot of work has to be done now to rebuild that because it’s not about us, and it’s not about the Education Authority… It’s about the young people of Dungannon, and further afield, the young people of this county.
“The whole thing is just so unnecessary and unjust.”
Rihanna Bell is a volunteer with the Dungannon Youth Resource Centre.
Having attended since the age of seven, she is ‘extremely disappointed’ with the current situation.
“Over the years, I’ve taken part in many activities through the centre,” she said.
“It has been a lot of fun and it’s so sad to see that other young people won’t get the same opportunities that I did. I love volunteering and the social skills I get out of it.
“And I hope that someday this experience will help me get a job as a youth worker.”
The resource centre’s plight has struck a chord with local politicians.
Councillor Dominic Molloy said, “Our young people, and particularly those from already socially-deprived backgrounds, will, ultimately, be the losers in a system which wrongly pits voluntary providers against each other.
“We will continue to press for secured funding for Dungannon Youth Resource Centre.”
Youth Work Alliance – which oversees numerous youth projects throughout the North – says ‘there is real anger’ at how the funding cuts are deeply impacting and affecting children and young people.
“There are real feelings of less-favourable treatment,” a spokesperson stated.
“There is real anger at how children and young people are being failed. There is an urgent need to address this.”
Despite the struggles and frustrations, senior youth worker, Barry, wanted to highlight ‘a real positive amongst all the negatives’.
“The community support we have had from representatives, parents and volunteers has been incredible, so I would like to offer my sincerest thanks to them for always being there and continuing to support us,” he concluded.
“I’ve been coming here since I was eight, and I’ve always loved it. It’s really fun.”
– Summer Bradley
“I really hope the summer scheme can go ahead this year, because I haven’t been to it before.”
– Shannon Maben
“I have been coming here for a long time, and I like it as I can see my friends.”
– Malcolm Daly
“I enjoy attending the centre to hangout with my friends. It would be sad if we couldn’t come here.”
– Tyler Sherlock
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