Page last updated at 11:48 GMT, Sunday, 8 March 2009

'Model' play centre faces closure

30th anniversary party at the Venture
Hundreds attended the Venture's 30th anniversary party in 2008

A council's decision to withdraw £170,000 in funding could spell the end for a children's play scheme after more than 30 years.

Wrexham council's core funding for the Venture project in the town's Caia Park estate will cease on 31 March 2009.

Malcolm King, who founded the project in 1978, said that without it the Venture would "probably have to close".

Clare Field, of Wrexham council, said all of its contracts were "time limited as per the financial regulations."

Mr King launched the Venture, which offers activities for children and young people, after realising that half of the juvenile crime in the surrounding area came from the estate which contained 13,000 people.

He said: "The juvenile crime rate has at least halved. Over the past 30 years the level of crime has stayed very low.

The council seems determined to end the relationship
Ian Lucas MP, Wrexham

"Last month we had one of the lowest anti-social behaviour rates in Wrexham, despite the fact that the ward we are in is third in the child poverty tables around here, and the neighbouring ward is at the top."

In 2003 the project was chosen by the Welsh Assembly Government as the model for its flagship programme of integrated children's centres, now rolled out across Wales.

In Scotland, following a report by Glasgow University, the scheme was chosen as the approach most likely to respond effectively to the increasing number of children affected by drug-abusing parents.

Mr King said he was notified by Wrexham council in November 2008 that funding for 2009 would not be forthcoming.

"We have lots of funders but if we lose our core funding from the council it sows doubt among potential funders. The centre will probably have to close, unless we can get find funding from somewhere else."

Half of our staff came through the centre themselves... they are all very passionate about the centre and would be distraught if it closed
Malcolm King, Venture

Having started with a staff of four, the project now employs 30 full-time and part-time staff, but Mr King said one full-time worker had already been made redundant and other staff have had their hours cut.

He said: "Lots of our kids are third generation. Half of our staff came through the centre themselves. They are all very passionate about the centre and would be distraught if it closed.

"Many would want to carry on working for free, but realistically people would have to find other jobs. We just couldn't afford the insurance."

Mr King said the local community was organising a campaign to persuade the council not to withdraw its funding.

"I'm confident that we can persuade the council that it is a bad idea," he said.

'Unique project'

The Venture has received support from Wrexham MP Ian Lucas, who warned that the project's closure would have "a very severe impact on one of the most deprived wards in Wales."

"It's a unique project," said Mr Lucas. "It's been part of the community for a considerable period, working closely with local schools in addressing educational shortfalls.

"If the council has different priorities that they want to pursue then they should have constructive discussions with the Venture to see if it can fulfil those goals. And the Venture should be part of an open process to tender for the work that the council want in the area.

"The council's goals need to be clearly defined. What the Venture has done wrong has got to be clearly defined. The Venture does not appear to have fallen down in performance but the council seems determined to end the relationship."

In response, Clare Field, chief prevention and inclusion officer for Wrexham council said: "Wrexham County Borough Council has several contracts with the Venture including one which supports young people in education, one which supports young offenders and aims to reduce anti social behaviour and an early years project. A further contract which supports the Venture ends as of 31 March, 2009."

She said all the council's contracts were time-limited in line with financial regulations, and officers had held discussions with staff from the Venture to consider ways in which the authority could continue to support it after the end of the month.

She said the other contracts between the Venture and the council would continue, "including the contract which specifically targets young offenders and anti-social behaviour."

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