‘Sleepless nights’ and worry for Nottingham youth organisations as demand soars

Marcellus Baz, who founded Switch Up and Nottingham School of Boxing, pictured with 15-year-old Dionte at the boxing club in St Ann's (LDRS)
By Joe Locker, Local Democracy Reporter

The founders of two of Nottingham’s vital youth organisations say they are having sleepless nights and worrying they cannot meet the needs of hundreds of young people in need of support.

Marcellus Baz BEM, the founder of Switch Up and the Nottingham and Mansfield Schools of Boxing, and Keiren Thompson, who runs Helping Kids Achieve (HKA), say referrals to their services have “shot up”.

Baz says he’s had 75 referrals to his School of Boxing in Mansfield, on top of a further 61 in Nottingham.

Referrals have been coming in from council social care services, the county’s violence reduction unit, and schools amid significant cuts to public services.

“We’ve always been getting referrals,” Baz said.

“But we are really concerned at the minute because the referral numbers have really shot up since the council cuts.

“I’m having sleepless nights. I’m having trouble with trying to find support for people who really, really need it.”

Labour-run Nottingham City Council recently slashed Baz’s area-based grant funding by £30,000, as part of its latest round of budget cuts approved in March.

The council said at the time it has a legal duty to set a balanced budget each year. It is something which has become increasingly difficult, having had its own funding cut by the former Conservative Government.

“The council’s financial reserves have been impacted by decisions it has made in the past and this has affected our financial resilience,” the council said in March, referring to the collapse of Robin Hood Energy.

“However, since 2013/14, the council’s Revenue Support Grant (RSG) from Government has reduced by nearly £100m every year.

“Over the same period, Nottingham’s core spending power has reduced by over 28 per cent in real terms.

“The council has been faced with having to make some extremely difficult decisions but we have a legal duty to set a balanced budget.”

Baz says years of cuts to youth services and other public services have left him with more referrals than he’s had since founding Switch Up 11 years ago.

“We always knew we were going to get impacted by the council cuts, with front line services being cut, community centres and youth services being cut,” he said.

“My ultimate concern is there are going to be young people, their families, that are not being supported and not getting the help they need. There are going to be consequences.”

Dionté Rocheste, 15, says the Nottingham School of Boxing has “changed everything” for him.

“I wasn’t doing well in school. My school made me come here,” he said.

“It has helped me because I wasn’t making an effort to get up, I was thinking I was done with school, done with everything. I was going to bed at stupid times, but I started coming here and it changed everything.

“It is not just about the physical stuff. They will teach you how to sort out your life at home. It has taught me about discipline, the mind, and it will help other people as well.”

Nottingham School of Boxing in Woodborough Road, St Ann's (LDRS)
Nottingham School of Boxing in Woodborough Road, St Ann’s (LDRS)

Baz went on to explain he does not think his current Nottingham base in Woodborough Road, St Ann’s, will survive another winter due to its “uninhabitable” condition.

The organisation is now seeking another home on land owned by the city council in St Ann’s. Proposals for the new facility are expected to cost around £4m.

However Baz’s head coach, Barney Hussain, says they are hundreds of thousands of pounds off its target to raise £500,000. The figure is needed to unlock extra funding from other providers.

Over in Bulwell, Mr Thompson runs his youth organisation Helping Kids Achieve from the town’s Riverside Youth and Play Centre and the Ridge Adventure Playground.

Mr Thompson’s area-based grant from the council has been cut by £15,000, and both facilities are now set to close to save the authority £218,000.

“For us it has been a challenge because with all the cuts it has been very uncertain,” Mr Thompson said.

“In terms of what we are able to deliver we’ve had to cut back on some of our sessions because we can’t afford to run them, like basketball.

“With all the service cuts we’ve seen a rise in people reaching out to us on a one-to-one basis for mentoring. There has been a massive uptake for referrals.

“With Labour now in power I’m hoping they will be able to push back on the things the Conservatives put in place.

“With the situation Nottingham City Council is in I cannot see any immediate future where things are going to change in Nottingham.

“It is not going to be easy. We’ve just got to weather the storm.”

Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party formed a majority government after winning the election on July 4.

In its manifesto it pledged to boost youth services and mental health support.

Responding to a request for comment, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities referred to a speech made by its new Minister of State, Jim McMahon.

Responding to a spate of bankruptcies in local councils, he said: “Yes, we do need to address it.

“We’re committed to ensuring that councils have the resources they need to provide decent public services to their communities.

“Our councils do a wonderful job but they’ve had to deal with very significant budget pressures, and that’s Adult Social Care demand, it’s Children’s Services and of course, it’s temporary accommodation.

“We need to get ahead of what’s actually causing that demands. Fixing the wider system is really important, because in the end, a lot of pressure that brought to councils is because they’re the last line of defence. But it’s a whole system that needs to be repaired.”

While in government under former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, the Conservative Party announced £800,000 for youth support, including new bursaries for 500 youth workers.

In a message to the new Labour Government, Baz added: “Please provide resources and funding to front line services, replenish public services and help us to be able to have environments, buildings, youth services, youth hubs, community centres, because we need them.”

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