Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Heeley City Farm offers hope to Sheffield youths

(footage by Joe Bream)

Heeley City Farm, an oasis in the heart of Sheffield, is fighting to prevent young people from entering a life of crime. In response to devastating budget cuts to Sheffield’s youth services, the charity is determined to offer young people an alternative to the void left by diminishing provision.

The city farm, in the urban district of Heeley, Sheffield, is a community based and led training, employment and youth enterprise. Along with facilities such as a cafĂ© and children’s playground for the community, the charity also teaches and supports young people and adults with learning difficulties.

Young people bringing in horses for the night 
Sam Bennett, from the human resources and finance team at Heeley City Farm, said that cuts to council spending on youth services has left only a few community centres and youth groups in the area. He said that the farm offers practical work, team building and confidence boosting activities. “They come and they’re allowed a bit of responsibility, so it’s their responsibility to bring the animals in at night or clean their living areas.”

Young people can volunteer or attend work placements at the farm, and adults with learning difficulties are offered supported placements. Participants learn life and vocational skills through looking after the animals and garden centre. There is also a farm kitchen where participants can learn catering and hospitality skills, as well as classrooms to teach a range of vocational courses.

Mr Bennett, aged 24, epitomises the benefit of the charity; he left university without a degree and was unemployed for a while. He then started working at Heeley City Farm as an office assistant and 18 months later he has worked his way up the ladder.

Cuts ‘hit hard’

The government’s recent austerity measures have hit young people hard. They have scrapped the Future Jobs fund, tripled student fees and caused local councils to cut spending on youth services. Sheffield City Council has cut spending this year by £80 million out of an annual budget of 1.5 billion. This has led to £17 million being cut from services for children, young people and families.

Mr Bennett said that Heeley City Farm relies on many sources of funding, but they have still been affected; “With council funding gone for youth work, we’re having to rely more on private donations and to be more inventive and diversify in order to find the money to help fund everything.”

Sheffield Futures is a council-funded charity which runs the Connexions careers services for young people in Sheffield. The charity funds the ‘Young Rangers Course’ for NEET’s (young people not in employment, education or training) at Heeley City Farm. However, they have had to cut 95 jobs out of their 368 staff, whilst £2.4 million has been cut from Connexions this year.

Emma Taylor, information and marketing team leader at Sheffield Futures said; “We have been hit hard, its been awful and we’ve lost a lot of highly skilled workers, it’s not right that we had to cut as many as we did for a service that is so valuable.” Sheffield Futures said that they worked hard to make sure young people aren’t affected by the cuts, but Mrs Taylor admitted, “It’s been very tough.”

Destined for a life of crime

Mr Bennett believes that when less money is spent on youth services, more is needed for addressing the crime that results from young people being left without provision. “A lot of the young people we work with aren’t at school, so having them come here and help look after animals means they aren’t up the road mugging somebody, breaking into houses or getting involved in drugs and gangs, it gives them something to do that means something, that means they aren’t then destined for a life of crime.”

Mrs Taylor said that cutting youth services will have a knock on effect on crime; “NEET figures have been terrible for the city, we are working to lower these as we speak, but there will still be somebody out there who might not have had any intervention from us.”

An Oasis in the middle of the city
Despite the funding cuts, Mr Bennett believes that Heeley City Farm can be an oasis for the community and its young people; “This is quite a novel environment to teach people, everybody likes looking after animals so we’re teaching them the very basic things, like maths, that they might struggle to learn at school, but in a different way that is fun.”

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