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Inside 29 Castlegate… Photographs: Ewan Main
Since 2007 young people in York have been getting help from 29 Castlegate.

Anyone aged between 16 and 25 can go along to this one-stop shop and access everything from careers advice to counselling.

Online petition

A petition calling on council leader James Alexander to review the proposed closure of the holistic service provided at Castlegate had received nearly 700 signatures by lunchtime on October 7.

  To add your name, go here

But not for much longer. City of York Council is recommending that 29 Castlegate close.

A paper being discussed at a meeting of council’s cabinet on Tuesday (October 7) proposes relocating the services it offers to the council HQ, West Offices.

However many previous users of 29 Castlegate, along with York youth workers, feel that this will provide a greatly restricted service in a setting inappropriate for the young people involved.

They are asking the council for more time to put together an alternative approach. As things stand, 29 Castlegate will close next March, when the personal support and inclusion (PSI) workers have been told they will be made redundant.

What is 29 Castlegate?

It is a one-stop shop for York people aged 16-25 who need help, information and guidance.

Housed in a council-owned Grade II listed building behind Fenwicks, it is home to support workers, careers advisors and counsellors.

They are on hand to support young people with concerns as wide ranging as finding a job or college course, seeking advice on housing, or wanting to talk to someone about debt, mental health issues, drugs or a myriad of other problems.

It grew out of the Youth Enquiry Service and was created in close consultation with young people.

Although up-to-date figures are not in the public realm, a report from 2010-11 revealed that 7,380 visits were made to Castlegate that year.

Why is it set to close?

The council has looked at what it provides for young people as part of its Rewiring Public Services programme.

It has to find a way to meet increasing demand for services on a much-reduced grant from central government.

Closing Castlegate will save money. But the council report also says that by moving services to its West Offices HQ they can provide –

“an enhanced and co-ordinated post 16 young people’s service… The new service will work together with existing council services such as Housing, Benefits, York Learning and Future Prospects and with partners including Job Centre Plus, Citizens Advice Bureau and others to deliver the support currently given under one roof”

Who does 29 Castlegate help?

Scenario

Dawn outlined how a young person might use 29 Castlegate:

  He might start talking about the fact he’s on a zero hours contract and so needed a new job.

  He builds up trust with the worker and builds a relationship, and starts telling them more what’s going on – because he’s on a zero hours contract he hasn’t got much money, so he borrowed a hundred quid from Wonga.

  Then he owes god knows how much, so he hasn’t paid his mum rent, so his mum’s kicked him out.

  He’s sofa surfing and hasn’t been sleeping properly and hit his girlfriend last night for no reason and is really frightened about that and needs someone to talk about counselling.

At the moment, “you could sort that out in the one building,” Dawn said.

Dawn Moores, who managed 29 Castlegate from 2007 to 2011, said it varies from the

  • university student who’s being abused by her father,
  • to someone worried they’re using too much cannabis,
  • to a young man who comes in with his hand all bashed up after he kept hitting the wall because he’s so angry and doesn’t know what to do with his life,
  • to somebody who just needs a new job.
  •  
    Because the centre has a holistic approach, young people can build up trust with the youth workers over time.

    But that approach will disappear under these proposals, says Carole Pugh, a former York youth worker who now lectures on youth work.

    “The PSI workers have been told they will be made redundant and won’t be in post any more, so that wrap-around service will definitely go.

    “They’re the people who do the holistic advice bit – housing, benefits, emotional support, relationships – not one single focus.

    “The bit that’s being maintained is the careers advisers: education and employment advice.”

    Losing Castlegate will mean “there is nowhere for 16-25 year olds to find holistic support, where you can go in about anything and find out about everything,” says Dawn.

    “And that there are no other agencies in the city that can actually pick up the work either, because everybody’s over-stretched.”

    Could the same service be offered at West Offices?

    york-city-council-west-offices

    No, say campaigners. For a start the council HQ “is not very young people friendly, we know there are issues for young people going in to that building,” says Carole.

    “It’s very corporate, it’s big – are you going to do a pregnancy test in there? Probably not.”

    However they recognise the service may have to relocate.

    “It’s not about the building, it’s about the holistic provision – a provision where a young person can explore everything that’s going on for them in one place, rather than having to go here, there and everywhere,” said Dawn.

    What about counselling and over 19s?

    “It’s not clear what’s happening to counselling from the council report,” says Carole.

    “The counselling service that runs from Castlegate is very well used. There’s a waiting list, and has been for years.”

    She believes that Castlegate’s services will be withdrawn completely for those over 19 years old, who will be expected to use the adult services.

    “The reason that those young people use Castlegate is they need a little bit more help than that. They need a holistic, wrap-around – they’re not managing to navigate across a range of different agencies on their own.”

    What will be the impact of the proposals?

    29-castlegate-york-talk

    “It will have a massive impact not just on the 16-year-olds that are around today, but for the next five or ten years,” says Carole.

    Also the early intervention work undertaken at Castlegate saves money in the long run, she argues.

    Many of the people seen there “haven’t quite got a social worker – but things really aren’t great in their lives.

    “If you can work with them without them having to hit that statutory level it’s much cheaper and more effective.”

    Or as Dawn sees it: “Where will the young person go who’s sexually exploited in future? Because they can go to Castlegate.

    “They start by going in and saying, ‘I need a new job’ and two months down the road, when you know the worker really well you might actually say what’s going on for you.”

    So just carry on as normal?

    Carole and Dawn recognise that’s not possible, and councillors have to make changes. “They’ve got some horrendous cuts to find,” said Carole.

    “They’ve got to find half a million across children’s services and they can’t do that without it having an impact on service delivery.”

    Dawn agrees. “It’s very hard for them, I wouldn’t like to have to do it.”

    What they want is more time: “We might be able to find some other way of delivering a service – a smaller service, which can then grow again,” Dawn said.

    York survival guide

    29-castlegate-survival-guide-2Anyone who has been through school in York recently will have received a copy of the Young People’s Survival Guide To York.

    Covering topics from health to housing, money to relationships it has been an invaluable resource for people moving into adulthood.

    “It is just celebrating its 22nd edition,” said Carole. “The guide is another proactive way of supporting young people – it goes to schools across the city.

    “Produced by York Action On Young Homeless, it’s written by the staff at Castlegate. Over the years people have used it and used it. That’s another element that will be lost.”

    What could we do instead?

    Instead of centralising an education and careers-focused service in West Offices, give the various agencies enough time to put together another approach says Carole.

    “There’s a group of us who’ve met to look at whether we could take the service outside of the council – set up as a charity or as a social enterprise.”

    She said the sorts of agencies that could come together to support such an enterprise could include “York Mind, Citizens’ Advice Bureau, potentially the library”.

    “But if at this stage you decide that the holistic support is going and that’s the end of it there’s not that much we can work with.

    “What we’re saying is ‘can you slow this timescale down?’ Because getting anything new up and running by March next year isn’t feasible.

    “If they demolish it, we lose the staff, we lose the expertise, we lose the policies and processes, we lose the legacy, the contacts – everything.

    “It’s a valued service, don’t just bin it.”

    What happens next?

    The proposal to close 29 Castlegate goes before the council cabinet meeting which starts at 5.30pm on Tuesday, October 7, and is live streamed via the council website.

    If cabinet agrees to close it, the council opposition might call in the proposal.