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Outrage as funding blocked for disadvantaged young creatives

Local and regional authority leaders have clashed on funding for a project that could provide training for 500 disadvantaged young creatives.

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Multi-million pound plans to transform an old magistrates court into an enterprise hub for deprived young people are in tatters after Bristol City Council dealt a crushing blow.

West of England metro mayor Dan Norris has branded the decision “appalling” and “nonsensical” while others called it “outrageous”.

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Creative Youth Network (CYN) had already secured £4.25 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and more than £1 million from elsewhere and required just the final piece of the financial jigsaw – £758,000 from the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) – to begin work.

The charity, which was run until the start of 2022 by Sandy Hore-Ruthven, the Green candidate who finished second behind Labour’s Marvin Rees at last year’s Bristol mayoral election, was ready to refurbish the derelict Victorian building in Bridewell Street, with the money and full business case expected to be rubber-stamped at WECA committee on Friday, April 8.

But the city council effectively blocked the move, jeopardising the entire scheme, called The Courts, and the millions of pounds already promised.

Bristol deputy mayor Cllr Craig Cheney, standing in for Rees who could not attend as he was away giving a TED talk in Canada, said the council had already invested £100,000 in the project and could not justify any more taxpayers’ money when other community organisations also needed funding, despite the fact the cash would have come from WECA, not the local authority.

The Courts would have created 100 jobs, provided training for 500 young creatives aged 16 to 25 from disadvantaged backgrounds throughout the region, including enterprise workshops, mentoring, music studios and paid internships, and been worth £7.3 million a year to the local economy – more than the cost to set it up.

A letter in support signed by 50 Bristol organisations and people across the creative, youth and wider business community, including the city’s chamber of commerce, Bristol Beacon, Bristol Old Vic, We The Curious and Business West, was presented to the committee.

Mark Coates, who replaced Hore-Ruthven as Creative Youth Network CEO after 15 years at the start of 2022, told the meeting that the project was in the final stages of design and was already out to tender.

He said: “This is a ‘now or never’ moment. We cannot afford to kick the can down the road – delaying now means getting stuck on a fundraising treadmill where we cannot realistically fundraise quicker than costs escalate, plus a very real risk of losing the existing match funding pledges of £5.35million which will time-out if we cannot get going soon.”

Cllr Winston Duguid said WECA’s cross-party overview & scrutiny committee, which he chairs, was “very enthusiastic” about the “fantastic” project.

But after Cllr Cheney said the city council could not support the final investment from WECA, the leaders of South Gloucestershire and Bath & North East Somerset councils said they could not go against its wishes and, with no one seconding Norris’s proposal, no vote could be taken and the investment was not approved.

Cllr Cheney told the meeting: “We are absolutely supportive of this project and recognise all the work that CYN does.

“There are a huge number of community buildings and organisations crying out for £100,000, let alone a second call for a further £700,000.

“We want to ensure funds are allocated fairly and that organisations that haven’t had the opportunity to request funding are able to do so.

Labour’s Norris told the meeting: “This is an important project that would serve young people right across the West of England, and we mustn’t get bogged down in where it happens to be located.

“You’ve heard the passion spoken by organisations, businesses, the public. It would be a nonsensical decision.

“I’m sure we will come back to revisit this and I hope in future we can reflect a bit more so we can make a difference for our young people.

“This is something that we should have got done.”

Norris said afterwards the decision to block the money was “appalling”.

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  • CYN have had plenty of money off the council in the last 5 years! Why should they be given more? There are loads of other worthy youth organisations in the city who need, and in my opinion deserve it more! If the businesses are so behind it, let them put their hands in their pockets!

    Reply

    • The money is not coming from Bristol City Council, it is coming from the West of England Combined Authority and is supported by regional Mayor Dan Norris. Most of the funding for this project has been raised from the National Lottery and other sources – over £5 million in total – its not like they were expecting the whole amount, just the £700,000 they had been promised. I have no idea why the mayor is blocking this given its not coming out of council coffers, yet another good reason to vote to get rid of the position in May.

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