A COMMUNITY arts social enterprise which has successfully worked with hundreds of unemployed teenagers across the Borders is being forced to scale back its service after suffering significant funding cuts, writes Kenny Paterson.
As many young Borderers continue to struggle to find a job, Impact Arts Borders programme manager Olly Walker has called on Scottish Borders Council to assist the organisation, after losing 75 per cent of its financial support last month.
The cash loss means nine people who work with the local organisation will not have their freelance contracts renewed, as well as internal cutbacks.
Mr Walker said: “The council have a youth employment strategy and are trying to do work in-house, but we are asking why can they not consult with us.
“To go for lottery funding we need support from local partners. We need the council to sit up and take notice of us.”
The end of financial provision last week from the LEADER funding and the Scottish Government’s now defunct Wider Role Fund, leaving only Inspiring Scotland providing assistance, coincided with the opening of Impact Arts latest initiative, a pop-up shop in Galashiels run by a group of 16 to 19-year-olds.
Explaining the group’s alternative methods for getting young people into work, Mr Walker told TheSouthern: “We engage with those who have been on benefits for a while and it gives them a chance to have an insight into retail and making items themselves.
“We tell them you have 12 weeks to open a shop, produce brochures and make stock.
“It is a challenge they like and it is like The Apprentice TV programme. Young people love that responsibility.It has been hugely successful. We have worked with 147 young people in the last two years and 85 per cent of those who attend our programmes graduate with a positive ending, be that education, training or voluntary work.
“There was one young man who had a very challenging background and was well known to the police and court system.
“After taking part in our programme he got himself back into work as a kitchen porter in a bistro.
“It is very different from the traditional options and I think the creative angle works very well.”
The Borders was overlooked by the Scottish Government last month as it dished out £9million to six local authorities in the country from its Youth Employment Strategy Fund.
But Mr Walker believes the region provides young people with challenges not present in other areas.
He told us: “Rural poverty is very different from urban poverty. The Borders does have a small population of around 112,000, but we mustn’t forget the cost of transport for young people.
“We have a girl from Peebles who has to spend £8 every day to come down to Galashiels to take part in the pop-up shop.
“But we have seen positive results, such as a girl who is now heading to Napier University to do nursing, a lad going to Glasgow for a music college course and another who has applied to Borders College.
“This model really needs to be embraced in the Borders.
“In the end, it is not really about creative arts, but employability and being entrepreneurial. It is about experimenting and taking confidence from that.”
An SBC spokesman said: “The Scottish Borders LEADER programme was previously able to grant aid to this project in the region of £120,000 to support their work to help young people find employment.
“We can also provide support and guidance for projects looking to tap into the various funds and grants available. Anyone looking for assistance can contact us on 01835 826543.”