Councillors have warned that closing a sports and community centre in Dalton could destroy efforts to steer young people away from gangs.
The Dalton, Rawthorpe and Moldgreen Sport and Community Centre – known as the DRAM Centre – is a focal point for youth activities in one of the most deprived parts of Kirklees.
Built in 2004 at a cost of £1.6 million, the DRAM Centre is currently the base for Moldgreen ARLFC and also has 14 football teams playing there.
Kirklees Council wants to offload the DRAM Centre and the HUDAWI Centre, both deemed surplus to requirements.
The council wants to hand the centres to community groups via a Community Asset Transfer or, failing that, will sell them off.
Dalton councillors past and present condemned the decision, which the council blames on a funding crisis which means £47 million must be slashed off its budget by February.
Speaking at a meeting of the council’s Cabinet, Dalton Labour councillor Mus Khan (below) said austerity had almost wiped out youth provision but the community had worked hard to start rebuilding it.
“Dalton is a community that is still healing, healing from austerity,” she said. “There’s also a constant threat from gangs and the crimes associated with it.”
Addressing Cabinet members, she said: “I’m not here just as ward councillor but here appealing to you as a mother who brought up three boys in Dalton in a single parent household.
“At the time we had adequate investment via the Labour government but I understand how parents need activities to send their children to.
“They need environments where the children are not only safe from gang influences but also where they can thrive and build their confidence.
“Without an adequate youth offer we cannot help parents keep their children safe from gangs. We have worked incredibly hard to set up diversionary pathways where professionals from Youth Justice can sign up young people to activities in our ward.
“The threat to the DRAM Centre undermines all our hard work and weakens our war against these gangs.”
Fellow Dalton councillor Tyler Hawkins (above) said: “In 2004 the Labour government, Sport England and Kirklees Council came together to fund a £1.6m facility for Dalton, Rawthorpe and Moldgreen community.
“Nearly two decades later we cannot ignore the financial pressures which have brought us here today. Over a decade of austerity has starved Kirklees Council of its fair share of funding to preserve local services.”
However, he said it was the wrong decision to close the DRAM Centre. He said Dalton was “no stranger to gang crime” and youth activities offered children a “route out of gang culture.”
“Gangs are like families for children who have known nothing else,” he said. “I can’t under-state how the combination of the DRAM Centre and the library and information centre have transformed Dalton in my lifetime.
“National government does not care about Dalton and seems content to leave my home behind, which is why it’s so important for local government to care to address inequalities and ensure no one is left behind in one of the most deprived areas of Kirklees.”
The council says shutting the DRAM Centre would save £55,000 a year in running costs but former Dalton councillor Peter McBride, a councillor for almost five decades, said a sense of proportion was needed.
“I, more than most, appreciate the unprecedented financial challenges that exist in the borough,” he told his former Cabinet colleagues.
“Prior to the DRAM Centre 25 years ago the centre of Dalton was dominated by feral groups with little opportunity for youths to experience anything different.
“The DRAM Centre was an investment to transform the area which, although it didn’t resolve the problem of deprivation, it significantly helped to change the character of the area.”
He added: “At times like these keeping a sense of proportion is really important and the council has to weigh the £50,000 cost against a larger community asset.
“DRAM is to Dalton what the George Hotel and Estate Buildings is to the whole of Huddersfield. The £50,000 cost of DRAM can be seen against a backcloth of £20 million on the George and £30 million on Estate Buildings which, although it sounds an outrageous figure, it is reasonable. It is sensible. It’s an amenity that’s important.
“The original cost of the DRAM Centre was £1.6 million. So for £50,000 are we really going to let that go? And, believe me, if it is sold, you will get nowhere near £1.6 million. You will get no more than £300,000 or £400,000.
“Proportionally, this is a sensible case to retain but I do understand your problems.”