Will the Basildon Youth Zone end up as a white elephant?

The much hyped Basildon Youth Zone which is going to be sited on Ashdon Way just to the south of Basildon railway station is due to be discussed by the council on Tuesday March 16: Basildon youth zone to be discussed by councillors – March 8, 2021. The proposed youth zone will be provided by the charity OnSide Youth Zone: Basildon Youth Zone – OnSide.

This is one of the pet schemes of the leader of Basildon Council, Cllr. Gavin Callaghan (Lab). He sees it as an integral part of his ‘vision’ for ‘regenerating’ the town centre. Looking at what has been promised in terms of facilities, the casual observer could be forgiven for being pretty impressed with it. However, once you start to get your ear to the ground and listen to the views of the people of Basildon, a different story starts to emerge. This is because people are looking past the hype and applying their common sense.

A fair chunk of the activities at the proposed Youth Zone will be taking place in the evening. The vast majority of youngsters attending these activities are not old enough to drive. Their only options of getting to and from the venue of an evening will be either by public transport, walking or cycling. You don’t need us to tell you that after the early evening, bus services across Basildon are pretty patchy.

As for walking, we have to face the grim reality of where we are. With issues with gang violence, many young people would not feel safe walking to and from the venue. For the girls and young women attending the centre, walking to and from there of an evening is pretty much out of the question as there’s always a risk of attack by sexually predatory males. In an ideal world, this would not be an issue. We’re a long way from anything remotely resembling an ideal world. Until there’s a massive change in behaviour and assumptions, the ideal of girls and young women being able to walk freely and safely after dark will tragically remain just that.

So, that leaves parents and guardians having to drop off and pick up their kids because they can’t see any other transport option that’s safe. Which kind of doesn’t do much for any green credentials the Youth Zone might have wanted to display. This is what happens when you put all of your eggs into the basket of a showpiece, town centre based facility that’s designed to impress rather than a series of locally based youth facilities across the borough that actually work.

With our anarchic leanings, we much prefer the idea of locally based youth facilities with a real connection to the neighbourhood they’re based in. Like the ones that used to exist across Basildon until they fell victim to wave after wave of austerity. Facilities that local residents who know the issues in their communities can have an input in running. Truly local and accountable as opposed to a facility provided by a charity whose senior figures are getting paid some seriously eye watering salaries.

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