A NUMBER of people whose lives have been turned around by a youth centre in Cardiff are not happy about proposals for it to be moved further away from the city centre.
Cardiff Council said it is looking at the possibility of moving Grassroots youth centre, currently on Charles Street, to a new location on The Parade near City Road.
The local authority added that the Charles Street building, where Grassroots has been based for more than 40 years, is limited in size and needs significant investment.
However, many who use it and volunteer there are worried that the move could lead to fewer people turning up.
Grassroots volunteer Lauren Ireland said the youth centre provides a safe space for young people in a variety of challenging circumstances, ranging from homelessness, poverty, recovery from addiction and issues with mental health.
She said people come from Barry, the valleys and Newport to use it and that moving it further from the city centre will make it less accessible.
Lauren, 28, added: “It is going to have a massive impact. More for the fact that people get trains down here, and if they have to get a train down here then they will have to get another bus out. It is a city centre charity.”
Grassroots, which was set up as an advice and support centre for young people aged 16-25, offers a number of services including a food bank and a youth advice drop-in service.
The centre also holds parent and toddler group sessions and provides support for young people with Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC).
On its website, Grassroots states that it welcomes about 40-50 young people a day through its doors, most from disadvantaged backgrounds and with complex needs.
Lauren said she is concerned about the impact that moving Grassroots could have on those young people with autism, some of whom already find idea of the move distressing.
One service user with autism who wished to remain anonymous said: “For many years people have been [used] to going to Grassroots in the city centre. They have been comfortable going to a familiar place. That means if they move Grassroots to The Parade people may not feel comfortable going to a new place.
“Also, they may not know the area of Cardiff so they may not know where to go.”
Cardiff Council said it is engaging with young people on the proposals and that it will keep all service users up to date with the project.
The local authority said it has been considering options for the future of the Charles Street Grassroots building for about five years. Despite searching for other opportunities in the city centre, it said that no suitable alternative was found.
Sydnee Smith, 19, said she started going to the centre’s parent and todddler group about two months after her son was born.
Lacking friends who were in a similar position, Sydnee, who was 18 when she became pregnant, said the first couple of months after giving birth was a lonely period for her.
On going to Grassroots, Sydnee said: “It did completely change my life. I got out of the house. He (the child) has loads of friends.”
Sydnee said one of her main concerns about Grassroots’ potential move is that she feels the proposed new location will be less safe.
She said: “I don’t think people would be as relaxed. It would be difficult for me to get there anyway… my main concern is the safety of my baby to be honest.”
Time and again, the people who use Grassroots referred to the building as being more than just bricks and mortar. “It is memories,” said one volunteer.
It is the potential move away from a building which holds so many of these memories that seems chief among peoples’ concerns.
One service user said: “Grassroots isn’t just a youth centre, it’s more than that. We are a massive family. We have loads of memories in that building that remind us of them from the moment you walk through the door.”
Another person who has been coming to Grassroots since he was 15 said: “It’s not just the baby group that would be affected by this change, but all the other groups and even some of the volunteers.
“I truly believe that if Grassroots was to move it would affect so many lives, peoples’ happiness and even their mental health.”
Gabriella Scaccia was also 15 when she started coming to Grassroots.
She said attending various workshops at the centre helped give her the confidence to grow into the person she is now.
Gabriella, now 27, said that without Grassroots “I would never have been the woman I have become today.”
One person who was living on the street before coming to Grassroots said: “I had nobody who cared. I wouldn’t be where I am today without this place.
“It is the family that we chose. If it wasn’t for this place or the staff, none of us would be where we are today.”
A Cardiff Council spokesperson said: “The Council has been considering options for the future of the Charles Street Grassroots building and services for around five years.
“Plans for extending and refurbishing the current building were not progressed in 2019 due to project costs and deliverability.
“The current building is limited in size and is in need of significant investment to enable it to best meet the needs of young people in a space that is fit for purpose, modern and inspiring.
“There is a need for Grassroots to be fully inclusive to young people with disabilities, which has become increasing challenging at the present location.
“Unfortunately, despite extensive searching and analysis of property opportunities in the city centre, a suitable alternative has not been found.
“The Council and partners have been investigating the potential for a new base for young people and the services that support them on The Parade.
“We believe that the project is an exciting opportunity, only a short walk from the city centre, to help offer a space that is safe, welcoming and fit for purpose for a wide range of young people and the growing range of services that we want to deliver as a Council and in partnership with other organisations, all for the benefit of young people.
“To date we have been ensuring that the potential building can meet our minimum requirements, such as lift access within the listed building.
“Now that we are entering into more detailed design thinking and financial viability, we have commenced early engagement with young people on the proposals and will continue to do so to ensure that they have a voice as part of this project throughout its design and delivery.
“Grassroots staff value young people’s voice and their right to express themselves regarding the proposal.
“The team will work with all users to inform and share any necessary information, to ensure that they are kept up-to-date with the project.
“We understand the concerns being raised and have met with the young parent group and other young people accessing services at Grassroots.
“Our scoping work for an alternative building seeks to find and refurbish a building which can help the Grassroots services to expand and be based in a building which is fit for purpose and has the potential to deliver even more services and spaces for young people.
“We will continue to work with young people to ensure that they are part of this process.
“The future of the current building should a move happen will be discussed as part of the project decision making processes.”