CHILDREN’S services Cabinet member Councillor Laura Mayes told the Tidworth Area Board she faced a hard battle to convince some colleagues on Wiltshire’s Cabinet that youth clubs are more than “just places for ping-pong”.

Faced with severe pressures on her £58million annual budget, caused by the financial squeeze and increased demand resulting from more children in care and in need, the youth service has been a victim of severe cuts, meaning Tidworth and Ludgershall youth clubs will shut.

Now much of the remaining youth budget will be devolved to area boards whose members will consult with the community and young people from local youth networks on how the money is spent.

Tidworth Area Board will receive £24,819 to run some youth services in Tidworth, Ludgershall and nearby villages in each financial year.

Cllr Mayes said: “There will be a more tailored service rather than a one-size-fits-all one.

“We want more of the community involved in more activities so we need to find out what children want, not what we think they want.

“We have had the biggest response to any consultation we have held, and found that children valued most the access to trained and trusted adults – and they would rather meet them on a park bench rather than in some shabby building.

“Youth work is highly|valued and children go to clubs for all sorts of reasons. It is not just a place to play ping-pong – an idea I had to fight quite hard among the higher echelons of the council.

“For some children, the act of going to a youth club once or twice a week was the only stable thing in their lives.”

Ludgershall Town Council chairman Owen White wondered how things would work out after youth clubs had been closed, and there were not places to meet on a cold winter night.

But Cllr Mayes made a promise.

She said: “We will not close youth clubs until we have found alternatives – they (young people) will not be on the street.”