Business plan for Orangebox youth project 'almost a disaster waiting to happen'

The Orangebox in Halifax town centre
The Orangebox in Halifax town centre

Calderdale councillors remain worried about business planning for the Orangebox youth project, with one calling it “almost a disaster waiting to happen.”

Members of Calderdale Council’s Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Board were debating a report on Orangebox, Halifax, including a draft of its five-year business plan.

Last summer the council agreed to take over Orangebox and provide £400,000 of capital funding to bring up to standard and enhance the building, at Blackledge in the town centre.

Orangebox was established under the “My Place” central government scheme in 2010, with a brief of providing appropriate and purposeful formal and informal activities for young people with a focus on the teenage and young adult age range as a condition of the funding.

The centre was set up with the grant of £3.8 million, awarded in 2011, but struggled to source funding to meet running expenses, most recently being under the guardianship of the Square Chapel Trust.

But councillors remain concerned about refurbishment costs and its financing after it re-opens in the summer.

Coun Howard Blagbrough (Con, Brighouse) said he had concerns in terms of managing the asset both within budget and within timescale and Coun Carol Machell (Lab, Todmorden) asked how much was the loss it was making at the moment down to management.

Officers advised that the original grant funding terms and conditions overseen by the Department for Education (DfE) limited the arrangements for which the Orangebox would be operated.

Concerns were expressed that the conditions felt restrictive but officers advised that they felt confident in making Orangebox work operationally.

Coun Colin Raistrick (Ind, Hipperholme and Lightcliffe) was very concerned about proposed budgeting and the amount of usage of the centre, envisaged.

“The whole thing looks like it’s almost a disaster waiting to happen – and you are underestimating the usage,” he told officers. “This is not a strategy, it’s just a wish list. I’m not happy.”

But Coun Anne Collins (Lab, Ovenden) said Orangebox could be a really excellent project.

Councillors had a difficult task balancing tenants’ sessional use and other uses which is why it had to be carefully planned – this report was a work in progress, she said.

“What we are hearing is a realistic attitude to see what kind of use we can make of it,” said Coun Collins.

She reminded colleagues that the council had to make a use out of it or would have to give back more than £3 million if it did not use it properly.

Board chair Coun Ashley Evans (Lib Dem, Warley) said the report recognised that there were restrictions on the way the centre could operate but it needed careful monitoring.

Coun Stephen Baines (Con, Northowram and Shelf) thought the usage estimate was low and that it would exceed that. But he wanted officers to come back to scrutiny board when the business plan was finalised.

The council’s Director, Children and Young People’s Services, Julie Jenkins, said she believed more detailed business plans to come before the board would reassure councillors.

If the council did not develop the project the Government money would be clawed back and a “brilliant” building in the town centre, which it was hoped would attract usage by young people coming into Halifax, would have to be mothballed.

The report detailed transfer of Orangebox to the local authority’s responsibility as of April 1.

The project will be overseen by the Orangebox Board and capital work to get the building fit for purpose in accordance with the business plan begun.

The draft Business Plan was submitted with plans to align original grant funding conditions and set the basis for how
the facility will be managed and funded moving forward.

It will be further developed, refined and finalised in time for Orangebox to be re-opened in summer 2019, councillors were told.

An Orangebox Advisory Group has been established involving key partners and stakeholders to make recommendations in how the operational aspects of the building were taken forward.

There was also a young people’s Advisory Board, which would provide a voice for children and young people to influence how their services would operate and run from the centre in the future.

Officers also advised that the Youth Offending Team and Young People’s Service would be moving from their existing office base at Centre@3Ways to the Orangebox, to ensure they were more readily available to young people and centrally located.

It was acknowledged by members that the existing office space for those services was stretched and this move would be positive.