Hope remains for £6.4m youth project at old magistrates court despite Bristol City Council knockback

The group want to turn the old Victorian magistrates court into an enterprise hub for deprived youngsters

Hopes are still alive for a major youth project in the middle of Bristol that seemed dead in the water when the city council blocked vital funding last week.

The National Lottery Heritage Fund, which has promised £4.25million towards refurbishing the old Victorian magistrates court in Bridewell Street into an enterprise hub for deprived young people, says the project remains a “high priority”.

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Creative Youth Network (CYN), the charity behind the plans called The Courts, had expected to receive the final allocation of money it needed to begin work on the £6.4million centre.

Sandy Hore-Ruthven, then CEO of Creative Youth Network, in a video posted on YouTube in July 2020 about The Courts project.

But Bristol City Council refused to support the £758,000 grant from the West of England Combined Authority (Weca), dealing a devastating blow to the scheme and jeopardising the rest of the funding.

The decision was greeted with anger and disbelief, with metro mayor Dan Norris calling it “appalling” and “nonsensical”, and 50 influential Bristol organisations and individuals in the creative, youth and business sector had signed a letter urging the Weca committee to approve the money.

Now, though, the National Lottery Heritage Fund has pledged to work with CYN in its search for alternative sources of finance to bridge the gap and says the clock is not ticking on finding that.

A spokesperson told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “We are aware of the funding decision for The Courts project at the Weca meeting on Friday, April 8.

“While this is disappointing for the project, we will continue to work closely with Creative Youth Network to consider all alternative funding options available to them.

“For The National Lottery Heritage Fund, this project remains a high priority for us. We are committed to working flexibly with the grantee in the hope that a viable alternative can be found.

The old magistrates courts in Bridewell Street, Bristol.

“As this is unforeseen, we don’t have a timeframe in mind at present, but we will continue to review the changing funding environment with them and take decisions as circumstances become clearer.”

Creative Youth Network chief executive Mark Coates told the LDRS: “We were obviously disappointed by the outcome of the Weca committee meeting, especially as the project had secured such widespread support.

“The Courts project has really captured the imagination and there is such a breadth and depth of support for it across the youth, creative and wider business communities.

“We welcome Bristol City Council’s confirmation that they continue to support the project.

“Helpfully, they have offered us a meeting which will be an opportunity to more fully understand their position with regards to public funding for projects of this nature.

“We look forward to working with the council and all involved to hopefully find a way to keep the match funding pledges alive and deliver this amazing project for the benefit of the West of England’s young people and creative industry.”

If it does go ahead, The Courts will provide training for 500 young creatives aged 16 to 25 from disadvantaged backgrounds across the region, including enterprise workshops, mentoring, music studios and paid internships, and be worth £7.3million a year to the local economy.

Bristol’s Labour deputy mayor Cllr Craig Cheney, standing in for city mayor Marvin Rees who could not attend, told Friday’s combined authority meeting that while the city council was “absolutely supportive” of the project, it had already invested £100,000 in the early stages of development.

The cells at the former magistrates court building in Bridewell Street, Bristol, which Creative Youth Network wanted to transform into a creative youth enterprise.

He said the council could not justify agreeing to give so much public money to one organisation when so many others were “crying out” for a fraction of the £758,000, even though it was Weca’s funding and not the local authority’s.

The leaders of South Gloucestershire and Bath & North East Somerset councils said that while they would have supported the investment had the project been in their areas, they could not go against the wishes of the “host” local authority, so no vote could be taken to approve it.

CYN was run for 15 years until the start of 2022 by Sandy Hore-Ruthven, Mr Rees’s main rival and Green candidate in last May’s Bristol mayoral election.