Alex Hurrell, Reporter
Thursday, January 30, 2014
Vandals who wrecked a disabled toilet and baby-change area in North Walsham have sparked a debate on bored young people in a town which has lost its youth facilities.
A daytime attack on the Vicarage Street car park toilet block on January 18 has left its disabled toilet, which includes a baby-change unit, closed.
Between noon and 6pm vandals ripped off the metal support rail from beside the toilet, extensively damaging the wall panel to which it was attached.
The straps of the baby change unit were cut off and the unit itself scarred with cigarette burns.
North Norfolk District Council (NNDC), which spent £60,000 installing the refurbished toilet block in July 2012, has also reported that the disabled toilet has been a frequent haunt of youths, with up to six at a time gathering there, and that used condoms and evidence of drug use, including discarded needles, have also been found in the toilet.
The damage was condemned by North Walsham Town Council members at their meeting on Tuesday.
But Vivienne Uprichard said she was not suprised at the incident: “I know this will be controversial but I think it’s a great pity that in a town like North Walsham there is nowhere where young people can congregate. I am not condoning vandalism or drug use. I have seen them standing outside the community centre just smoking and I know they are just going to be moved on and, wherever they go next, they will be moved on again.
“In this day and age there really should be somewhere they can go and make a bit of noise.”
Dave Robertson replied that he would have no particular objection if half a dozen young people wanted to meet in the toilet, as long as they cleared out whenever anyone wanted to use it: “But to rip stuff off the walls - they’re just a bunch of numbskulls,” he added.
Norfolk County Council cuts led to the closure of the town’s New Road youth centre in July 2011 and a few months later the Carpenter’s Arms drop-in centre for young people, run by the Benjamin Foundation on Market Street, also closed, partly due to funding difficulties.
Hopes of a “youth hub” in the town, similar to those which were launched last year in Cromer, Sheringham, Stalham and Mundesley, have not yet been realised.
The town council is to consult NNDC on two ideas: that the toilets could stay open during daylight but be locked at night, or that a nearby business could be asked to hold a toilet key which disabled users and parents with babies could collect and return after use.
Meanwhile, the disabled toilet will remain closed.
Town councillors heard that the CCTV camera in the car park was working at the time of the incident but it revolved on a 20-second cycle and had not recorded the culprits.
■ Can anti-social behaviour be excused in any way because of a lack of facilities for young people in North Walsham and other towns? Let us know your views - letters address details on page 8.