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Ladesfield

I’ve had a break from blogging for a couple of weeks, owing to working abroad which has left me jetlagged and prone to falling asleep in my lunch. So I’m a little late to the Ladesfield debate.

It’s been the single biggest issue I’ve been contacted about as a councillor so far. Most of the emails I’ve had on this say the same thing: People don’t want it. They’re alarmed that such a thing could be forced upon them. It’s a disgrace.

Actually I understand these fears. The news came as a surprise to all of us, something which councillors have made clear to Kent County Council at the first opportunity. Of all the terms you would associate with Whitstable, “asylum seekers” isn’t one of them. We don’t have a festival for that.

But as I’ve told many people in response, these things are best dealt with using facts, rather than hearsay. Some people it seems are more intent on the latter. They’ve made it clear that such people are not welcome in our town.

Well, I’ll get to that. First, here’s what we do know:

-Ladesfield will be for 16 to 17 year olds who have recently entered the UK as Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC).

-KCC has a duty of care for these people.

-Many of these young people will have had some pretty traumatic experiences, will have left their families, and have arrived completely alone.

-Dover has experience an unprecedented increase in the number of young people arriving. This means KCC has had to identify available accommodation very quickly.

-There was a plan for this, but it got leaked to the media. The result is that KCC are now spending much of their time reacting rather than planning.

-The intention is that Ladesfield will be used for only a short period of time. Young people there will be supported for between six to eight weeks.

-During this time their social care, educational and health needs will be assessed and care plans put in place. They also receive orientation and independence skills, training and support. Then they are moved to more permanent supported lodgings across Kent.

It’s worth pointing out that KCC has successfully managed another reception centre in Kent. Not just that, it had a good relationship with the local community. The plan is for the same here, with 40 young people expected, staffed and supervised 24 hours a day.  And remember, this is temporary. Why? Because Ladesfield is part of plan to extend Joy Lane School in 2016, which according to KCC remains a priority.

Some people reading this will have arguments against. That’s fine. I may even agree. I’m no idealist. I’m a conservative. I don’t believe in utopias. But I do prefer to have a little faith in humankind.

“They’ll lie about their age.” Well yes, that sometimes happens, but the screening process addresses that.

“It’s irresponsible to put it right next to a school.” KCC are evidently seeking to work with the school and nursery, as well as Age UK to make sure their needs are met. Anyone with kids in Whitstable knows how tight security is in and around schools. There’s no reason to think this wouldn’t be the same in this case.

“Petty crime will go up. They’ll be hanging around on street corners.” Well, they’ve risked their lives to come to this country. I’m not sure they have their eyes on our garden gnomes. But I can’t answer that except to say the police deal with crime. As for street corners, most are taken up by Whitstable kids.

Nobody contacted me to say that the building that will be used looks derelict and ready to fall apart.

There’s a meeting for Joy Lane School parents tomorrow at 7pm (not a time deliberately aimed to coincide with bed time. It’s normally about the earliest people can make after getting home from work and getting something to eat – see the council meeting schedule).

Meanwhile Councillors in Whitstable are hoping to get a full briefing in the next week or so. An effort to arrange a public meeting is also under way. I hope a combination of all of that might make things a little clearer. But you can send your questions and concerns to Ladesfield@kent.gv.uk.

For the record I think this country has a problem with immigration, one that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. But in my view Ladesfield isn’t about that anymore. It’s about a few dozen kids, most likely scared and on their own, who came here believing that what they would find when they got here was peace and safety.

I wish they’d picked somewhere else. But we don’t have a say on that. Now we can only do what’s best.

So what happens now? I don’t know how long they will be here. I suspect not long. So maybe it’s too much to encourage local football teams say, to run a couple of sessions. Maybe it’s not long enough for local community groups to get in touch, or sports clubs, or churches, or residents groups, or musicians, or Boys Clubs, or Scout groups. But maybe they will. They live in Whitstable after all, and Great Britain. Many of us are proud of both, for what it stands for and how it treats people who have come here with nothing.

Like I said though, they probably won’t be here long enough. It was just a thought.

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