Members of the public have blasted a decision to scrap a long-running scheme which has helped hundreds of youngsters across Derbyshire.
OzBox – which provides free fitness sessions to young people in a bid to keep them healthy and off the streets – will be scrapped on January 21 because of budget cuts.
On the Derbyshire Times Facebook page, Peter Wilson said: “OzBox should be allowed to continue no matter the cost.
“It’s run by volunteers who do a fantastic job in providing good solid support, discipline, fitness and confidence to young people of all backgrounds.”
Trude Ball said: “As a respite carer for nine years, I have used OzBox with our young people and they loved it and I think I loved it more.
“I feel all these cutbacks will have a massive impact in the long run.”
Claire Miller added: “It is disgraceful.”
The scheme launched in Chesterfield in 2003 and was soon rolled-out across the county due to its popularity.
Sophie Long, 18, of Old Whittington, an OzBox coach at Chesterfield police station, said: “We’re like a massive family and to think we’re going to be broken up is really devastating.
“This is really upsetting news just before Christmas.”
Councillor Barry Lewis, leader of the Conservative group at Derbyshire County Council, said: “To discontinue this scheme is tantamount to consigning a significant number of youngsters to the scrap heap.
“Ozbox worked with a particularly hard to reach cohort of boys and girls who were at risk of falling into criminal behaviour.
“It engaged thousands of young people in a way conventional youth work couldn’t and reduced anti-social behaviour in many communities.”
Users of the scheme have now started an online petition HERE to try and save it.
OzBox has been funded by Derbyshire Constabulary and the county council since 2003 and was supported by money from the Big Lottery Fund (BLF) for the past three years.
Police and council chiefs announced on Thursday that the scheme would end as the BLF money runs out in the new year.
A further bid for funding from the BLF had been made but was unsuccessful.
Derbyshire Constabulary and the county council are unable to fund the scheme because they are having to make “devastating” budget cuts.
Derbyshire Constabulary’s Deputy Chief Constable Alan Goodwin said: “We need to make £26million worth of savings over the next five years and this is on top of the millions we have had to save over previous years.
“Unfortunately, we are forced to make difficult decisions and in this case we simply cannot continue to fund the scheme.”
Derbyshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Charles said: “This is a stark reminder of the consequences of the Government funding cuts.”
Councillor Kevin Gillott, the county council’s cabinet member for children and young people, said: “Our financial situation is also poor.
“We’ll continue to work with youngsters to guide them to our other services and make sure they still get opportunities to develop skills and take part in activities.”
OzBox was set up by police officer Steve Osbaldeston. A spokesman for Derbyshire police said he was not available to comment on the news.