A long-running scheme which has helped thousands of youngsters across Derbyshire has come to an end.
OzBox – which provided free fitness sessions to young people in a bid to keep them healthy and off the streets – officially ended on Saturday because of budget cuts.
The much-loved scheme was set up by police officer Steve Osbaldeston in Chesterfield in 2003.
It was so successful that OzBox sessions were extended across the county.
Nearly 1,200 people signed an online petition to save OzBox.
Over the last few weeks, scores of youngsters have contacted the Derbyshire Times to stress the importance of OzBox.
One of them, Johnathan Scothern, said: “When I first started OzBox I was really depressed as I got bullied through school and college. There were times I thought about ending my life. I’m now 23 and wouldn’t be where I am today without OzBox.”
Sophie Long added: “I grew up being told I’d never be good enough for anyone or anything – then I started OzBox. I was a very depressed person but it taught me to be strong and boost my self-esteem.”
OzBox was funded by Derbyshire Constabulary and Derbyshire County Council since 2003 and was supported by money from the Big Lottery Fund (BLF) for the past three years.
Police and county council chiefs announced in December that the scheme would end as the BLF money had runs out.
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.
Alan Goodwin, Derbyshire Constabulary’s Deputy Chief Constable, said: “The reality of the situation is that we have to make £26million worth of savings over the next five years, on top of the millions we have had to save over previous years.
“It will mean a reduction in the region of 260 police officers and 150 police staff – and now more than ever we have to prioritise core policing across the county.
“Unfortunately, we are forced to make difficult decisions and in this case we simply cannot continue to fund the scheme.”
Alan Charles, Derbyshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, 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, added: “Our financial situation is also poor – we’re facing devastating cuts of £157m to our budget by 2018.
“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.”