A YOUTH club which provides a safe meeting place for young LGBT+ people to feel comfortable and happy has received a boost – thanks to cash confiscated from crooks.

Gwynedd-based charity GISDA, which supports young people from across the county as well as other parts of the region, has been running the fortnightly club from its Caernarfon base since 2017 after identifying the need for a setting where those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and ‘plus’, which represents other sexual identities, can express themselves freely and provide support for one another.

Now, thanks to a £2,500 grant from a special fund distributed by North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones, GISDA can employ a project worker to support the volunteer-run youth club which currently attracts more than 60 young people ranging from 12-25.

The grant comes from a special fund distributed by North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones from a pot which this year totals a record £61,901 with two major donations dedicated to fighting the County Lines menace.

The Your Community, Your Choice initiative is also supported by the North Wales Police and Community Trust (PACT) which is celebrating its 21st anniversary this year.

The money for the awards came partly from money seized by the courts through the Proceeds of Crime Act with the rest from the Police Commissioner’s Fund.

Each of the region’s six counties have up to £2,500 apiece for two groups with £5,000 each for two organisations that operate in three or more counties.

In addition this year, thanks to additional funding from the police and crime commissioner and North Wales Police, there are two new grants of £10,000.

The larger grants are designed to fund projects addressing issues related to the emerging threat of County Lines, where young people are being coerced and threatened with violence to take part in illegal activity across the region.

Around 15,000 votes were cast in an online poll to decide which of the community schemes received support, with the cheque presentation to 19 successful applicants at North Wales Police headquarters in Colwyn Bay.

Gwynedd’s other successful applicant was the West End Academy in Bangor which received £2,500 to work with Bangor University and Police student volunteers to create safer neighborhoods for local children.

GISDA provides accommodation, support and opportunities for vulnerable and homeless young people through a range of different projects, and has two hostels in Blaenau Ffestiniog and one in Caernarfon as well as two fully-furnished houses in Dolgellau.

Speaking about the LGBT+ youth club, team leader Lee Duggan said: “The overwhelming response we get from young people is that they are a community and this is somewhere they can feel safe to express themselves.

“These are marginalised young people but the club gives them a platform to be themselves and be open. It is something they value.

“We have more than 60 young people and usually get 40 turning up on a night. We have them coming from all over.

“We have a group who travel from Blaenau for the club and then all the way from Anglesey, Conwy and even as far as Rhyl. Traditionally we provide a range of services for 16 to 25 year-olds, but we can have people coming to the club as young as 12.

“It demonstrates the need and value of the club, and the fact more need to be created in other areas.”

The £2,500 grant has enabled the charity to employ a project worker for 10 hours a week who is experienced to identify areas of risk or vulnerability and to appropriately sign-post young people.

The role will also enable the club to build up links with other relevant services and find ways of obtaining funds so it can be sustainable in the long term.

Lee said: “We are keen to build networks with organisations, schools, universities and other youth clubs.

“The new staff member will also coordinate trips and small scale fundraising so the young people can take ownership. We need to see what else we can do to make the club sustainable.

“We can have a bit more structure now and set up a plan for events for the coming months.

“This grant is vital to us. The service is not sustainable to be run by volunteers alone. The thought of not keeping the club going was unthinkable.”

North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones, who jointly presented the awards with new Assistant Chief Constable Sacha Hatchett, said: “I am delighted that my Your Community Your Choice fund continues to support community projects across north Wales for a seventh consecutive year.

“This unique fund allows our communities to decide which projects should get financial support through our on-line voting system and the response has seen almost 15,000 members of the public vote for a total of 30 projects.

“These projects help to support my Police and Crime Plan whose purpose is to ensure that North Wales Police is paying specific attention to those points which have been identified as crucial by the public, me and indeed by the force itself.

“Many of you will be aware of the recent Third Sector consultation that I carried out  which has resulted in an update to my priorities to include the ways in which we address emerging trends including Organised Crime and the exploitation of vulnerable people.

“As part of this I aim to ensure that a clear focus continues around county lines crimes – a particularly vicious form of criminality that exploits young vulnerable people into a life of crime which is extremely dangerous and violent and from which there is little escape.

“I am delighted to see that a number of your applications aim to address this issue and support our young people.

“Community groups are vital to the citizens of north Wales, and in helping to ensure that our communities continue to be some of the safest places to live, work and visit in the UK.”

Sacha Hatchett said: “This money includes cash from assets seized from criminals under the Proceeds of Crime Act. This is a particularly vital message as through the professionalism of North Wales Police Officers and with the support of the Courts, we are able to hit the criminals where it hurts – in their pockets.

“Our operations target all types of serious criminality including cross border crime, armed robbery, criminal use of firearms as well as drug production, importation and supply.

“Those who are involved in serious and organised crime often live well beyond their means, drive expensive cars, live in large houses and frequently holiday abroad; they may well be living lifestyles on the proceeds of crime.

“Our communities continue to play a part in this success with local intelligence information given to our officers that help us to bring these criminals to justice.

“It sends a really positive message that money taken from the pockets of criminals is being recycled. This is turning bad money into good that’s being used for a constructive purpose.”