Youth project is halted as investigation begins

Helen Henderson, right, launched the Farming 4 All project in February 2013. She claims she was sacked after raising concerns about the project accounts.

Helen Henderson, right, launched the Farming 4 All project in February 2013. She claims she was sacked after raising concerns about the project accounts.

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An investigation is under way into why a Scottish Borders youth project run by a Berwick-based social enterprise firm has been suspended amid claims that money has run out.

The project co-ordinator claims that she has been sacked after raising concerns about the project’s accounts and says she is owed more than £2,000.

Teenagers participating in the project who were working towards a qualification have been told they can’t continue.

Berwick-based Journey to Self received almost £50,000 from Big Lottery Scotland’s Young Start programme to run a series of farm and countryside workshops and training courses in the Borders.

The scheme introduced 14 to 16-year-olds to farming and related rural industries with the option of achieving a level 2 qualification in a vocational skill. The project, Farming 4 All, started work with youngsters in the Berwickshire and Kelso area in February 2013 and was due to finish in February 2015.

But with six months to go, it has suddenly been suspended. Journey to Self’s website cannot be accessed, and a spokesperson for Big Lottery Scotland has confirmed that final payment instalments have been stopped.

A spokesperson for Big Lottery Scotland said: “We understand that some issues have been raised about the operation of this project. We are currently looking into these in order to establish the facts.”

Project co-ordinator Helen Henderson claims that she was sacked after whistleblowing about her concerns over Farming 4 All’s accounts.

Her allegations include being owed over £2,000 in unpaid wages and expenses and that there is less than £300 in the project’s accounts when there should be around £8,500.

But Maxine Lock of Journey to Self said: “Matters concerning Helen Henderson’s dismissal from the project are confidential. The Farming 4 All project is currently suspended by Journey to Self and we will let you know in due course if the project will continue or not.

“Any other matters concerning funding are confidential between Journey to Self and Big Lottery Scotland. We are disappointed that the project has been suspended, but in the current circumstances Journey to Self had no choice but to take this action.

“We regret the impact that this may have on the young people who were hoping to gain a qualification from their involvement in the project.”

Connect Berwickshire Youth Project worked in conjunction with Farming 4 All on some projects. Manager Steve Wright said: “Farming 4 All was fantastic and Helen put in a lot of work, really on her own initiative, for young folk. All her groups were well attended.”

Journey to Self was based at the Cheviot Centre, Wooler, and more recently at The Ramparts Business Park, Berwick.