A few years back, our council decided to completely annihilate Youth Services. Almost without exception Youth Centres shut down, the Youth Workers were laid off and the young people left to find their own way in a world that isn’t designed with their needs in mind.
We got quite heavily involved in a campaign to stop that complete balls-up going ahead. A dedicated group of youth workers and young people were fighting, not to save their jobs, but to ensure our young people weren’t forgotten. We knew that cutting Youth centres was a false economy. It might save a little bit at the time, but in the long run anti-social behaviour would rise, aspiration would lower, more kids would fall pregnant, engage in risky behaviour and that, ultimately, all this costs money. Youth Work has always been an under-valued service – even by the statutory services it underpins and supports – but without it things quickly go wrong.
And if you take a look at Scunthorpe Town Centre now, it has large groups of children and young people that appear to be engaged in anti-social behaviour. Children as young as 10 are drinking alcohol on the streets, breaking things, causing trouble. The Emergency and Statutory services are stretched to the limit and struggling to cope. The town feels a different place.
If this were the Daily Mail, right about now we’d be breaking out the capital letters – SOMEONE IS TO BLAME! But at Indie we prefer to do something about it; try and solve the problem.
Let’s just take a minute and state these are not bad kids. Believe us, we’ve met most of them and they’re all ok.
They are not any worse than in your day, whenever that may be. They deal with the same issues – possibly a few more to boot, they still have to transition into adulthood, they still want to question authority, test boundaries and they still like to have fun. Many are still a little unaware of the world and oblivious of people around them, and yeah, some do spit and swear and play music on their phones. They can appear threatening or scary when they gather in large groups. But, many of these young people are dealing with situations you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Many are the tear-jerking stories that we watch once a year on Comic Relief before going back to our own lives. But, it’s easy to forget they’ve all got their own stories when they’re clogging up the street.
A massive part of the problem is a complete lack of opportunity for them. They’ve got nowhere to go, nothing to do and wherever they do go they get shouted at. There is no place for young people in our community.
They shuffle between a few key spots and end up in bother. And no wonder. Imagine if there was nowhere in town you were welcome, nowhere you could get out of the cold, talk to someone, be treated like a human. Yes, yes, they could always go home, but for some of them that’s worse than having nowhere, and they get more positive reinforcement outside. Scary stuff.
But I say they have nowhere, that’s not really true. Because, they’ve got us.
So, if you hear that there’s lots of kids loitering at the café – bear with us… there should be. And we should be glad about that. We’re working with them because it is necessary. And they’re getting better.
Café Indie will always be a place for everyone, but we are Youth Workers at our core, committed to providing opportunities for young people – that’s why we established in the first place. But sometimes you have to respond to the need, the problems at hand. So, in addition to our work with 16-25 year olds, we decided to develop a project that offered these young people a place to go, that offered them youth work support and opportunity. And this is why you’ll see them in and around the café. In a short space of time we’ve engaged over 80 children and young people, and many of these are the most ‘hard to reach’ (what a load of rubbish that term is), the ones with the most complicated lives. And now, we’re working this group to improve the situation – for them as individuals, for us all as a community.
But, it’s a process. It takes time.
We could just be like the rest of society – move them on, pillar to post, never trying to solve the problem itself, just ‘nimby’ it (like homeless people don’t exist if we move them on and don’t see them, eh?). But that’s not how we do things. We take on the challenge, because if we can integrate these young people into our community then we can make it better. And the benefit of that will be felt for years to come. For us, success isn’t just the positive change in the individuals, it’s all the things that don’t happen – the rapes, assaults, knife crime that we’ve helped prevent. Café Indie is providing a place for young people to go. We’re having an incredible impact at improving the behaviour of these young people. We’re broadening their horizons, their understanding – explaining about all our other work, the various support groups, the importance of the café to so many different groups. But, again – it’s a process and it takes time. Pretty soon, that kid that you saw doing something naughty that time, is going to be doing something positive, making a good choice – serving you coffee, working at a support group for other vulnerable people, working to better him or herself.
So, if you see young people in our café – have some faith in us and have some faith in them.
They are improving. They are learning. They have an amazing amount to give. They’re also generally pretty funny and sweet and kind. For many, the café is the first place that offered them responsibility, opportunity, that believed in their ability to achieve and to be good. And they respect that.
So, please – talk to us about the work, take pride that you spend your money in a place that addresses the issues we face. If they do cause bother, tell us – it could provide a really useful learning opportunity. But don’t give up on us or them because it’s a journey. Do try and talk to them like they’re just normal people, don’t tell them off – we’ll do that. But they’re not scary, they’re not bad people. They’re just kids. And we should all be glad they’ve got a place to go, one that belongs to all of us.
This might end up the most important piece of work we’ve done.
Oh, and we’re not naïve. We are very aware that a lot of others could contribute a whole lot more to this collective aim, we’re just setting out our contribution.