Yesterday evening was a cold, windy, rainsoaked event and I was weighing up whether to complete my journey home, stop at a restaurant or pop into a local pub for a warming whiskey.
I think it was the gale that blew me home rather than any decision I made. As I turned the corner I saw a group of six men, all well-dressed and healthy, standing under minimal shelter point near the house. As I neared, I overheard the conversation “I tell you what, I should just have walked off and left her standing there” I deliberately slowed my pace to listen more “I can’t get my head around it” complained one, as the rain pelted the side of his head. They moved to sit down on the cold wet curb and laughed at one’s recount of an embarassing moment they had experienced that day.
What on earth were they doing? Standing in the fierce winter night with rain pelting down on them?
The reason is quite common: they were young men aged between 14 -16. Where else would they go? I thought about the likliehood of any other age group, standing under an flimsy shelter, chatting about their hobbies rather than just taking shelter in any one of the choices that I had as I rushed home that night.
There is nothing new in what I am going to say here, nothing enlightening, nothing you have not seen yourself a million times: but it remains a most outrageous injustice that young people have absolutely nowhere to meet and talk and keep themselves from being isolated. Nowhere they can just saunter along to on a rainy night to meet up with other people.
Even if there were any Youth Clubs still existing before the recession, the recent Council culling of services will have seen off what was remaining. Even the word Youth Club is not relevant today just as an Old Age Club wouldn’t really encourage elderly people to flock through the door.
On that note, there are campaigns a plenty to “reduce the isolation of the elderly”. When was the last time you saw a nationwide campaign on behalf of young people by voting-age citizens?
There is a reason that we don’t campaign, vigorously, I guess, and that might be because we are all too busy being kept reassured by authorities that they will “ensure our safety by clearing young people off the streets” and we feel comforted instead of outraged. Its an old hat comparison but if we changed one word in that sentence “…..by clearing black people off the streets”; “………by clearing women off the streets”; “……by clearing travellers off the streets”; oh, how about “……by clearing old people off the streets” – how acceptable does that sound now? Each of those groups has elements within them that cause trouble for others but they could never be lumped into one group like that for moral, ethical and, more importantly, legal reasons. But “young people?” – do what you like with them.
When they are not being pushed aside in order not to offend our view, they are discriminated against in shops: let’s try rolling this one off our tongue:”Only two Gay people allowed in the shop at any one time” Outraged? Couldn’t happen? You’re absolutely right but you will pass signs that say “Only two children allowed in the shop at any one time” about a dozen times a day. I noticed the absence of one of these signs at a Grocery shop in Martin Way, Morden, South London and I asked the shopkeeper why that was. “If I see them as thieves – then what is the point of them being honest?” he replied. I didnt know whether to hug him or curtsy quite frankly. “What about your shoplifting stats – any difference?” I wondered, but “No – I don’t have a problem and I have dozens of kids a day through here“.
Whenever I raise this issue at various conferences, someone will ask “But what else are they supposed to do when some kids shoplift?” My answer is the same everytime; “Whatever actions the shopkeeper would need to take if a group of women came into the shop daily and he suspected that some of them might steal – deal with the women who steal, when they steal”
I brought the young men out a tray of chocolates and biscuits and wished them a happy new year – they were courteous and appreciative (no doubt there was a little stereotyping going on there too, I imagine, as in “Ah – see, old people aren’t crabby and miserable at all…..“.
There is so much, for so very little funding, that could be done to show our faith and commitment to young people but local or central government will never step up unless we show an interest in their doing so.
Perhaps a government deal with Sports or Health Clubs to provide an area, perhaps a government subsidised Membership Card (I can already see the killing of two birds with one stone….) or Football Clubs opening up an area for the young people in their locality – members or not. My ideal would be Pubs allowing young people in to play pool or sit and chat, serving coffee and soft drinks – its traditionally where young men learnt how to “be men” (this is especially useful for those who have no men around in their immediate family but that’s whole another blog….)
I don’t want young people to be abandoned to the wind and rain. I have faith in them and take great joy in seeing them, with hoods or without. They don’t have any power but I have the ultimate power as a citizen – my vote, and I might sell it to a party that includes all sections of the community in their plans to improve the lives of individuals. Maybe if young people were given the vote at 16, it would assure them a voice, a vote to be won which is exactly what the elderly have and what keeps them safer when governmental policies are being decided.
We all know what happens when groups feel powerless and isolated – they revolt. Maybe its because young people don’t have a voice that they pick up the scaffolding pole?
I should do more to let young people know that they are as much my business as the elderly and other vulnerable groups in society, even if its just a flask of hot chocolate and a couple of cushions to sit on next time I see them trying to socialise whilst battling the elements.
How shocked would authorities be (not to mention the young people themselves) if adults, with or without children, bombarded policy makers with questions as to why our young people are left out in the cold, quite literally?
(c) Eileen Murphy 2014