|Issue 6 - June 1972|
the last edition of MG was a petition being organised by young people
in Durham who are demanding action from the City Council concerning
the provision of a new youth centre. That petition has now been completed
and 5,000 signatures have been handed over to the council via the new
Mayor, Mr C Mitchell. Thus the first stage in a new and long-term campaign
has been completed. The next stage will depend on the council's reaction
to the petition.
Though there are a number of youth clubs in Durham they cater mainly for younger teenagers and the more middle-class of the older ones. This leaves a large group of young people uncatered for, consisting mostly of those who have left school at the earliest opportunity and are thus the 'least educated'. The jobs which are available to them are usually divorced from the rest of their lives and provide only a financial link with their leisure activities which they see as more important than any job. Their isolation from society is completed by the lack of acceptable leisure facilities in the community.
To these young people society is a blank face and they cannot get behind the face because they are not equipped with the means (which 'education' has given some of us) to adjust to the demands made upon them for fitting into that society. Thus they live on the fringe of society, evading it, colliding with it and frustrated by it.
The result is often some kind of group identification in an attempt to find some sense of belonging, an example of this being the skinhead phenomenon. Violence becomes the only means of expression available to such groups and arises out of the boredom and frustration to which they are subjected. It is for these young people at least that some immediate provision is vital and the first step should be the youth centre.
It is vital that the youth centre is self-contained and wholly for the use of young people. This is because they need a sense of belonging and the building should be the context for that as they adapt it for themselves and come and go at will. The minimum amenities required would seem to be a coffee bar, a lounge and a large hall available for regular discos and dances. Several smaller adaptable rooms where young people could simply meet or carry out group activities would also be desirable.
Above all the youth centre should be somewhere where young people can simply BE, without any compulsion to DO anything. Any leadership on the premises should be as non-directive as possible, while seeking at the same time to open new possibilities to the young people. It is vital that the latter be involved in the planning and running of the centre right from the beginning.
It is also important that entry to the building should be free of charge, thus avoiding any discrimination. Running costs could be covered by sales of refreshments, dance tickets etc. Also in order to minimise dangers of damage to the building it should be designed as functionally as possible and not turn out to be fragile - a glass showpiece only useful for looking at.
The petition was launched by a small group of young people whose common link was simply a desire to get action from the authorities concerning the lack of youth facilities in the city, and who have sought to remain fairly anonymous throughout the project. Their assumption that a petition concerning the youth centre would receive a great deal of public support has been overwhelmingly confirmed.
The collecting of signatures has given a large number of young people the chance to work together constructively at a cause which previously they could only moan about. And it has given the general public the chance to express themselves on a topic about which they have never been consulted. The support from old as well as young people has been very gratifying, and much time was spent talking to older people during the campaign for signatures. Such discussion was of itself very valuable and often led to some eye-opening revelations. For instance one old man told how he had fought unsuccessfully for a similar cause in Durham back in 1926!
The completed petition, along with some ideas about the youth centre, was presented to the Mayor on the last day of May. Present on the occasion were the massed cameras, eager microphones and poised pens of the media. The man who said least and seemed the most disinterested was the Mayor himself. He did not even pretend to be curious about the great wad of 5,000 signatures which was handed to him, let alone grateful that people were actually trying to uncover and meet needs in his community. And all he was heard to mutter to the press was that though in sympathy with 'the boys' the problem was that the council really had not been able to find a site for the youth centre. You would think that with a change of mayor the old excuses would get a change too!