Guest blog by Louise Bickerton (@louisebickerton)
Whilst working at a drop-in club for teenagers in the Govan district of Glasgow this week, I was struck by the words of one of the young men attending the service: ‘Youse don’t care about us, you’re only in it for the money. You don’t take us on any trips or anything’. After providing this club for many years, it is a blow to be told that you don’t care. Yet it is a reflection of the lack of value society at large places on the support and opportunities that youth clubs and youth workers provide. In the face of savage cuts to funding, youth work staff across the country have fought vigorously to keep services going; notwithstanding their best efforts, they have had to reduce their hours, facilities and services. It not surprising that young people are frustrated. The current administration does not view youth policy and provision as a priority for central government, but rather as a responsibility of local government. In an age of austerity local authorities have little or no money. Because youth services are not a statutory form of provision they are often the first thing to be cut when tough budgetary decisions need to be made.
The value of youth clubs and youth workers for young people living in deprived areas was highlighted in recent research I conducted in Parkhead (in the East End of Glasgow). Like Govan, Parkhead has suffered from decades of decline due to economic restructuring in Glasgow. The Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) figures for 2012 show that Parkhead and its immediate surrounding neighbourhoods were ranked within the most deprived 15% of 6,505 areas in Scotland. The forthcoming Commonwealth Games, based in Dalmarnock and Parkhead, signalled that this location would be an interesting base for my Honours sociology dissertation research. In this qualitative study, I sought to explore the meaning and significance of place for young people living locally to the main Commonwealth facilities, their perceptions of local physical regeneration and the ways in which physical regeneration is related to relationships with place.
Figure 1: Map of Glasgow East End, centring on Parkhead
I recruited 10 young people for interview through youth clubs and organisations, however this was by no means plain sailing. Difficulties arose for a number of reasons. I had not anticipated how unsure and intimidated participants would be of me. Nor had I appreciated the level of integration of local young people in the provision of youth services. The clubs that I encountered, all of which were available to teenagers and those aged over 18, were all partly staffed and run by young adults from similar backgrounds. This altered my perspective of young people in the area. Instead of being one homogenous group, many young people I met were instrumental in the delivery of learning and development opportunities for others. For service users, receiving respect and impartial support from workers who understood their backgrounds was an important feature of the clubs.
In recent years East Glasgow has had more than its fair share of research on deprivation, crime and gang related violence. I was well aware of this when embarking on the study, however was still surprised by the level of gang culture and violence featured in my interviews. For most of my participants, who were aged 18 to 20 years at the time of interview, their lives so far had been characterised by street life and gang culture. Although this had been the norm for some, it was by no means an ideal lifestyle. A recurring theme in many of my interviews was a desire to ‘get out’ and ‘move somewhere quiet’. For Darren* (19 years, from Camlachie) and Caitlin (19 years, from Parkhead), somewhere quiet was defined as somewhere with ‘no gangs’ and no fighting.
Figure 2: Parkhead Cross
Most of the young people in the study spent their leisure time hanging about in public space, particularly during their teenage years. Boredom at home, and a desire to meet socially with friends, drove them to the streets. Here they became tangled in gang rivalry and police interactions, both of which reinforced their dissatisfaction with the area. General police presence was high and interviewees spoke of ‘being watched’ whenever they left the house.
Frustration was also expressed with the lack of local sports and other outdoor leisure facilities. John (18 years, from Parkhead) described the park at the bottom of his street as: ‘the worse park ye’ve ever seen … there’s no even a seat in it’. Darren also emphasised the lack of things to do outdoors, not just for him but for younger kids in the local area as well. When asked how he might change his area he suggested ‘building football pitches, basketball courts, playgrounds or sumhin’ just tae help the kids […] it’s no fair fur the kids’.
Figure 3: Emirates Arena
Spending time at the newly constructed Commonwealth Arena and Velodrome was also off the cards for many of my interviewees. Aside from the high entry fees, there were various cultural and social barriers. Some were unwilling to walk through other gang territories to get to the Arena or were concerned they might meet members from another gang inside. Even though none of my interviewees fought as a gang member at the time of interview, they told me that ‘history has habit of catching up on you in Parkhead’. There were perceived barriers within new leisure facilities too. Amy (20 years, from Cranhill) said she and her sister did not get the impression that the new facilities were ‘for them’, nor did others feel that new facilities were welcoming and open to local young people. Amongst the sample there was a perpetual feeling of having ‘nothing to do’ and the new and upgraded facilities appeared to have made little improvement to this.
Figure 4: 5s Pitches at Emirates Arena
Within the limited range of leisure options that were available, there was a perceived lack of variety. An alternative perspective was that there were too many sporting opportunities and that not all young people are interested in sport. Ross*, 21 from Parkhead who was interested in music and the arts, felt that if you want to get out of the house ‘all you can really do is sports’ and Amy* felt there was too much money going into sport related projects.
The clubs where I met my interviewees were commonly cited as the sole places where you could escape boredom and avoid risks associated with the streets. Paula (18 years, from Parkhead) described Parkhead Youth Project as ‘the only good thing’ in Parkhead. Those I interviewed reminisced about the (recent) past, when youth clubs were able to provide more activities and trips away. When I asked what they thought would help the current situation for local youth, most replied without hesitation: more youth clubs and things to do. They also the importance of youth groups located close to their homes. As John commented,
‘There used tae be [youth groups] but obviously they’re in different schemes, so ye couldnae go if somebody wis there that ye fought wae. Cos ye’d end up fightin’ and getting’ papped aff it anyway. So ye’d need tae just get a group in Parkheid fur the Parkheid.’
Several of the young people I spoke to spent most of their days within one small area around their homes. Whether this was by choice or due to financial or territorial restriction, youth projects or activities with a few minutes walking distance were more desirable than those they had to travel to, for the majority of participants.
Figure 5: Parkhead Youth Project
Disadvantaged young adults, especially those seeking work, are increasingly invisible when society shifts its focus onto consumer-orientated ‘community regeneration’. Tangible community development seemed to occur in the small projects from key staff who connected with and supported young people on a day-to-day basis. I found that young people were more integrated in support networks and could make use of work or leisure opportunities when they visited a local organisation or club. Furthermore access to the new sports facilities in the east end for those I met was better enabled by the club they were a part of, through organised trips. In the east end of Glasgow, the value of youth projects in risks being obscured by big corporations and the fanfare surrounding the Commonwealth Games. I sincerely hope that young people and their wider communities can see who is truly ‘in it for the money’.
* Pseudonyms were given to interviewees
Louise Bickerton graduated with First Class Honours in Anthropology and Sociology from the University of Glasgow in 2014. She is currently working for Plantation Productions in Govan and looking for a permanent role in social research and/or social care and community development. She is particularly interested in youth, regeneration and penology. You can find Louise on Twitter at @louisebickerton
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