Young need hope, not judgment

By Tracy-Ann Oberman, March 19, 2009

Worryingly, I have recently found myself spiritually in tune with Daily Mail readers. I tut at the sight of young people on the streets. I sigh at the hopelessness of hoodies and their anti-social behaviour. I despair at 14-year-old fathers and even younger “baby mothers”. Oy, what sort of society is this when children have no respect for adults? This week I left my judgmental comfort zone and went to Pelton, County Durham, where my prejudices were severely challenged.

I was asked by an organisation called Point Blank to front a film about the young people of Pelton and why they are one of the county’s biggest youth problems.

Pelton was once a mining town with generational employment and a thriving community. In the 1980s, the mines were shut down. Thirty years on, with no investment, the legacy is generations of unemployment. There is nothing to do. Literally. Anyone able to has got out.

Four lads volunteered to be interviewed for the film. Callum (age 12, angelic faced, with 14 asbos), Simon (13 , butter wouldn’t melt), Brad (hard faced but passionate about music) and Cory (a 13-year-old giant). All reticent at first until they realise I’m “the bird who murdered Dirty Den” and warm up immeasurably, becoming funny, charming and brutally honest.

These kids have passion and vibrancy. They love music, decks, events, dj-ing. They want to put on “raves” and have spent months putting one together for Saturday night, booking the community hall weeks in advance.

Not the shoddy, disinterested youth that I was expecting. And they don’t want to hang around on the streets or in the park. It’s cold and dangerous and there is nothing to do except fight, drink, take drugs and have under-age sex. And they don’t want to be at home where mam’s depressed and drinks and dad’s not there. They want somewhere to go, something to do and the only place indoors is the community centre. But Pelton’s “elders and betters” have decided that they can use the room from 5 till 7 pm on the dot and then it’s “Out!” It’s bingo time.

This place is a shrine to bingo. Forty pensioners shuffle around feasting on cocoa and jammy dodgers hoping to win a couple of quid on two fat ladies and legs 11, and most importantly have something to do. Meanwhile “Youth” has been kicked out into the biting cold with no defence against the inevitable: gangs, drugs, uselessness. So much for the young not respecting age. It is apparent here that age has not the slightest interest in the future of its young. But they are the first to complain and call the police when trouble inevitably arises.

Simon warns me not to go outside to film.

“It’s crazy out there, man. Fridays and Saturdays are like a war zone.”

But I meet the rest of Pelton’s youth regardless, and see “my” boys’ future. A bunch of drunk, high but friendly lads. They all told the same tale. Bored. Nothing to do. There is only the park.

I asked Peter, one of the older lads what he thought would make a difference. He sobers up for a minute and says plainly: “A job.”

Last updated: 2:22pm, March 19 2009