The youth club in Peartree was established over four years ago and since then has been engaging upward of sixty young people a week. This summer we decided that we needed to ascertain what the key issues were that impact on both the young people and the local community. In discussion held at the youth club a group of friends that regularly attend began discussing how dangerous certain public spaces are to children. When we enquired why they felt this way one factor that they were deeply concerned about was people taking drugs and then the drugs related paraphernalia litter left behind. They explained that the very grounds of the youth club are being used by people injecting drugs.
As a consequence, we began working with the young people to explore the issues further, interview some local people and start exploring what solutions might be developed. In our exploration we found an alarming number of the young people had witnessed people on the street injecting drugs. In a meeting with ten young attendees of the youth club all of them said they’d witnessed drug taking by adults in the Peartree area, many by the youth club and that dirty needles left on the street was a regular occurrence.
The young people met with Sue Crosdale who sits on the committee that runs Peartree Baptist Church and the community rooms where the youth club is held. Sue informed the young people that the church had been in a desperate situation with the drugs and alcohol use around the building and the subsequent litter left behind. She informed them that because the church and community room grounds are considered private property the council will only help if the church pays a fee and the church is desperately low on funds, as are many community based groups in the face of austerity and government cuts. Sue explained that the church hope to raise £4,000 to pave, fence and gate off the church grounds in order to prevent the blight of anti-social behaviour (ASB) and litter that they have faced. All the members of the church committee are volunteers and many are elderly. The young people were shocked to think of the churches elderly cleaner having to pick up litter, used needles, clean up urine and vomit.
THEY WANTED TO TAKE ACTION AND THEY WANTED TO PREVENT IT.
They generated a wealth of ides:
- Employ security guards – too costly.
- Fit CCTV – again, too costly.
- Confront the drug users themselves when they see them using – but we, the youth workers, were deeply worried about their safety in doing this. Whilst we commend their drive to address the issue we don’t want any young person to put themselves in harm’s way.
- Try to surreptitiously take a photo of the drug user on their phone and pass the information onto an adult or the police – but again we were concerned about young people putting themselves at risk.
Eventually it was decided to organise a community event in the area to bring people together, encourage a greater sense of pride in the Peartree space and to try to generate some funds for the church. The first ever Peartree Feste was held with great success on Saturday 9th July!
In their further investigation of the issue the young people spoke to the Local Area Coordinator for Normanton, Bec Hayes. Through Bec’s work she supports vulnerable and isolated people living in the local community. She implored the young people to consider the complex issues that can sometimes result in people becoming addicts such as abuse, poverty and mental health.
At times the young people felt restricted in what they could do to tackle the fact that most of the children and young people in the area have seen people injecting drugs and consistently have to be wary of their personal safety.
However, two major results emerged from their project. Firstly, as young people so often are, the kids in the Peartree area, are routinely stereotyped and blamed for the litter, drinking, drug taking and ASB. However, when Sue from the church met with the youth group she expressed how clearly, from speaking to them, that was not the case, and it was wrong for them to be blamed. Secondly, was Bec’s advice to the youth group;
“be kind, don’t judge and keep yourself safe”