Neighbourhoods hold the key

Young people are often blamed for street crime and antisocial
behaviour. Terms such as “yob culture” are common parlance. Yet how
different life can be for a young person growing up in a
neighbourhood that does not see young people as solely to

Imagine living in a place with no facilities, and where you have
been barred from the community centre because of the bad behaviour
of a minority. Car thefts and robberies take place every day, and
illegal drugs are easy to come by.

Council cuts have meant that youth workers rarely visit and most of
your friends get stoned because there is nothing else to do. You
can’t be bothered to go to school as you have received the message
that your area is deprived and there is little chance you will ever
find any meaningful employment.

Sadly this is the situation for many young people, and so it is
small wonder that they make themselves known. But just how they
seek attention often depends on how their community treats them.
Adopting a neighbourhood-based approach and treating young people
as equals can have a positive effect.

Within the neighbourhood, as a first step, it’s a good idea to open
a drop-in centre. Provided it is open at the times when young
people are most likely to be wandering the streets, such a centre
can provide a visible base that young people can identify as their
own and treat as a place of safety.

To ensure they feel part of it, the young people should be
encouraged to become involved in decorating and managing the
centre. Such centres are likely to attract young people, not only
because of the range of activities on offer but also because there
may not be any alternative youth provision nearby.

Out-reach youth workers should meet with the young people in these
centres and should be able to offer specialist help and advice,
such as drugs and alcohol counselling. A full-time worker based in
the neighbourhood to co-ordinate voluntary and statutory
initiatives can also make a big difference.

If young people are just a part of the problem, then they must also
be seen as just one part of the solution. Those with responsibility
for local communities must recognise the value of
neighbourhood-based strategies, and this must be backed by
sustained and long-term funding.

Edwin Lewis is the national development manager for
neighbourhood programme Youth Works.

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