If music be the food of love…

One of the most striking things about the recent spate of rioting is that everything and anything has been blamed for it: weak policing, slack parenting, gang culture, racial tensions or just plain opportunism. While there is probably a degree of truth in all of these arguments, I chose to focus my previous post on public spending cuts, specifically those in youth services.

Having spent two full days navigating the spider’s web of articles on the riots, I discovered that I held a contentious opinion. A YouGov survey revealed that only 8% of Britons thought that the riots were the result of public spending cuts. 42% cited criminal behaviour as the cause. Whether or not you believe that criminal behaviour stems from socially unjust spending cuts is another debate for another day.

Some commentators suggested that the importance of youth centres was overrated and that young people interviewed in the video about Haringey youth service cuts were using their closure to justify violent disorder. I have always believed that youth centres can provide focus, motivation and belonging at a crucial time in a young person’s life, and by coincidence I had recently visited one in Knotty Ash, Liverpool.

“When I arrived 20 years ago,” explains youth worker John Bligh, “there was just a pool table, nothing else.” In 2009, a government creative industries drive led to it being redeveloped as a music centre with rehearsal and recording studios and today, the place is a hive of activity. In the last four months, 400 people have signed up for activities, one of which is tonight’s monthly event, The Platform, at which young people are given the chance to perform in front of an audience, singing, dancing, rapping or showcasing any other talent they might have, as a way of building character and confidence, but mainly having fun.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Since youth worker Phil Windever arrived four months ago, says John, the centre has come on in leaps and bounds. Phil’s creative influence has enabled the launch of new initiatives aimed at boosting the centre’s profile: jam sessions, guidance and counselling, employment and training support, networking with theatre groups and even a global exchange program, which has attracted youth groups from as far afield as Hong Kong. For Phil, the sky really is the limit.

The centre is also making its mark in the political spectrum. Last month, the Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries, Ed Vaizey, visited the centre as part of a recent trip to Liverpool and was so impressed by what he encountered that he was moved to tweet that there was “inspirational work going on” there.

On my way out, I bump into club member Dean Welsh, practically a veteran at 25, and perhaps an example of what young people can achieve with the right help and support. He speaks breathlessly and with boundless enthusiasm about his film-making enterprise, his friends’ bands and the vocal training work he has been doing with a young singer Robyn Hinxman, who performed at tonight’s Platform event.

The people I met at Knotty Ash last week upheld my belief that the skills and talents of young people are worth nurturing. Be under no illusion: ring-fencing funding for youth services will not solve the country’s problems, but it’s a damn good place to start.


2 Responses to “If music be the food of love…”

  1. 1 Estefanía
    August 11, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    Think you are right, there is no magic solution for all the problems in a country but helping the young people to achieve more than they think is possible is a way to encourage to become something more. Here in Ecuador, just having soccer “schools” for young kids or teenagers have done a lot of good. It doesn´t mean that here we don´t have problems, we do but at least some of those kids won´t end up in the streets asking for money o something like that!

    • 2 petercharles
      August 12, 2011 at 10:47 am

      Hi Estefania!

      One thing I noticed about Ecuador was that the people seemed to have an innate work ethic – even the very poor would at least try and do something for money – even if it’s washing windscreens at traffic lights – rather than beg for money. The interesting thing about less-developed countries is that this concept seems to be engendered from a very young age and kids are brought up with better values.

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