Youth in Hebden Bridge – not all bad news!

The young people of Hebden Bridge have not had the best of press recently. This week, The Times published an article alleging (without statistics) that the town has one of the highest suicide rates in England. This follows a previous article in the Independent on Sunday, and a general perception amongst certain sections of the population that youngsters in the town spend most of their evenings drinking and taking drugs, leading to dependency, social meltdown, and eventually death.

Whilst there certainly are young people drinking and taking drugs in Hebden, in my experience it’s not much worse than anywhere else. The smell of grass on the town’s streets – and I don’t mean the freshly mown variety – is no worse than in suburban Cheshire where I lived before moving here.

However, there is a bit of a problem with things to do for under-18s. There is very little provision in terms of live music, as the local live music club (Trades Club) has a policy of not hosting performances by young rock bands or DJs, and not allowing under 18s to Friday or Saturday night gigs. There is not really anywhere for young people to go with lighting and shelter. There is a youth club one night a week but that’s not for everybody. We do have an excellent cinema but on the surface of things that’s about it.

It’s important to say that the drugs issue is not being ignored, with Calderdale MBC working together with other organisations like Lifeline Calderdale / Step 2 to help address these issues.

Back to young people, though. Just before I was elected 18 months ago, the Town Council set up a Young People’s Working Party. One of the campaigning Focus leaflets for my election (see pic) focused on the issue of youth provision and I was pleased that Hebden Royd were doing something about it. Unfortunately that incarnation of the working party didn’t really get anywhere. However, in late 2009, things started moving again. The indomitable Lesley Jones resurrected the working party and we held a small meeting with Calderdale MBC Youth Workers and a few other organisations providing young people’s services.

One of the ideas that was raised was that of auditing youth provision in Hebden Royd, and getting everyone together for a big youth day on Calder Holmes Park later in the year. The second meeting was held this week, and I was expecting the same small bunch of people. I was surprised and extremely pleased when the committee room filled up… and people kept arriving. People were literally sharing chairs and sitting on other items of furniture. Not only were there representatives of loads of local organisations, as well as Hebden Royd Town Councillors and Calderdale MBC Youth Workers, but around a dozen young people as well. I wish I’d had my camera to take a photo for the press release!

Lesley somehow managed to keep the meeting on track and we heard from the young folk there as well as the adults. They raised issues like a lack of access to gigs and sports, as well as a general lack of things to do and places to hang out. A separate steering committee – led by the young people – has been set up to plan the event in Calder Holmes Park, and will invite anyone and everyone working with young people in the area, from skateboarders to the woodcraft folk, to be a part of it. The main working party will continue to review and hopefully move forward other youth provision.

One of the groups represented at the meeting was Project X, a social enterprise recently formed to work with young people in the Upper Calder Valley. On Friday, they held a fund-raising gig at the Trades Club (no under 18s allowed!) featuring local North-African band Maghribibeat. I went along and had a great time. The main band were good but they were followed, unexpectedly, by Recorded Filth, a group of local youngsters who were much more interesting. Their performance ranged from performance poetry through rap (in both English and French) to R’n’B/soul, including a stunning version of Bring It On Home to Me. And where else but Hebden Bridge would a group encore with a comic rap about Necrophilia?!

It was a great night, and goes to show that local youngsters do much more than just hang round on street corners smoking and drinking. I am hopeful that, with the involvement of local young people, Hebden Royd Town Council can help improve youth provision in the area and hopefully prevent future generations from going off the rails.

Edit 16 February 2010: Anthony Rae has dug out some official suicide statistics for the area which do not support the sensationalist headline in The Times, although it must be stressed that the figures are so low that drawing any kind of serious conclusion is impossible. Also, they presumably don’t include any deaths due to accidental drug or alcohol overdoses.

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