Page last updated at 01:30 GMT, Thursday, 9 February 2006

The nothing to do generation

By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News, in Northampton

Youth, face pixillated
Some of those with nothing to do turn to crime
As part of our week-long series on respect in one English town - Northampton - we find out why kids hang out on street corners and why more is not done to keep them occupied.

"Theft, burglary, twoc [taking a car without consent], assault."

James, 16, is everything that Tony Blair's Respect agenda is about. A sullen, bored youth whose summary of his illegal activities is delivered as casually as an order for Big Mac and fries.

Punctuated with "dunnos" and "maybes" his description of his lifestyle betrays little regard for conventional morality.

For emphasis, he repeats: "Burglary, twoc, theft."

Asked why he does this, all he can summon is a "don't know". On whether more activities in Northampton might prevent him breaking the law, he volunteers a "yeah probably".

There ain't nothing for us to do - we would rather be sitting in the warm
Young girl

But his greatest vitriol as he leans back on his BMX, face obscured by a scarf, in Northampton's Abington Street, is for the other youths he sees hanging around further up the street.

Some dressed in scruffy clothes or black, some in make up, these Goths or grebos, as they call themselves seem to have little in common with tracksuit-wearing James.

James rails: "They just do your head in. They hang around in big groups. We don't respect them. They stand about our town thinking they're bad."

The alternative crowd are equally scathing of the likes of James.

Regular harassment

Sam Williamson, 15, says: "Chavs and townies beat people up. They see me as an easy target. They tried to mug me when I was walking the girls home."

Youths, faces pixillated
Many want something to do, others just like hanging around

But despite the obvious differences between James and the alternative crowd up the road, they are united by how they choose to spend their Saturdays - hanging around in the street, largely doing nothing.

Even on a bitter evening in Northampton, one of the coldest of the year, there are still youths hanging around on some street corners.

On one such corner, the boys kick a football aimlessly around, occasionally darting into the road to retrieve it. The girls stand around, faces covered bandanna-style with scarves, occasionally giggling.

Mutual respect

One admits: "There ain't nothing for us to do. We would rather be sitting in the warm."

In the 10 minutes she is talking, three police vans pass.

These youths are not doing anything wrong, but to the elderly and vulnerable, having to pass a crowd of even the most harmless youths is intimidating.

And there is no doubt that however well-behaved the majority, some groups of young people can be catalysts for bad behaviour.

Young people in Northampton town centre
Some youths who hang about in the town say they are just socialising

One of Labour's key mechanisms for tackling this is the dispersal order. It is a tactic that has been tried in some areas of Northampton.

A common complaint is that it has a tendency to shift problems to other locations, and when the three-month orders lapse, the gangs can return in bigger numbers than before.

Both apathetic youths and intimidated adults seem to be unanimous on one way to tackle gangs of youths and the anti-social behaviour they can wreak - give them something to do.

But in Northampton, a regular complaint is that too many youth clubs have been closed and not replaced with other facilities.

It's about taking away part of freedom - the freedom to hang out and be respected and to be individuals
Jade Gilbert, 18

And this situation is not about to get better.

Blaming a below inflation increase in their grant from central government for cuts, Northamptonshire County Council are radically reforming their youth services.

Commissioning from private firms and voluntary organisations will replace direct provision, with services to be informed by feedback gained from youth forums.

But Joan Kirkbride, the council's cabinet member for Children and Young People, admits that less is going to be spent on youth services and that at the moment current programmes cannot be guaranteed.

Non-alcoholic gigs

Another change for the worse in Northampton is the closure of the Roadmender music venue, which played host to high-profile acts as well as workshops for the young.

Particularly popular were its non-alcoholic gigs for younger people. Many of them will now find themselves at venues where alcohol is being served.

The Arts Council withdrew its 110,000 a year grant, saying that the venue had failed to develop an adequate business plan and was not a sustainable venture. This prompted the county council to pull its 58,000 grant.

Northampton has also lost a major skate park, closed by its private owners.

Sport seems fairly well catered for, but youths complain that not everybody wants to play sport in their spare time.

Blair blame

And many say the efforts to stop them congregating in the street are downright discrimination, orchestrated by Tony Blair.

At one youth group, at the Emmanuel Church, 18-year-old Lisa Gilbert is scathing.

"It's about taking away part of freedom. The freedom to hang out and be respected and to be individuals.

"It is [Tony Blair's] last year in office and he wants to go out with a bang. He wants to prove they can actually do something right for once.

"People don't respect us. If they show respect for us we show respect. If they discriminate against us we are going to lose respect for them."

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