The Elephant in the Room

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Recently at the YouthLink Scotland Policy Forum we were discussing the connections that exist between Youth Work and Sport and examining ways in which we could work better together across the various artificial boundaries that exist, some of which mean that many young people do not have free access to sport and leisure facilities in their local area.

We gave ourselves a short history lesson looking at how the separation of duties between the old district and regional councils, from the seventies to the mid-nineties,  had led to progressively less contact between workers and managers in leisure and recreation and youth and community services. Partnership working was not for the faint hearted at this time. Lack of collaboration led to duplication and a silo mentality. It also spawned two tier letting systems within public buildings and much confusion for the organisations and individual users of services.

Later on and most recently we have seen the advent of new build PFI or PPP schools and community facilities. The disgrace this time around is that in most instances the cost of using these superb facilities is prohibitive and crippling for local groups. My members every so often come along with tales of groups folding or being forced to use ramshackle premises due to cost. This problem even affects local authority Community Learning and Development who in many instances are charged internally for the use of what were previously their own buildings. PFI was at the time hailed as the answer to crumbling facilities and dilapidated school buildings but the legacy is now one that is impacting on this younger generation and the community at large.

These are the “white elephants in the room” and discussions need to take place with the contractors, central and local government to find a way to allow these magnificent facilities to be better used for the benefit of all. Thousands of volunteers give of their time to run youth and community organisations and sports and arts activities and they are passionate about what they do. Unfortunately they spend much of their time organising bag packing at supermarkets and selling scratch cards and bingo books in order to afford the high costs of renting community premises. To build community capacity and cohesion we need to support local services and local groups.

There are many challenges facing the sector but we have been tip toeing our way around this particular elephant in the room for too long. If we are serious about increasing young people’s participation in youth work, sport and healthy activities, it’s important community and educational facilities are there for public benefit first and foremost. A strategic review of both costs and availability is something Scottish Government in partnership with COSLA should seriously consider.

As for Youth Work and Sport and how we can do better… watch this space!

Jim Sweeney, Chief Executive, YouthLink Scotland


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