Let’s end rural isolation for our youth

evening_descendsDebbie Ruppenthal, Dornoch Firth Group Outreach Worker

First, let’s think about what we mean by ‘rural’. The areas that the Dornoch Firth Group (DFG) work in are not nice tree lined areas, just outside big towns and cities; or the ‘countryside’ a bus ride away; we’re talking about remote and isolated communities where transport is sketchy and young people have to travel many miles to get to school, or anywhere else. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Scottish Government Studies into employment, out-migration and poverty, have used the following definition: “traditional rural areas that are geographically isolated and have significant economic activity in the agricultural sector” and for the purposes of this article, the description fits.

In practice this means that young people in the countryside “face a number of uniquely rural barriers” The Commission for Rural Communities published a report in 2009 which warned of these difficulties, notably in accessing transport, careers advice, training support and other services. The cost of fuel and reliance on cars, is a big factor in young people struggling to stay in education, and later find a job. Both lack of employment and under employment are big issues. There is also a greater risk that the more vulnerable young people located within smaller pockets of deprivation, of which there are a number in Sutherland, are less likely to receive the support they may need.

The image of a young person glued to a mobile phone, is de-facto in the popular media, but in rural areas mobile signal can be patchy, and internet unreliable. 3G networks are non-existent here. Rural young people can feel even more socially isolated than their peers in other areas, not only because of geographic remoteness, but lack of services and facilities. Transport is a huge challenge and young people are often forced to rely on ‘Mum and Dad’s taxi’ leading to a lack of independence and subsequent frustrations. In small communities everyone knows everyone else, and there’s a lack of space for young people to be ‘private’ and separate. There are limited opportunities for decision making and fewer opportunities for work. . Housing is inadequate, and young people are forced to live with their families, with little prospect of moving, unless out of the area. Inevitably many young people do leave the areas where they were born to take education, work and housing opportunities in other places.

If this picture looks rather grim, my apologies! I am trying to give realistic depiction of some of the challenges the young people we work with face. As a small local charity we can’t hope to tackle every challenge faced and change outcomes overnight. What we provide is a safe and positive environment where young people can meet. The venues are in the villages where many people can walk to, and where we can collect others if necessary.

We run two ‘youth cafes’ in the local area, each with a different focus. The Dornoch café was set up to provide a venue for young lads ‘hanging about’ on a Friday night. We provide a warm shelter, with hot chocolate, and the opportunity to play pool, or other games, and ‘chill out’ without being chilled through! We have built relationships with the lads over the period we’ve been operating, and have seen changes in attitude from the local community. There’s little open in Dornoch in the evening, and certainly nothing much for young people to do, who don’t want to belong to uniformed organisations, or play a sport. Our small venture, along with a monthly youth club (which attracts a different group of young people) is all there is. It’s a first step on a long road to providing the sort of input and support that the young people there need.

In Bonar Bridge, the situation is different, in that the young people themselves requested a youth activity. There’s already a local youth bus project, which attracts mainly younger people, and is out of town. By using a local central resource, and working with an older age-range, we are able to offer something distinctive for young people to engage with. This is a new venture, and it’s early days, with numbers fluctuating week on week, but we are providing a space where young people can interact with each other in a positive and encouraging environment, away from parents, outside of school, without having to travel. We have lots of plans and ideas for the group, but ultimately the group will be what the young people want and need it to be. Somewhere they can relax, meet and make friends, and access the support they need to be able to engage with the local and wider community.

I can’t tell you of the fantastic feats we’ve achieved, and that life for young people in our rural communities is less challenging, but I can tell you that we are advocating on their behalf, and encouraging them to advocate for themselves. woman_running_195218We are helping to reduce social isolation, and build the confidence and hope that can be lacking when young people know that things are stacked against them. We are engaging, and positive that our young people are wanting to engage with us. We have an enthusiastic, energetic youth worker, and great volunteers, who are enjoying the opportunity to be involved, and make a difference to the lives of a bunch of amazing local young people. Watch this space.

For more info: http://www.dornochfirthgroup.com


When it comes to Smith, we do really ‘need to talk’

zdiviv at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

zdiviv at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Jim Sweeney, Chief Executive of YouthLink Scotland, the national agency for youth work

The dust has now settled on the result of the referendum and we now have the conclusion of the Smith Commission but without knowing the ultimate outcome of the Westminster election and the make-up of the next UK parliament, it is not possible to guarantee that these recommendations will become reality.

YouthLink Scotland, the national agency for youth work, does welcome the positive steps taken by Lord Smith and the members of the commission but we have a clear message for politicians as we go forward.

Starting on an optimistic note, within these proposals we were delighted to see a firm commitment to extending the franchise for 16 and 17 year olds at Holyrood elections and a promise to fast tracking this legislation so these young people will have a vote in the 2016 elections. We have entered into a new era of participation and engagement and we need to ensure that politics with a small p prospers.

Jim Sweeney, CEO YouthLink Scotland

Jim Sweeney, CEO YouthLink Scotland

There has been some movement in terms of the devolution of welfare and we were heartened to see a move to transfer key benefits for some of the most vulnerable in our society. More control over employability programmes will we hope provide the much needed shift for greater policy co-ordination and support for young people.

But like many others in the sector we are disappointed to see so many opportunities that were missed. We do recognise this might be sins of omission rather than commission due to the time element but that concern over the swiftness of the timetable remains. There is a school of thought that legislation in a hurry is rarely well thought out or substantially considered and the question has to be asked, has this process been driven by politics rather than people? Yes the Smith Commission was a result of the clear mood for change in Scotland but I am not alone in the third sector in wondering if the further devolution of powers has been given the time and consideration that was required to get the balance of additional powers right.

All political parties in Scotland talk of tackling poverty and inequality. The third sector in their submissions to Smith made it very clear what additional levers were required for Holyrood to make that task more achievable. It is therefore regrettable that the views of those working at the hard edge of dealing with social injustice were not whole heartedly listened to and endorsed.

We hoped for greater powers around employability and benefits but it will be interesting to see how these are complemented by the new programme for government. The welfare reforms are a start but government must continue to listen and act on what the third sector knows to be the real pressure points in people’s lives.

Volunteers and volunteering are an integral part of our lives, without them so many services to the community would just cease to exist. For our part in the youth work sector, our volunteer workforce is the backbone that gives strength and purpose to our work with young people. We had looked for Holyrood to be given the power to offer tax breaks to companies who fulfil their social responsibilities and who support and encourage volunteering within their workforce. Recognition of volunteering and its critical role in improving confidence /quality of life and ultimately employability was a big miss within the Smith Commission’s recommendations.

We must however work within the current parameters as they stand. Doing the best for our young people cannot be put on hold until conditions are right, therefore we would hope Scottish Ministers will fully realise and invest in the Wood Commission recommendations on developing our young workforce, with youth work playing a substantial role with those furthest away from the job market.

The Smith Commission is a compromise and has yet to be formally endorsed at UK level. To try and further water down its limited proposals would be something a Scottish electorate would not stand for. The third sector has a continuing role in keeping the pressure on and holding the UK government to account in terms of progressing Smith. In Scotland the ‘mood change’ for all parties means that more time and effort will have to be spent listening to an increasingly interested and informed electorate. A mechanism such as a ‘People’s Commission’, which is truly representative of the various strands in Scottish society and those who represent them, should be given serious consideration. Not as a one off exercise but rather as an agreed and permanent means of taking the country’s temperature on the issues which confront us as citizens on a daily basis.

When it comes to Smith, we do really ‘need to talk’.

The Smith Commission Report: https://www.smith-commission.scot/

SCVO response: http://www.scvo.org.uk/scvo-news/quick-guide-to-smith-commission-report/#equality








Young people and a sexualised society


Paula Dunn

Paula Dunn

Paula Dunn, Prevention & Development Worker (Rosey Project) Glasgow Rape CrisisThe Rosey Project is Glasgow Rape Crisis Centre’s support and prevention service for young people. The project is comprised of a support service for young women between the ages of 13yrs and 17yrs and a prevention programme where we deliver sexual violence awareness raising workshops to boys and girls. The workshops are based around some of the issues that are most affecting the young people we work with.

Intimate partner violence is common amongst a lot of women who attend our centre for support, and young women are no exception. One of the issues which is raised repeatedly is pornography. Their boyfriend watches it, encourages them to watch it, coerces them in to copying what they see and in some cases forces them to re-enact what is happening in pornographic material. Young women tell us they feel traumatised by what has happened but because they ‘agreed’ to the sexual contact they feel they don’t deserve support. It takes a lot of time to build up trust to get the young women to understand the nature of coercion and how this differs to consent or ‘free agreement’ (Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009). Survivors of sexual violence experience self blame, guilt and shame which results in many young women feeling isolated, frightened, angry and confused.Paula Dunn 4

‘Lads’ mags’ also have an impact on young people and teen relationships. Many young women we support or who have attended our workshops experience low self esteem because their boyfriend wants them to look like the women in these magazines. Young men we speak to in our workshops tell us they feel pressure as well from images in magazines and are worried about being bullied if they do not conform to what society deems is normal and what ‘makes you a man’. We live in a pornified society, saturated with sexually explicit images with no regard to how these images might affect the developing minds of young people.

Paula Dunn 2Pornography is not the only issue affecting young people and relationships. A lot of the young people attending our centre/workshops tell us that abusive comments have been written about them on social media, seemingly with no real consequences for the perpetrators. Some of these people are anonymous but others are people in their school or where they live. We live in a digital age where young people connect and stay in touch through social networking sites. Young people affected by sexual bullying shouldn’t be expected to cut themselves off and disconnect from their friends and wider social circle.

The pressure that young people are under to conform and alter their behaviour is enormous. We find that young people are open to hearing about alternatives because, all too often, they don’t feel as though they have any other choices. At the Rosey Project we believe a national educational initiative is needed to remedy this. Young people need to know what their rights are and that it’s ok to ‘say no’.

For more information contact:

Glasgow Rape Crisis

5th Floor, 30 Bell Street

Glasgow G1 1LG

Office: 0141 552 3201

Freephone Helpline: 08088 00 00 14