Saturday, 29 March 2008

Safe & Sound?

One of the golden rules for politicians in an election campaign is to avoid contentious issues and try to be seen to be agreeing with everyone. So I should be avoiding the proposals for Barnabas Safe & Sound to take over buildings in Dark Lane – but I’m not going to!

Barnabas are doing a great job on limited resources – and are actually helping young people in a permanent way – not just providing a temporary hang out. And – after initial hiccups, their past and current projects (eg the accommodation on Oldgate) have settled down well, without too many problems for the neighbours.

I know that large, rowdy groups of youngsters gathering around benches, in parks or even on sheltered walls can be frightening, especially for older people who feel fragile and vulnerable. But gathering in groups isn’t an offence (except under martial law eg in China). Littering, vandalism, under-age drinking and recreational drug use are crimes and offences – and these can and are dealt with whenever reported. But intolerance is as much anti-social behaviour as abuse and rowdiness. Treating youngsters who feel they have nowhere else to go as criminal pariahs will only teach them disrespect of the law and older people – if it doesn’t actually steer them into actual criminal behaviour.

Barnabas – and the other youth initiatives in Morpeth – are working to provide alternatives for young people, and perhaps as importantly, helping them get to know adults as people and possibly friends, not just authority figures.

I will, of course, be helping people who are worried about the new centre to make their concerns heard as clearly as possible – and maybe it won’t materialise in Dark Lane. But we do need a Barnabas Centre in Morpeth – and it has to be somewhere!

Quite apart from the planning permission, Barnabas still needs to raise a lot of money to make this project happen – any sponsors out there? I think they are also looking for volunteers to work with the young people – which could be a more constructive way of overcoming fears.

Well – that’ll probably lose me a few votes… but what are the other candidates saying?

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