Can the lack of youth-orientated activities in Norfolk be overcome?
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018
Growing up in a rural county can be a wonderful experience, but one major drawback is a lack of youth-orientated activities.
A recent Norfolk-wide survey of more than 10,000 young people found 55% of 11-19-year-olds asked in a Youth Advisory Board consultation: 'What are the issues for young people in your district?' said a lack of activities and things to do.
The only other concern as high on the list was bullying.
In north and west Norfolk it was the most important issue, but in south Norfolk and Great Yarmouth it did not make it on to the top five.
Youth advisory boards are where young people collaborate with adults to make positive change for young people and the communities they live in, in this case in seven areas across Norfolk.
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They do this by consulting young people and then assessing how the YAB can meet their needs, though taking action, commissioning services and campaigning on behalf of young people in each district.
Last week an article in The Times by Greg Hurst called for more youth clubs in the wake of findings by the National Office for Statistics that young people are the most lonely demographic in the UK.
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In the Conservative-Liberal Democrat years of the government, youth services such as youth clubs were dramatically cut all over the country, including by Norfolk County Council.
The result has been that out-of-school activities are now widely provided by voluntary and charitable organisations.
Charlene Ledgard is head of youth services at The OPEN Youth Trust, a charity based in Norwich which relies on grant funding and donations from trusts, companies and individuals to raise the funds needed to support our work with young people.
Some of the services they offer include performing arts classes, climbing clubs and a gym, as well as young volunteer groups and a range of music activities.
Ms Ledgard said that OPEN was created in 2005 when the commissioners felt there was not enough for young people to do in Norwich.
The organisation is now wanting to expand to other areas in Norfolk, with clubs already set up in towns such as Sheringham.
She said: 'Even if young people can't get there we take it to them. The plan is to collaborate with the schools, and pick up the young people straight from school and drop them back at 7.30 to 8pm.
'It seems either they don't know about things to do or they don't have the transport.'
If a person in Norfolk does not own a car and lives in a village it can often be impossible to independently travel anywhere in the evening.
For instance, a young person living in the market town of Aylsham wanting to go into Norwich in the evening faces only two possible buses back, one at 7.15pm, the other at 10.40pm.
Timetables like this pose a large problem for young people wanting to get out of the house, and threats to cut transport services are not helping the matter.
However it is not just a question of what adults are doing to help young people find activities, it is also the choices they make for themselves.
Social media has massively changed the way that young people interact with each other, and this is more true than ever in a rural environment where visiting a friend often means travelling to a different town or village.
15-year-old Rosa French from Norwich said: 'I don't think young people in Norfolk want to do much. If you want to talk to someone you can just do it online.'
With 18-24-year-olds, this combined with rising alcohol prices has meant that where their parents would have regularly met at pubs and bars, these young people stay at home.
However, many young people are overcoming these barriers to achieve fantastic things, from football to theatre to volunteering projects.
Councils are also making efforts to improve things. A city council spokesman said: 'We will be holding a 2040 Norwich City Vision Youth Conference. This will give young people the chance to contribute their ideas on what they think the long-term vision should be for Norwich.'