By Robert Surcouf
MY son recently came back from meeting friends in town on a wet Saturday afternoon and announced that since there was nothing on at the cinema they ended up at the Library as their only other option would have been sitting in a coffee shop as they did not want to eat.
The Library is a great facility with excellent staff, but is perhaps not an ideal social space for teenagers and this made me reflect on what was available for young people in the Island now compared to my youth.
Sadly, the answer was ‘not a lot’. In fact, the only positive change that I could perceive was the introduction of the annual £20 bus pass, which does give greater independence. Surely things could not be that bad?
Long gone were: the numerous activities at Fort Regent, including the outside attractions, free swimming and the roller disco; the Funland arcade; Bellevue, with its kart track, boating lake and arcade; the Fantastic Tropical Gardens; and the Living Legend to name a few. All those attractions were great fun for locals and tourists alike and gave young Islanders somewhere to go with their friends.
Then I reflected on my later teenage years and early 20s and the various 18th- and 21st-birthday parties at restaurants with their in-house DJs, where we could dance the night away, which now seems to be a thing of the past. By this time I had made friends with many people who had moved to Jersey to work who were living in poky bedsits but loved life because the Island was so much fun. The restaurants that still trade no longer want a dance floor or a large lounge area, which, with the cost of commercial rents, is an expensive piece of real estate that probably generates insufficient income. Nevertheless, I think it is a sad loss.
In terms of live music we have lost larger venues such as the Inn on the Park. The future of Fort Regent, which hosted so many concerts, is uncertain. The Opera House will not reopen for at least two years and without funding the future of the Jersey Arts Centre is uncertain. Waterfront redevelopment plans would see the cinema there pulled down but we do not know where an alternative would exist. We have seen some talented people introduce new music festivals, but they have been struggling with the increasing costs and regulations.
Long gone are the various cabaret shows and nightclubs that I used to look forward to visiting during the holidays in between university semesters. Like so many, I enjoyed meeting friends, working hard during the week/weekend and then going out to various venues, sometimes four or five nights a week, and of course the obligatory nightclub chicken and chips and a tap on the shoulder to say stop dancing on a Sunday night. So much of the fun seems to have gone.
There has been talk for a few years about creating a university in Jersey, or at least a campus for a UK institution, as a way of attracting young people and hopefully improving our economy. In theory it’s a good idea, but the first important question is where do you put the campus and student accommodation. Even if that question were to be resolved, we would have to ask why would a student choose to come to Jersey when there is so little to do and the cost of living is so high?
So many fun attractions have disappeared, replaced by housing and offices. If we do not support and create facilities and events – outside of the world of sport – that provide fun opportunities for teenagers and young adults, then we face the reality that few of them will want to stay and few students would ever be attracted to Jersey.
With the cost of living, including housing, so high, and without the compensation of lower taxes compared to the UK, there is already a strong argument for many not to return. For those fortunate enough to have families who can accommodate them upon their return, the lack of things to do beyond work, especially in the winter months when the beach is not an option, does make the Island a far less attractive proposition to our youth. They face returning to life in a single room, where the best option for fun is to look at a game screen in isolation from the outside world.
Growing a more resilient hospitality sector, as we used to have, is not just about hotel beds, as, in reality, the industry relies not only on tourists being able to have fun but also on the expenditure of locals. We need to return to being a more fun place to live. We need more than just offices and homes. We need to be able to have fun and ensure our children, as they grow up, have fun in the real world and will not be driven into isolation and the metaverse, which is a poor alternative to real life. At the moment it is increasingly likely that they will decide to move away from Jersey, never to return. We need the fun back for all our futures.
Robert Surcouf comes from a Jersey farming family, though his mother was Spanish and moved to the Island in the 1960s. He became an accountant and now specialises in risk and enterprise management. A father of two school-age children, he still helps organise and participates in local motorsport events and was one of the founding members of Better Way 2022 before the last election. The views expressed are his own.