By Robert Surcouf
AS a youngster I used to enjoy going to the youth club at St Peter on a Saturday night. Whether we were playing pool, chatting, listening to Status Quo or kicking a ball around it was always a safe, fun place to be with friends. The volunteers were supportive, organising events and encouraging us to take part in various activities, which in my case included singing, dancing and drama, which helped give me far greater confidence in later life. It was therefore great to be able to attend this club’s 50th anniversary celebrations last week and understand more of what they are now doing.
The St Peter youth club originally met in the Western Rifle Range, which at the time was dusty and smelly but nonetheless a fun place to go and hang out with the other kids who lived locally. With initial success with a junior and senior programme the then Constable and parishioners committed to developing a new community centre that would host the club as well as providing much-needed community services. That centre now hosts juniors, intermediate and seniors as well as various other clubs and organisations, has a very popular tea room and an excellent pre-school. All of this was made possible by the vision of a few people that a happy and healthy community needs facilities and space. We can take such places for granted and not appreciate the need to update what is available and to cope with the changing demand.
As the youth service developed, the parish of St Peter was the first to commit to contributing towards a full-time youth worker as the workload far exceeded what could be expected of a volunteer, and specialist training and skills were going to benefit the young in attendance. All the parishes have committed to funding full-time youth workers within their communities and they work alongside loyal and committed volunteers to deliver a varied and interesting programme of events. More recently, St Peter and other parishes have further increased the funding to help enhance the local outreach programme in anticipation of improving engagement with the young. Within our parish this was important after a spate of vandalism and anti-social behaviour was impacting the community and policing alone was never going to be the solution.
While chatting to old friends and many who are still very actively involved within the youth service it was very interesting to hear that seven of the current youth service staff started out attending and then volunteering at the St Peter youth club. It was clearly apparent that the training and development programmes that the youth service developed had allowed them to expand their specialist knowledge and take up full-time roles in this important sector. Even more pleasing was to hear that an incredibly high proportion of those working full-time within the youth service were locals who had benefited from these training schemes. A perfect example that training in the Island can be efficient and effective if it is properly resourced and perhaps a model that we should look to replicate further in other sectors of our Island community.
I am sure having so many members of staff who have used the service as youngsters has played a positive role in its development. An excellent example is the youth arts programme that is now run out of St James’s, which provides a wide variety of musical and performing arts opportunities that many young people could not normally afford to access and a far greater programme than the early days of ‘Arts Alive’. This is just one of the many positive developments of the youth service over the last 20 years that we are so lucky to have in this Island.
What was saddening to hear was that the level of traditional youth club facilities in St Helier has reduced with the loss many years ago of club facilities at Aquila Road and Seaton Youth Centres, that I am sure many of you will have attended in the past, with the only main youth club facility now being at First Tower. Hopefully, the Parish of St Helier will be able to support the service in obtaining additional indoor facilities in the parish to host a full youth club programme further to the existing café and outreach offering in St Helier.
With the positive example of the training programme at the youth service it made me think about what other opportunities from my own childhood were still available and one that I am still very pleased to see alive and well is Project Trident. In my time it was a half day a week for one term and now it is done as a single block, which I am sure gives a far better view of work opportunities. My personal experience on Project Trident was that it led to paid summer placements while I was at university and eventually a training contract and my first job. Already knowing the organisation and people I worked with helped swing the decision in favour of returning to Jersey rather than taking up a contract in the UK that was on offer.
The cost of housing is a challenge that will not be solved overnight but if, in addition to a quality education, we can provide our young with the opportunities that organisations such as the Youth Service and programmes like Project Trident offer then hopefully more of our young people will want to try and stay in the Island, be engaged with its future and help us make a difference in all our Parish communities.
Robert Surcouf comes from a Jersey farming family, though his mother was Spanish and moved to Jersey 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.