Edinburgh should re-open community centres for vital youthwork – Alison Dickie

“Open sesame!” It doesn’t work. I tried it when desperately pushing to open up our indoor youthwork spaces.

By Alison Dickie
Thursday, 19th November 2020, 7:00 am
Months have passed since Scottish government and Youthlink Scotland guidance provided for the safe re-opening of indoor youthwork, but those using council spaces have been unable to do so.
Months have passed since Scottish government and Youthlink Scotland guidance provided for the safe re-opening of indoor youthwork, but those using council spaces have been unable to do so.

But, whilst magical powers are thin on the ground, let’s be clear, much speedier progress is required so that indoor youthwork can actually begin.

Months have passed since Scottish government and Youthlink Scotland guidance provided for the safe re-opening of indoor youthwork, and although youth groups with access to their own premises have resumed, those using council spaces have been unable to do so.

A range of reasons has been cited over this time, from schools being a priority to the money and resources for the additional cleaning required.

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Meanwhile, our fabulous Edinburgh youth workers have spread some magic of their own, and found a myriad of creative ways to support their young people in these times. Now though, as winter weather brings further challenges, unacceptable stories include a young woman receiving counselling underneath a Morrisons’ shelter in the pouring rain. So, maybe we need reminding about the essential role of youthwork?

Quite simply, youthwork changes lives. Even mine.

As a teenager, life wasn’t straightforward but a guitar and a youth group made it better! A guitar helped me write a few very bad songs, and bash out some feelings, whilst a youth group brought trusted relationships and a supportive community that grew my confidence and opportunity.

Roll forward more years than I’m willing to admit and youthwork is changing young lives across our city. I’ve heard young women from the Jack Kane Centre share how their voice was empowered through animation, watched the young people of Goodtrees Neighbourhood Centre showcase good citizenship through their community food service, and worked with some of our inspiring care-experienced Champions who have been shaped by the 6VT community. The list is endless.

Yes, it was right to prioritise getting our schools safely back, but it’s highlighted the holistic nature of education and the importance of partnerships. No matter how brilliant our schools are, they can’t do it all, and youthwork needs to be better regarded as an essential partner in shaping and supporting the lives of young people.

Youthwork is also a right, with Articles 15 and 31 laying out the right to meet, join groups and participate in a range of activities. And for some young people, that meeting space away from home can be a safe haven, even a lifeline.

This week, full council will discuss the opening of our community centre spaces for indoor youthwork. More flexible solutions around leases are being taken forward to empower and reassure management committees, and decisions about resources will need to be made. Engagement though must be wider than management committees as measures are required for the voluntary providers who simply lease or access council spaces, and further still, what about the youthwork that would normally be in our schools?

Open sesame, or even Abracadabra won’t work. This is an issue that crosses departments and it requires a result for the sake of the young people in our city.

Alison Dickie is an SNP councillor for Southside/Newington

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