Border Lines

Berwick, North Northumberland: Food-Travel-Culture-Community

Camps, riots and someone to look up to

Summer holidays. My childhood memories of them are a hazy blend of aimlessness and adventure. Of more freedom and more boredom. Now, I see the challenge my parents faced to ensure those long days groomed me for independence with responsibility. And, I guess that’s what we’d like to recreate for our children. But boy, oh, boy it’s tough to get it right!

Excitement built in our household as The Nine–Year–Old prepared to go ‘on camp’ for the first time. She was nervous, so were we – was she too young; what about safety; what if she didn’t get on with anyone? Minor worries – but normal. In the event, she left on the morning after the incredibly abnormal and terrible massacre at the Labour youth camp in Norway.

The Husband and I did not think a similar atrocity would take place at The Nine–Year–Old’s camp but it was a stark reminder that nothing can mitigate for random acts of badness or madness. Fortunately, during her week at away, our girl didn’t spot her anxious parents periodically peering down at camp from a secret hilltop vantage point!

Of course, she came home five inches taller, three years wiser and with even more to talk about than usual. The canoeing was ‘fantastic!’, the trip to Lindisfarne ‘brilliant!’, the shopping trip to Berwick (I know, I know!) ‘cool!’.  Her real heroes were the leaders. They led outings, songs, allotted the children tasks (peeling the spuds, cleaning, washing up etc), and made sure they were ‘mothered’ – although I’m not convinced they made them brush their teeth for the requisite three minutes twice daily.

Crank the clock forward and we were heading for some rays of Portuguese sunshine. On a trip to load up with Vinho Verde and sardines news of London riots caught my eye. Cue massive texting frenzy with London Daughter. She was safe and our particular corner of North London minimally affected. Nearby Tottenham and Wood Green were not so settled. London generally was, ‘tense’, ‘eerie’ and ‘weird’.

We were relieved to read that Berwick and the North East was calm. Considering the lack of work and deprivation in the area that seemed cause for celebration.

The events around the country got us talking about the pros and cons of youth work and youth clubs. We remembered our own childhood experiences – not all good – and agreed that youth work for youth work’s sake was no solution. Such work needs a clear focus and sound leadership and values. We explored the much debated cuts in youth work and the implications it might have for children whose parents don’t know where their children hang out of an evening – and, in some cases, don’t care.  Some kids rampaging through shops to nick trainers and other must–have items were not much older than The Nine–Year–Old. Who was supposed to be looking after them?

How lucky we were not to be living in a big city now. How lucky we are to live somewhere with cheap (or free) recreation and adventure on the doorstep – including The Nine–Year–Old’s camp. But for many young people it doesn’t matter that it’s on the doorstep, it’s still inaccessible because they don’t have adults to structure an adventure or even an outing. That’s just one reason why the Berwick Youth Project (and other local clubs) is such a fantastic thing.

Wouldn’t it be brilliant, I thought, if Northumberland with its history, opportunities for water sports and outdoor pursuits became the most sought after place for children and young adults to visit for adventure, team–building and new experiences? And, most of all, to be inspired by leaders who look after them and offer them a snapshot of an adult way of being that many young people miss out on.

Wouldn’t it be brilliant if funding for such society–shaping enterprise were not cut but doubled, quadrupled…whatever it takes to give children the opportunity to break the almost inevitable cycle laid down for them by circumstance of birth – despite the odds against them?

Meanwhile, it’s time to go and make sure that the Nine–Year–Old’s construction project has not turned into a destruction project…

A version of this article was first published on 1 September 2011 in The Berwick Advertiser

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