Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The future for our youth on the South Side.

Three weeks ago I received a phone call from Hambledon House. As the Secretary of Edmonton Playgroup I was asked to open up the Graham Street Playgroup Hall for viewing. The reason? 99 Consulting have been given the job of reviewing all facilities in the area for a report into what is required for the youth of the region. This is a 20 year plan and I was keen to be part of the process. I met with Kylie Bock from Hambledon House and Helen Wallace from 99 Consultancy and showed them the venue.

It's a small hall. It has a nice kitchen and a great patio, a large sandpit fills most of the outside fenced area and there is a good sized shed there filled to the brim (that wording is no exaggeration by the way) with toys and kids play equipment.

Essentially, it is exactly what it professes to be. A Playgroup Hall. There are 5 separate playgroups which operate from the facility, one for each weekday. It is available for hire on the weekends to everyone in the community through Playgroup Queensland in Woree and we are grateful every day that the CRC has allowed this hall to continue to be used in the way it currently is.

While wandering about talking through the points of interest in the hall, we began to talk about the proposed plan. Talk moved on from the age group of Playgroup and we began to discuss the real problems for the youth of the south side. The question was then posed; If your children were teenagers and you still lived here, what would you recommend needs to be built or facilitated to suit their needs?

Half an hour later I had answered the question in full. This is a real problem for this area and one I have talked about, consulted about and thought about for a very long time. I have spoken to parents who are desperate for an outlet for their kids. I have spoken to teachers who are locked in a battle with kids on a daily basis and are desperate for assistance. I have spoken to teenagers who have nothing to do, nowhere to go and no connection with the community they live in. It's no surprise that my answer therefore, was a long one.

From there we parted ways.

Last week I received another phone call. This one from another consulting company, Fieldworx. Leanne was interesting in meeting with me. She had been told that I had some ideas and was connected to the community so she wanted to arrange a time for us to discuss my views.

Monday afternoon I met with Leanne and Eleesa. They asked the same question I had answered a few weeks before. My answer?

Build a YOUTH HUB within the walls of the Leisure Centre.

This facility is an ideal host for a multi-service hub for several reasons. Firstly, it's position is right in the middle of the entire community. Secondly, it boasts many distinct areas frequented by teens all around it, one of the reasons an expansion of Hambledon House would not work. Youth aged between 10 and 18 will not seek out a specific venue for assistance with anything. It's a well known fact and discussion with that particular age group confirms it. On the other hand, if they happen to stumble across it, that's a whole different scenario.

Thirdly, the Leisure Centre has not been built. In it's current stage it is able to cope with the adjustments that the addition of a small youth facility would entail. It was actually offered as a proposed inclusion quite a while ago but the lack of communication with those who would be utilising it took it out of the equation. Put it back in. Simple.

Lastly, as part of the Leisure Centre it would have the benefit of being associated with health and wellbeing. That is an ideal mind space for it to take up as the primary use of it would be as a referral base to aid and assist young people who are 'at risk' in many areas from mental heath, physical health, scholastic assistance to building and maintaining healthy relationships.

Beyond that we need facilities to support one another.

Better, more specialised transportation for youth so that they can attend courses and programs in the city area.

Broader appeal in the sporting arena with the inclusion of a skate park and bmx track and the potential to offer rainforest walks and bushwalking tours.

The beginning of some form of arts in the area. There is not one space to practice any artistic pursuit on the south side. Nothing. No music, no art, no theatre, nothing. Some of those could be facilitated right here but others will need to be part of the plan to offer transportation to the city, as mentioned previously.

Then there is the final and most important part. Some kind of meeting space, chill out area for youth to congregate in, access services, access computers and access reading material. Things that we all assume are available in the home but more often than we realise, are not. Whether this is part of the hub or not remains to be seen but it must happen. Perhaps the area at the back of the Sugarworld entrance building would be ideal.

Half way through the meeting I realised that the ideas I had gathered, and the methods this company had used before successfully, were almost identical. If I had not met with these two women I believe it would not have mattered much at all. They already had a plan, and the plan was a good one. They despaired at the 'last century' methods so many areas employ as they simply do not work. Lack of consultation with those who will be using the facilities was a prime reason that past ideas were unsuccessful. The fact that so many areas grow quickly without thought given to potential problems or forward thinking infrastructure was another.

After 2 hours of productive conversation, they headed out to the Gordonvale HUB. From previous experience I know that this facility is a very good one and I am sure they were impressed by the staff, under the expert guidance of Mark Edwards and Sarah Gosling, and the programs held within the walls.

Today they spent the morning with the many and varied youth facilitators from the region. More good ideas flowed and the plan is starting to take shape.

My input may not be used at all. The fact that I was part of the conversation is enough for me. To know that those in charge of this process are enthusiastic, knowledgeable and have such great ideas, with experience to match, is enough for me to rest easy, sure in the belief that the final plan submitted to Council Officers will be a good one. For the region and, most importantly, for our youth, it's a long overdue step in the right direction.

*Special thanks to Kylie Bock and the staff at Hambledon House, Tanya Brooks-Cooper, those who offered their ideas on my FB page, in personal conversations and via e-mail and the young people of Bentley Park and Edmonton who contributed greatly to the outcome of this post. Without their assistance I could not have taken part in this at all.

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