What is Council’s role for empowering and supporting young people in our city?
This is a question I’ve struggled with for quite a while. One thing I am certain of – Council isn’t, and shouldn’t be a provider of ‘social service’ like programmes or activities for young people. We aren’t the experts in that field, and already have a number of fantastic organisations in our community providing such services that are much more connected with young people than us (Council).
Should our main contribution be funding a central youth ‘hang out’ space open to youth across the city? Yes and no. Currently Council funds Secret Level on High Street at a cost of $158k a year, SL has been around for 10 years + and has done a good job over the years. But has this hang out space really made a difference for young people in need? I’m sure for a few it has – But for most it hasn’t.
I believe that if we as a Council want to truly make a meaningful difference for young people then we must rethink and relook at how we operate. And in my view, education, employment and a sense of ownership by youth in our communities is the focus we need to take.
Education – Of course this is a focus and priority of central government, but as a Council we have so many great assets like our libraries, museums, art galleries, pools etc which could engage with young people more. They could become more ‘youth friendly’ spaces and work with schools and other education providers to get youth utilising these assets that we have on our doorstep. We could focus on getting parents and their kids into our libraries and other facilities – because the younger you start off the more likely you will be to use such facilities as you grow older. There are some great programmes like the ‘Reading Together’ initiative in our libraries, and our ‘Learn to Swim’ programme in our pools etc. – but we can still do more. Education is everything, and Council focus on this can make a big difference for youth across the board.
Employment – If you really want to make a difference for a young person out of study… Then find them a job. Give them an opportunity. Again, Council isn’t WINZ, and it shouldn’t be. But we can still make a big difference in this area given the position Council sits, and this has already been seen with the establishment of Youth Inspire (Mayors taskforce for Jobs) which focuses on getting disengaged young people into study or employment. This initiative came from the hard work and dedication of people in Wainuiomata who wanted to help make a difference – We as a Council then came on board to help fund the programme and get it on its feet (70k per annum). Since late last year 40+ young people in Wainuiomata who had fallen through the cracks have already been placed in further study or employment. That’s 40 young people who have been given a hand up and experienced a meaningful and positive change in their life. That’s what you call making a difference.
Sense of ownership by youth in our communities – One youth ‘hang out’ space for our entire city isn’t good enough. We should have them in every community. Your probably thinking, “well who’s going to pay for that? It will never happen”. Fair question, but in actual fact it can… and for little to no cost. It’s all about attitude. It’s about ensuring our current and future assets are youth friendly, attractive and safe. During the summer school holidays why not put 20 bean bags out in the middle of the dowse square, light up a BBQ and have a water fight (away from the bean bags of course!). Let’s forget about spending $$ on the bricks and mortar and utilize what we’ve got.
Going back to Secret Level – I’m not ‘anti-youth centres’. I genuinely believe there is still scope for a dedicated youth space in our CBD (Just look at Zeal in Wellington, they are nailing it and provide an awesome space for young people), but we as a Council shouldn’t just folk out $158k a year for a youth centre and think we are doing an awesome job for the city’s youth. We as a Council must look at the bigger picture and understand how we can make a meaningful difference for young people, and how we can transform what we already have in Hutt City to make us more of a Youth City.