Youth cafés, not wine bars

December 19, 2006 in General, News

Youth cafés, not wine barsIn David Gaffney’s view, there is more chance of changing Ireland’s drinking habits through funding youth cafés than through creating a wine bar culture.

The Government’s first brainwave for changing our drinking-culture was to promote wine bars. This measure fell through. But the Government may now get a second crack at the problem: by backing – as it is beginning to do, financially – the efforts of local authorities to provide facilities like youth cafes. This is all part of a move to provide young people with, simply, “a place to go”, in the hope that the pub will cease to be the venue (or the street-corner, or fields “with a few cans”).

When I was supplying in a north-Dublin parish, I found that most of the families with young and teenage children lived in rather middle-class newly-built estates. Imagine my surprise when parents would say to me: “Out here, there’s nothing for the kids. We all grew up in the inner city, and there was plenty to do – you always had the youth clubs”.

I’ve been wondering since just how the youth-club idea might play to the sensibilities of a totally new teenage generation. But I need not have worried. The youth club still enjoys a good press with the modern teenager. Recently, 1000 youngsters aged 12 to 18 were surveyed. Reports Carl O’Brien: “Youth clubs were cited most frequently as examples of projects that worked well because they were fun, well-structured and a good place to meet friends and socialise.

“When it came to the issue of the type of recreational facility, the most requested setting was a place to hang our with friends that was safe, indoors and affordable, and where they had a sense of ownership”.

One girl complained: “There’s nowhere to go after school. If you go to a coffee shop, you’ve to buy something to stay there”. And I’ve heard of one young man complaining that the local library was the only place to go.

In Galway, the Gaf Youth Café has started – open 35 hours a week. And in Mallow, transition-year students have gone to the local council with the plans for a youth café. What strikes me about this sort of initiative is the un-sophisticated nature of it all.

As a group with a commitment to the formation of youth – and as parents, some of us – we should not allow ourselves to be brainwashed into stereotyping youth, or to slip into a Culture Of Whine. If an initiative is emerging (particularly from the ranks of young people themselves) which might yet reverse the youth drinking-culture – then we should be aware of this and support it.

Yes, any of us active with parents will have heard plenty about raised insurance costs and about the diminishing pool of volunteer “supervisors” for youth projects. But with more state financing coming on stream, this “moan” is less compelling.

Certainly, Global Village electronic communication and consumer-advertising has made inroads on the nuclear family. Nevertheless it remains true as ever that “it takes a village to raise a child”. We could start building that particular “village” with the youth café.