Pages 17 – 19

Jan 29th, 2012 | Filed under Part 1: The Problems

The Experience of Other Towns

Adolescents today are in a totally different situation from those of any previous generation. They are more highly educated and earn more at work, thus releasing them from the socio-economic dependence on their parents which used to keep them dependent and subordinate. They mature earlier physically – menstruation begins on average nearly two years earlier in girls today than it did fifty years ago – and they are bigger, stronger and more healthy than their parents were. They are subjected to a mass-communication barrage of ideas and attitudes and a proportion of this is unscrupulously fostered by adult commercial interests to part them from their higher earnings.

Because of all this they have been able to create a water-tight society of their own, separate from the adult world and basically hostile to it. On the negative side one result of those pressures has been the doubled crime rate among the under-twenties in the last ten years (since conscription ended) and the rising wave of addiction to the ‘hard’ drugs such as heroin and the aggression-liberating amphetamines. There are many factors at work here but not the least is the failure of adults to understand the pressures exerted on adolescents and to help to channel their energies creatively. Prince Philip has remarked that it is intolerable to carp at adolescents for wearing their hair long and tattooing their skins while not considering what kind of people they are otherwise. In fact there is no reason to think that they are any different in fundamental human qualities such as kindness, generosity and so on than any other generation of teenagers and any attempt to provide facilities for them should be based on an assumption of these positive qualities first, second and third and not on a presumption of the negative attributes described above. At the same time their negative attributes must also be acknowledged in any plans to provide for them and especially the community must aim at helping them to avoid the most destructive evils of vandalism, violence, drug-taking and suicide.

This all seems to compress a large number of concepts into a very few lines but a brief look at the experience of some other communities may relate those concepts to Chinnor’s situation.

The Sunday Times of 21st December, 1967, carried a feature entitled “Glasgow belongs to the knife”. This began by saying: ‘Glasgow is reaping a bloody harvest from its post-war efforts to solve its housing problem with huge schemes of thousands of homes – and very little else. About 40,000 people live in each of the barren schemes at Easterhouse, Drumchapel and Castlemilk. But there are very few shops and hardly any cafes, dance halls, cinemas, community centres, pubs or other places or recreation. Most critically this lack of social amenities hits the teenagers. And its effects can be seen any week-end in the city’s casualty departments, where teenagers suffering from stabbing and razor wounds are being brought in in ever-increasing numbers.’ The article continues: ‘….Mrs. Catherine Carmichael, a lecturer in sociology at Glasgow University said: “When the families first moved into the big estates they had very young children. Now the estates are feeling the pressure of teenagers having nothing to do. Like all teenagers they have aggressions and healthy energy but with no other way to get rid of it many turn to knives”‘. The Times of 28th February, 1968, under the heading “Growing pains in a new town” said of Cumbernauld: ‘….But despite numerous youth organisations and a junior football team, there is little provision for the town’s 1,400 teenagers. Perhaps the fairest comment came from an 18 year old student, “It’s going to be a great town. I like the houses and it’s nice and clean and safe to walk here. But for us just now there’s nothing. It’s dead. The cafe closes at 9.30 p.m. And there’s a very quiet juke box”. A shop assistant was somewhat less tolerant. “I don’t like it. There’s nothing to do. I’m babysitting to-night to make money to go into Glasgow next Saturday night”‘.

The first extract has a very obvious relevance to Chinnor, particularly in its second paragraph. The second reminds us again that orthodox youth organisations by no means cater for all teenage needs. It also points the lesson that teenagers will look elsewhere if their own community fails them – and the loss in this respect must be to the community. It is also notable in this second extract that 1,400 teenagers are involved – rather less than double the number Chinnor will have in 1978. It is not possible to pretend that Chinnor’s problems are as great numerically as those of Glasgow or Cumbernauld – or for that matter Banbury or Witney, but what matters is the proportions of the numbers involved in Chinnor. Eight hundred teenagers in a total population of only about 5,000 or 6,000 will make their presence felt proportionately more than the same number in a much larger population. There are many other examples of the evil results of failure to plan for teenage leisure in new towns – the wave of drug addiction in Harlow can be cited – and already in 1968 Chinnor has had some examples of teenage lawlessness on a scale not known in the village previously.

By now this report must have demonstrated that there is a factual basis for what would seem to be the most urgent and potentially uncontrollable problem this community has ever had to face. Moreover, the action the community takes in the next few years to provide for the needs of its teenagers is likely to influence many of their lives permanently for good or bad.

The next section of the report suggests lines of action to contain the problems outlined above, both immediately and in the more distant future.

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