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Saturday, 19 April 2014

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Listen to those who know better

The difference between telling it like it is and describing it as you see it is immense. Everybody knows that.

Sam Jackson photo
Sam Jackson

But petulant anger and the instinct to defend your own will soon confuse the two ... as I see it turns into the way it is. Even when it patently isn’t.

And so chance of anything positive happening is lost hopelessly in a meaningless contest of who can shout loudest and with most spiky smart Alec rhetoric.

It happened last week when young people in Workington described their home as a “dead end town” with few career prospects. They were backed up by 23-year-old youth worker Sam Jackson who, in turn, claimed many youngsters there lacked ambition, had few aspirations and were lumbered with narrow horizons and scant opportunity.

Their voices should have prompted a call to action. They haven’t. At least, not yet.

Instead a plea for change from a generation in whose hands the future of a town will rest, sparked bitter exchanges – largely between people much older than they – on the pros and cons of a town that provides a tidy living for some and not much of anything for some others.

The publishable of these opinions (and many were not) were posted on the News & Star’s online forum. What ensued was a lively debate. But as yet nothing constructive has emerged.

“Every town’s the same these days, our government’s to blame, due to no or very little investment,” said one.

“I’m from Carlisle and find my town’s dwindling in a backwards direction. The goverment would prefer to give away £814m to Africa when our own people struggle having to use food banks.”

“Workington is a hell-hole. Its people are so narrow minded and so ignorant of the rest of this county. Workington really is a dead end town with very little to offer in the shape of class restaurants, jobs, career building, schools, sports facilities etc,” said another.

“All Workington has to offer is pubs, clubs, drugs, drunks, crime and narrow mindedness from its population. I can think of no other town in Britain as bad as Workington.”

“How dare anyone call the Great Lakeland Town of Workington dull or drab. This great town is the capital and the hub of the Western Lake District and is an intrinsic and very important part of Lakeland. Workington has a great future and has so much too offer its future generations,” was another.

“Young people would say the same in every town, there’s plenty of opportunities if you look for them,” was perhaps the saddest, most dismissive – though by no means the most vitriolic of them all.

Why do we – by whom I mean their elders – insist on failing to hear and act on the views of the young? We, who helped create the problems they now inherit, carry around a supreme arrogance which persuades us – in spite of all our blunders – we know best.

It’s a blind self-importance suggesting that because we struggled and, if among the fortunate, somehow made it to comfort and fulfilment, so must they.

Young folks. When will they ever learn to be seen and not heard? Stop complaining and get on with it.

But get on with what? With what we’ve handed them? It’s surely obvious to anyone now that we’ve handed over precious little.

It’s probably true that young people anywhere would, if asked, give bold, unpleasantly true and critical opinions of where they live. Quite right too.

At least they’re trying to engage in a debate about the future of their home communities. Trouble is, in dismissing their opinions as irrelevant and probably hormonally driven, we’re refusing to allow that debate an airing.

Workington has its problems. Carlisle has them too. So does Barrow, Brampton, Burnley, Birmingham. The usual suspects know what those problems are but – having no idea what to do about anything, without hurting self-interest – talk up towns and cities to convince all is well, will be better...and by the way it’s not their fault. Classic, diverting public relations.

In truth, all is not well and it won’t ever be better for the generation we rely on to carry the baton forward, unless we know how to hear their complaints, listen to their plights and help them make a difference.

Keep shouting down the young and all anyone will ever achieve will be a dead end.

Those kids were pretty astute about that. Pity their elders couldn’t manage to be the same.

Have your say

This is the second story on 'dead end' Workington by the N&S that fails to mention the progress the town has made in providing opportunities for young people over the last decade. We now have: Energus - a £20m educational facility which has trained more then 300 apprentices since 2009 plus hundreds more degree students; the Construction Skills Centre, which will train 290 14-19 year olds a year from this September; and next year we'll have one of only a handful of University Technical Colleges in the UK, a £10m project which will train 500 young people a year by 2018. Given CN Group's excellent coverage of these developmeents over the last few years, it's bizarre they aren't mentioned in either story. Indeed the only fact quoted in either story is Workington's youth unemployment rate, which at 6 per cent is more than TWO THIRDS lower than the national average of circa 20 per cent. This solitary fact of course completely undermines the entire premise of the story. How can a town where 94 per cent of young people are either in work or in education be a 'dead end'? The problem with the reporting of these young people's comments is not the comments themselves - they are of course entitled to make them and the media entitled to report them - but the complete failure of the newspaper to present the other side of the argument. Isn't journalism about investigating both sides of an issue?

Posted by Matt on 14 August 2013 at 11:31

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