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July 30, 2008

Youth café serves up menu for success

At a time when under age drinking and anti social behaviour is grabbing the headlines, a project in Elgin is doing everything it can to promote the positive contribution young people can make in their community. The Elgin Youth Café has been on the go for a number of years and has just taken on a new youth support team to develop its work


SWAP the streets for Elgin Youth Café is the message to young people and you will have fun, make new friends and learn new skills.

A new-look youth support team is looking to build on the success of the project for 12-18-year-olds.

At a time when under-age drinking, vandalism and anti-social behaviour grab much of the headlines when it comes to discussing young people, the youth café is determined to enhance a positive image of young people.

Based in Francis Place, the project has done much since it opened seven years ago to give young people alternative activities and opportunities.

That is a key plank in the Scottish Government’s proposals for tackling under-age drinking.

And the youth café is set to offer even more opportunities for young people following the appointment of two new youth workers.

Simon Bowen is the new senior youth worker while Sue Watcshan is co-ordinator of the Delta Force community action team.

They are supported by trainee youth worker ¬Peter Mutch, who has come through the ranks of the youth café which he first started attending at the age of 11, and founder member and part-time youth worker Jaclyn Lunan. They also have a dedicated team of volunteers who help staff the centre.

“It is a brilliant project which is run primarily by the young people themselves,” said Mr Bowen. “We are just there to steer them in the right direction.

“We are all enthusiastic about the future. We have a good team here and are moving in the same direction.”

His initial aim is to encourage more young ¬people to use the youth café and take advantage of a wide range of activities on offer. In the longer-term – funding has been secured for an initial two-year period with the hope more can be found to extend this to at least three years – he would like to see the café become a centre of learning where young people, many of whom do not like the formal school environment, can gain a range of lifeskills and qualifications.

An important development will be the reintroduction of Friday night opening when the schools go back after the holidays. That is seen as a key night in getting young people off the streets when they might become involved in drinking and anti-social behaviour.

“It might be a case of ¬doing some outreach work, going around Elgin and talking to young people on a Friday, letting them know they have an alternative to sitting in the dark having a sly little swig,” he said.

The youth café staff have a close relationship with the local community police officers and the return of Friday night opening would be welcomed by them.

The ethos of the meeting place is to give the young people responsibility for running the place, from managing the bar (soft drinks only), utilising the kitchen and operating their own youth committee.

That was a path followed by Peter Mutch (17), who is currently on a nine month placement as a trainee youth worker, funded by the Rank film organisation.

“I started coming at 11, as soon as I left primary school. I started working behind the bar, was then bar manager, entertainments co-ordinator and was chairman of the youth committee, ‘Divas and Heroes’, for three years,” he said.

He enjoyed the experience so much he has joined the youth work team and hopes to be kept on full-time beyond his initial placement.

Sue Watcshan is the other new member of the team as the currently part-time co-ordinator of the Delta Force – a team of young people who go out into the community and get involved in projects and events.

That can range from cleaning graffiti and gardening to helping out at ¬coffee mornings and running a pancake stall at the recent Rotary Motorfun.

The project was piloted a number of years ago but has been running permanently for over a year, and has proved very successful.

The aim is to promote and develop relationships with all parts of the community, particularly older people, where the perception of young people may not always be a positive one.

“This is really valuable to the community and we are going to have a really busy year,” said Ms Watcshan.

“We need community groups to contact us if they need any help. Any young person out there interested in getting involved can pop into the café or give us a call.”

Fiona Birse, chairman of the youth café, is excited by the early work of the new team.

“They have come up with some bright new ideas and the café is very vibrant. The kids are really getting on well with them,” she said.

While funding has been secured to keep the youth team in place over the next couple of years, Fiona ¬admitted it remains a struggle to run the café, which costs over £100,000 a year to run.

“We have very little in the way of commercial sponsorship. It would be great if we could develop those links. If 50 big firms gave us £1,000 a year that would be half our running costs,” she added.

Aside from a range of ¬activities in the café, including pool, TV, chill out area, Internet access, café diner, other outside activities have included gorge walking, sailing and climbing.

A summer timetable kicked off with a Hawaiian night and will conclude with a Pirates of the Caribbean prom evening next month.

During the summer holidays the café is open 1-4pm on Tuesday and Wednesday, 1-5pm on a Friday and also 7-9.30pm on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evening.