This nightmare before Christmas can have a happy ending

It’s a little known fact that Tim Burton, director of, among other films, The Nightmare Before Christmas, was inspired to write the script for this film after he observed a shop’s Halloween decorations being taken down and immediately replaced by Christmas baubles.

Having learned this piece of trivia I feel inspired to pen my own ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin…

Once upon a time, in a land not very far away, the grown folk of the land wondered what on earth was wrong with their young folk. ‘They’re out of control!’ cried some. ‘They’re anti-social!’ cried others. And so, after much gnashing of teeth and hand wringing by the grown folk, public announcements were made on the cause of the malaise and a number of suggestions made as to what should be done. And for some grown folk, this was all fine and dandy.

Meanwhile, others who knew more about the young folk asked questions, wanting to gain a greater understanding of the issues for themselves. And lo, around Halloween 2011, they shared their findings with those willing to listen.

The first, a well known organisation by the name of Unison, published details of research that found £200m worth of youth service cuts will have been made by April 2012 – hitting the young folk and damaging chances of getting the economy of the land back on track. Unison warned that £127m of cuts are set to hit vital youth services by next April and that these reductions came on top of the £61.6m worth of cuts already made in the year to April 2011.

And still the reports came in. Barnardo’s, long known for its tireless work on behalf of the young folk, added that it had conducted an opinion poll that showed many of the land’s adults were at risk of giving up on young people altogether.

Accompanied by the sound of a very sharp intake of breath, Barnardo’s released a report that indicated that 44% of the nation’s adult folk believed young folk were becoming feral and 25% believed they were beyond help by the age of ten.

Chief executive Anne Marie Carrie said of Barnardo’s findings: ‘It is depressing that so many people are ready to give up on children, writing them off as “animals” and “feral”. What hope is there for children in the UK today if this is how adults think?’

As Anne Marie spoke, a distress signal was sent up by The Work Foundation and The Private Equity Foundation, revealing the top ten blackspots for young folk not in education, employment or education (the horribly named Neets group). The report warned that they faced pressures contributing to what was described as a worsening trend – rapidly rising unemployment meaning fewer entry level jobs, with young, less experienced workers more vulnerable to job losses.

Neil Lee, author of the report, said, ‘The number of young people who are Neet is one of the UK’s most serious social problems. For a young person, being out of education, unemployment or training can have major ramifications, including long-term reductions in wages and increased chances of unemployment later in life, as well as social or psychological problems arising as a result of sustained unemployment.’

And there, on that scary cliffhanger, I shall pause my story. There IS an alternative. Groundwork and other organisations that work closely with young people know that its ending is far from inevitable.

Groundwork’s Turning the Corner youth programme, funded by the Big Lottery Fund, operates in the northeast and Yorkshire and gives young people and local businesses the opportunity to work together to improve their local environment, breaking down barriers and building positive relationships in the process.

Turning the Corner creates a sense of community ownership among young people and challenges negative attitudes of adults who perceive them to be hanging around on street corners. Since 2010 over 800 ten to 18 year olds have been actively involved in a variety of projects, with some going on to gain formal accreditations for their work.

The best stories are about truisms. In this case, every generation despairs of the younger generation and have done so since the dawn of time. Plato famously asked: ‘What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders. They disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?’ Sound familiar?

Rather than giving in to despair or contempt we need to redouble our efforts in helping our young people find their place in the world. Provided we look beyond the headlines and continue to give them the support they need to make a positive difference in their communities there is every chance my cautionary tale may yet have a happy ending. It can be done – and is not the ‘impossible dream’ that some would have us believe.


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