Never a Dull Moment for Young People
At first sight it looks like just another youth club - a smallish hall with chairs round the walls and a table-tennis table at one end. A gramophone pelting out the latest beat record. Some 40 youngsters sitting or standing around in groups. Lots of noise and laughter, high heels, Chelsea boots* or winklepickers** tapping the floor. Mod-style*** haircuts for the boys, long straight locks or back-combed bouffants for the girls, Beatle jackets,**** leather coats, dazzling shirts, short skirts or tight trousers.
* (Chelsea boots - shoes with high ankles, without laces (men's).)
** (winklepickers - shoes with very sharp toes (men's and women's).)
*** (Mod style - a youth's haircut fashionable in the mid-sixties.)
**** (Beatle-jacket - a long, slightly flared, jacket as worn by the Beatles - a popular group of four singers from Liverpool.)
Suddently there is a different pattern of activity. The "gram" is switched off. Ten groups of young people, quiet and absorbed, are each creating their own "group mural" - a bit of free expression in art.
A look at the duplicated programme confirms that this in fact is not "just another youth club." Mingled with the social items (dancing, beetle-drive,* games, etc.) are discussion evenings, "hat speeches",** public speaking competitions. Summer programmes include outdoor activities, a ramble, bus tour, treasure hunt. All of which is unusual for an ordinary youth club; but this happens to be a co-operative Youth Club. And the young people who attend it will tell you that they find something here that they don't get elsewhere.
* (beetle-drive - beetle is a game of dice where each player throws the dice in turn and builds up a drawing of a beetle according to the numbers he throws; the first player to complete his drawing calls "Beetle" and is the winner. A drive is an organized competition usually arranged by some club or society for the amusement of its members.)
** (a "hat speech" - speech on a subject from a number of subjects which have been written on pieces of paper and placed in a hat; each speaker draws a piece of paper.)
Susan and Yvonne, both of them just coming up to their 15th birthdays, travel nearly 15 miles from South London to this club in Enfield, Middlesex. "I used to go to local clubs," said Yvonne, dark-haired in slacks and a suede jacket, "but this is more interesting because you have different things to do all the time." And Susan, shaking her red-blonde hair and gold earrings, added: "Clubs I've been to locally, you just get records or table-tennis all the time - and the Mods or the Rockers* are always coming in and busting them up."
* (the Mods and the Rockers - conflicting teenagers' groups whose fights terrorized seaside resorts in England in 1960s.)
The club leader, Mr Bill Stoten (known to all the members as just "Bill") commented: "I believe that, unless young people have something to do, they are just plain bored. My recipe is to be on good terms with the youngsters, to have a certain amount of discipline, and to give them something to do. This is where the conventional youth club falls down. Many of them try to fill the young people up with religion, which they just won't put up with; and as for outdoor activities or free expression, these are non-existent."
Some of the youngsters have parents who are Co-operators; but the majority I talked to in this club had just been brought along by a friend. Such a one is 19-year-old Peter, from Tottenham, London, who had tried a number of other youth clubs and found them "either rough-houses or associated with one particular activity such as camping or motorcycling; but this youth club is for youth!" The principles of Co-operation are not rammed down anybody's throat; but, says Mr Stoten, "I do emphasize the fact that this club is run by the Co-operative movement." There are discussions, which often involve politics or Co-operation - on trade unions, youth employment, etc. "We started a discussion recently on American and British films and finished up two hours later on the Tory housing record!" says Mr Stoten with a grin.
There are a number of ex-members of this club who are now youth leaders as well as very active Co-operators. The club also takes part in the "project work" - the compilation of charts or handbooks on a particular social theme - which is a regular feature of many Co-op youth clubs, and in the annual Youth Speaks for Itself public speaking competitions. Obviously not all the 127 Co-op youth clubs in the country are as lively or as successful as this one. As in other youth organisations, there is a shortage of trained leadership and often a shortage of money. Local clubs are the responsibility of the Education Committee of the particular Co-op Society - and obviously success must in some measure depend on the interest taken in youth work by that society.
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