(November 20, 2009)
IT is a sad fact that the greatest ambition of many of our young people is to leave Warminster at the age of 18 or 19 and never to return.
Who can blame them as there is so little to keep them here?
Few worthwhile employment opportunities, little night life, a dismal social scene and a general lack of housing attractive for young people with ambition are all push factors reinforcing their aims.
To reverse this trend is going to be difficult and some young people will always want to wander but many will return if they find that the grass is not always greener elsewhere and that they can have a worthwhile life in this community.
We'll look at ways of improving leisure facilities for over 18s in a later chapter but often young people's alienation with the town starts at a young age so let’s look at what is on offer from early childhood onwards.
If children have had a happy upbringing and experience of Warminster in their childhood years they will look more kindly on the town in future.
Warminster Play Strategy needed
One area we could gain is by adopting a local play strategy to promote children’s play.
It may sound crazy but there is ample evidence that , for a variety of reasons, the number of children playing freely and imaginatively in their spare time is in serious decline.
That is a bad thing as it is widely recognised that play is crucial to health throughout childhood and contributes to social, physical, intellectual, cultural, emotional and psychological development.
Lack of play may well be a contributory factor in rising rates of obesity and anti-social behaviour among the young.
Every child, including those with disabilities, should have the right to play in safety in Warminster. (1)
We need to take a serious look at how we reverse this trend of declining play and take expert advice on how to proceed. Some local authorities employ specialist play workers and our proposed community wardens could also become involved during summer breaks.
There may even be a role for our ever growing army of fit and able over 60s who are underemployed and who would relish the opportunity of this kind of involvement - if only there was someone to organise things.
Could this be yet another role for specially trained and police checked volunteers?
Moving on to the teenage group we find another problem - boredom. The perennial whine of I’m bored is heard less often these days as they seem to find such enjoyment on-line and on games.
But not all of them and in reality face to face interaction involving games would be much more healthy for the future of society.

Two purpose built activity centres

Our football, cricket and rugby clubs are enviable showpieces of our community which show that the spirit of the volunteer is alive and well and achieving so much for young people here. But we have to recognise that not every child enjoys such sports and what about the girls?
For all children we propose the creation of two purpose built activity centres at either end of the town each with their own style and funky names to appeal to the young. Who knows we could ask them for their opinions and hold a referendum on the choice of names with only those aged under 18 able to vote.
In addition to providing a wide range of activities sports and game, these places would have meeting rooms and be staffed by empathetic people who would be able to offer help on everything from bullying to sexual health.
We note that there are already proposal to release the existing youth centre to the Athenaeum and if this is the case a realistic capital sum must be paid which is ring-fenced specifically and only released for these two new centres. Our young people must not be short-changed.
Warminster people must have paid millions into the National Lottery since 1994 and we should tap one or more of the funding streams as we believe we in this town and in Wiltshire in general have been woefully short-changed when it comes to grants. Some of this money should come home to Warminster.
Perhaps it is an issue our MP should chase up for us in parliament by asking a question?

Teen shelters for some

A slightly older age group and also some who may not wish to visit the activity centres just seem to want somewhere where they can hang out away from adults. (2)
kids1At the moment you can see them sitting outside on the western edge of the Morrisons’ building, in the Three Horse Shoes Mall (pictured left)  or frequenting play areas when they are 10 years too old for the play equipment.
They intimidate many - especially the young children who should really be sitting on the swings.
If they want somewhere to hang out why not ask them where, and if a suitable place is found, why not erect teen shelters just for them to do their own thing?
Several communities, urban and rural have erected these types of shelter at a cost of around £1,800 and they have proved a significant benefit.
Do we want them here?
In 1988  the problem in Portway Lane play area, for example, was dog mess as the area was unfenced. Today the area is abused by older teens who leave glass, take part in anti-social behaviour into the early hours and may frighten off the younger children the play area is really intended for.

Alcohol free bar

We think there is mileage in an alcohol free pub cum youth centre and have begun to wonder if the underneath section of the town hall could be the spot!
It was for a few years a wine bar or restaurant. It is in the town centre with the entrance covered by CCTV. With the right name and facilities it could be ideal.
Each cell could be a themed zone. It has easy pick-up for parents and would close at a reasonable hour.
It could become the new home to the youth worker if the Ath proposal goes ahead.
Of course these plans are of little use unless they have the approval of the young and there may be many other things that we could do if only we had the means of asking the younger generation what it is exactly they want - if they know
Recreational Land Allocation (NEW SECTION ADDED 17 MAY)
The council have decided to move the recycling centre so that the land at Furnax Lane can be decontaminated after its historical use for a gas works.
 At the time of their announcement about this they said that they would be considering at a later date what to do with this piece of land.
 We believe that it should allocated as an area for dedicated to something that is targetted at young people wishes and aspirations for something to do.
 If there is enough land available then we believe a go-kart track would be an exciting project to encourage.
 With the right 'can do' attitude either the council could run it as an amenity like they have historically done with leisure site like pitch and putt golfing or they could invite tenders.
 In any case it would be our contention that as the site is away from housing and with careful planning it could be well screened it should have many fascinating options to excite the imagination.
 It should be for the youngsters of the town to come up with their suggestion as to what activity they would like to see go on there which may not be appropriate in a residential area.
It would be very difficult to find an open space of this nature in the town so let us make sure we make the most of it.
Warminster Youth Council

To find out more we could set up a 12 member Warminster Youth Council made up of sixth formers elected by the two local secondary schools’ 2,000 plus pupils .
Give say a proportion of nine Kingdown reps to three from Warminster School with the administration of it run by the town council. It would meet at Dewey House.It would have the added bonus of getting the whole school interested in the process of democracy at it's basic level. Everything from writing a manifesto saying what the candidates would spend money on to designing their pamphlets to public speaking and on to the actual day of voting
It would also be given a proper budget of say £10,000 to spend each year on things that are wanted by young people of the town. (3)
It would give them ownership and make them value whatever they chose. It might not even cost anything as they could favour things we would have acquired anyway.
Harold Dewey, the former head of The Avenue Secondary School, who died in 1971 and is fondly remembered by many of us, left a considerable estate in trust to the town and some of this money could be used for this purpose.
We are sure he would want to see his money used to help the grandchildren of many of those he taught.
The final financial allocation would, ultimately, have to be approved by the full town council which approves all committee spending in any case but there should be a presumption of it being approved unless there are legal reasons why not.
We can see this suggestion causing real debate and even the occasional clash to spark real interest in young people in the civic side of running Warminster and taking a pride in achieving something positive and longstanding for the town.
It may even show a few that this is a town that values them and is worth sticking with.
Our vision for Warminster youth is one where our young people can make inspired informed choices about play, activities, relationships and their futures in a caring, safe and wholesome environment.

© 2008 Steve Dancey & Paul Macdonald

Footnotes. In 1991 our government signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which means that they have agreed to make sure certain things happen - so funding must be made available.
(1) Article 31 - All children have a right to relax and play and join in a wide range of activities.
(2) Article 15 - Children have a right to meet together and join groups as long as this does not stop other people from enjoying their rights.
(3) Article 12 - Children have a right to say what they think should happen when adults are making the decisions that affect them and to have their opinions taken into account.
Pictured above: Harold Dewey with family and friends at the Avenue Secondary School in the early 1950s. Mr Dewey who had been a member of the UDC for 49 years left the town a major bequest in his will.

Promoted and published by Steve Dancey of 21 Newport, Warminster, and Paul Macdonald, of 144 Boreham Field, Warminster.

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