28th Sept. 2002
ippr, Blackpool Council and Leisure Parcs
ippr began its programme of Labour Party Conference events with an interactive debate with over 60 young people from Blackpool. One of our core values is finding ways to contribute to democratic renewal. ‘illuminate’ was about making politics inclusive, exciting and entertaining. We wanted to:
Get young people debating key policy issues that were the focus of discussions at Labour conference over the next week
Find out how young people in Blackpool rate the opportunities available to them
Demonstrate a new, dynamic way of running public meetings that combines discussions in table groups, full group debate and individual voting with electronic keypads
More than 60 young people aged between 16 and 25 attended the Saturday afternoon event. They were invited through community groups, colleges and workplaces across Blackpool.
Electronic voting was used at the beginning of the afternoon to get a picture of who was in the room. The majority of participants were either studying or studying and working. A smaller number were in work but not studying and one participant was looking after children. Over 60 per cent of participants had lived in Blackpool either all their lives or most of their lives. 14 per cent had moved to the town in the last year.
question. When asked how likely it was that they would still live in Blackpool in 5 years time over 60 per cent said it was not that likely or very unlikely. Some said they would move to go to university while others were drawn to better pay and a better quality of life in the south (although recognised that cost of living might also be higher).
“There’s better jobs somewhere else”
lectronic voting at the start of the afternoon revealed the extent to which participants currently engaged in politics.
None were a member of a political party
Nearly 9 out of 10 read the newspapers
And 1 in 5 had been on a protest or strike
Clear priorities emerged early on in discussions – getting a good job, a good education and having enough money to live on were top of the issues that participants cared about most. These themes recurred throughout the afternoon with discussion focusing on the opportunities open to young people in Blackpool.
The local job market was felt by many to offer short-term opportunities but not long-term careers. A lot of jobs in Blackpool are seasonal and in the service industry. A number suggested that to get the qualifications and skills for good jobs you had to look outside of Blackpool. It was pointed out that there is no university in Blackpool.
“Most of the jobs around here are seasonal and very badly paid”
“Most young people who live here have low expectations of themselves and don’t want to go on to a big career.”
“The jobs that are available…it’s nothing you’d want to do”
“You have to have the colleges to get you in to good jobs and Blackpool just doesn’t have that….you can’t get the right qualifications in this town”
This sense of limited opportunity locally was borne out by responses to the next electronic voting question. Only 13% of participants said that it was likely that they would still live in Blackpool in 5 years time. Some said they would move to go to university while others were drawn to better pay
and a better quality of life in the south.
“better jobs somewhere else – that’s why” “It’s a better quality of life down south”
n tables of ten participants discussed their views on good and bad things about Blackpool. In addition to the discussion about jobs and education, another key theme was the impact of tourists on the town.
There was a sense that the town is defined and shaped by tourists and the tourist industry rather than by those who live and work here. The Pleasure Beach and other tourist attractions were appreciated, although some felt they were too expensive for most local people to enjoy on a regular basis.
Although it was acknowledged that “we make a lot of money from tourists”, it was felt that the Council “should be spending money to encourage the young people to stay”. Some suggested that local budgets were directed at attracting tourists above supporting locals. Blackpool was seen as a destination for stag and hen parties rather than a place for families and locals. Participants accused the tourists of lowering the town’s reputation. They were also blamed for the seasonal, service-focused nature of much local busines.
“They leave lots of litter and just get drunk”
“it’s not the tourists full stop – it’s the type of tourist. People exposing themselves on the promenade!”
“Families now feel threatened to come into town on a Friday or Saturday. Locals night is Thursday night and then we steer clear for the rest of the weekend”
“Money is spent on the tourists and not the locals…they spend it on gimmicks to attract more tourists”
“Why was £200,000 spent on the world’s largest glitter ball on South Promenade?”
[followed by spontaneous applause]
The participants linked the type of tourists to crime in the area. Many said that they did not feel safe walking through the town at night alone.
Almost half of the participants had been a victim of crime in the last 12 months. Bullying, mobile phone theft and being beaten up were identified as crimes young people were most likely to experience.
Less than a third of participants had never been a victim of crime.
FAMILY, FRIENDS + COMMUNITY
The next discussion of the afternoon focused on participant’s sense of community in Blackpool – do they feel part of a strong community? Who do they turn to for support? The responses suggested that having a sense of a strong community can be a hit or miss process. While some were friendly with their neighbours others were keen to avoid them or found it difficult to make contact when people moved on quickly. For some, the notion of building community within streets and estates seemed outdated.
“My street is ok. I know everyone in the street and they’re really nice people”
“Personally I don’t want to know my neighbours. You have drug dealers and I have young children”
“areas that are less well-off are better because people need each other to help them out.”
“It doesn’t matter if you live in a good or bad community…not many people know their neighbours”
“Blackpool has a really transient population and it’s hard to get to know people in that time.”
Some suggested that community is something that can be harnessed around major events such as the Jubilee or World Cup or, particularly for young people, through getting involved in sports clubs.
“The only community young people can have is through sport.”
Social networks tended to be focused on friends and family and these were, for many, their prime support mechanisms. However, those who were involved with organisations such as Sure Start or Streetlife were very positive about them and the impact they had had on their lives.
Participants were defensive about their role in the community and felt that their contributions were not recognised or valued.
“what we do for the community is never recognised by anybody else.”
“we do contribute quite a lot”
In table discussions, participants generally expressed a desire to get more involved in their communities but felt that there was a lack of information on different ways to get involved.
“How many young people know about the Youth Council?”
DRINK AND DRUGS
he next topic for discussion – drink and drugs - caused much debate. The majority of participants saw ‘soft’ drugs like cannabis in a different light to harder drugs like cocaine and heroin. The majority view was for softer legal intervention in the case of cannabis but more punitive, tougher sentencing for hard drugs, particularly for those who deal them.
“There’s too much drugs on the street and it’s too easy to get them”
“if you want to take them, take them, but leave everyone else out of them”
A lot of comments referred to the social impact drink and drug abuse can lead to in terms of street violence and anti-social behaviour. It was these outcomes rather than the affect on the individual that dominated the discussion. In this context cannabis was seen to have less harmful effects than alcohol.
“The reality of cannabis is that it’s not the real issue. People come out drunk of nightclubs and cause fights. What does cannabis cause? You just want to sleep!”
“I’d rather see people coming out of chill-out cafes with the giggles than come out of clubs and beating each other up”
“Why can’t cannabis be legalised and taxed and the money spent on tackling the problems of harder drugs?”
It was suggested that Personal and Social Education should allow for more discussion, rather than taking a lecture format. Then people might take more notice.
“You’re more likely to listen if people don’t talk at you.”
“PSE classes do prepare you but it’s up to you if you use the information.”
There was also debate about what age to give young people information about drugs.
“The point is not trying to talk someone out of taking drugs but stopping them taking them in the first place…..”
“but if you’re young you haven’t got the experience to know what it means.”
An electronic vote was taken later in the afternoon, at the request of one participant, to find compare how many participants had used cannabis and how many had drunk alcohol. As predicted by participants, the the two percentages were both high: 68 per cent said that they’d smoked cannabis while 92 per cent had drunk alcohol.
IDENTITY – LIVING IN BRITAIN TODAY
articipants spent time in tables of ten talking about Britain’s identity and role in the world. Many of the images they felt symbolised Britain were traditional: the British bulldog, spitfires, a pint of beer, fish and chips, cucumber sandwiches, rubbish weather, James Bond, football, the Union Jack. Others included the countryside, vindaloo, the NHS, the Red Cross, Tony Blair and David Beckham. Others, such as ‘teenage mothers’ probably reflect negative coverage of British society in the media. (Negative media was something that was mentioned several times during the afternoon and blamed for creating a pessimistic atmosphere, especially in relation to the portrayal of young people.)
A discussion on the north-south divide revealed the extent to which they felt that the north is viewed as the poor relation to the south. Dismissed by some outsiders as a no-mans land and therefore less likely to enjoy the investment that is put into the south. The decision to rebuild the national stadium at Wembley was seen as evidence of this.
“Some people have a perception that nothing happens outside London – they think it’s a barren wasteland or something”
A discussion on where decisions should be made revealed a desire to have a more balanced distribution of power that would ensure local decisions were made by people affected by them and with most experience of the area.
“Londoners have far too much power…it should be more evenly spread”
“more power to local government and local councils”
“There is an argument that people living in cities shouldn’t be making decisions about people who live elsewhere”
Looking beyond the North/South divide, participants were asked about Britain’s alliances with other countries. On Europe there were mixed views, 25 per cent felt that Britain should be closer to Europe, 34 per cent didn’t want Britain to be any closer and 27 per cent felt our relationship with Europe should remain as it is. On a vote on whether or not Britain should join the Euro, 69 per cent were against and 29 per cent were for joining.
On America, views were more clear cut. More than 67 per cent felt that it is important for Britain to be close to America.
“It’s useful for us to have an alliance with such a big country. It’s better to be on good terms than bad terms anyway” “It’s better for trade”
“Americans have cracked down on crime and we can learn from them”
In the general discussion the feeling that Britain should not lose its national identity was strong. This is reflected in the Euro vote result. Several groups mentioned cutting third world debts, although the general sentiment was for putting British interests above all else.
NATIONAL POLICY VOTES
In the final session of the day participants were asked to vote on a range of national policy issues and debates.
Participants were fairly evenly divided on the role of Government in distributing wealth more equitably, although a larger number were against intervention.
Participants trusted business more than Government or the media. However, many complained that there was not a ‘none of the above’ option, and in a show of hands preceding the vote they indicated their mistrust of all three. The participants thought that the media was the more powerful than government or business.
And on Iraq, the vote was close, considering the question was about a US, rather than UN led, attack. However, marginally more of the participants were against the strikes.
After the event
This report was made available to attendees at ippr events during the rest of the Labour Party Conference period.
Blackpool Council will be more than happy to give advice to any young people wishing to get involved in the Youth Council or other community work. Please contact Head of Youth Services, George Holden: email@example.com
or 01253 476575.
ippr would like to thank all the young people who gave up their Saturday afternoon to come to ‘illuminate’ and Blackpool Council and Leisure Parcs for supporting the event.
If you would like to know more about the event or about ippr’s other public involvement work contact Laura Edwards on 0207 470 6110 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org