Reasons for Epsom Phab
Epsom Phab is a youth club that runs for two hours every Friday evening, in the borough of Epsom & Ewell It has provided activities for disabled and able-bodied children since its inception in 1978. It has around 120 members aged from 8-16, in this paper I have used the words children, youth and young people interchangeably to describe this age group. For the past 30 years it has been running its services from the Linton Centre in Epsom, yet on the 20th December 2011 Surrey County Council decided to sell the lease for the centre, meaning that the 120 members that attend the club may be left with nowhere to go. Youth centres are vitally important, it is about more than giving young people a place to go, it is about giving young people a place to go where they don’t just sit around bored, they are active and have many experiences to be gained by partaking in a variety of activities. Research has shown that youth centres which merely give young people somewhere to sit down and hang out with friends without anything else provided can actually be detrimental, it is about the activities and equipment provided to motivate the children and young people (BBC, 2007a).
The reasons behind the council deciding the sell the building were that it is “too expensive to run and too old” (May, 2011. p11). And Councillor Kay Hammond assured that there would be no loss of provision when speaking on BBC Surrey Radio (2012). In order to understand what would be required, the people making the decision need to know the facilities that are currently available at the club and crucially why they are required, including the impact they have on the children. Decision makers also need to understand the impact the club has on the Epsom and Ewell community and why it is important that the council allow us to keep this service running by providing us with somewhere to meet each week.
Firstly one of the main reasons Epsom Phab is important is because it is based around the idea of integration and inclusion. This means that regardless of ability, everyone is included. Inclusion is a large topic which has been focused on by policy makers in recent years, statements have become available and practitioners are doing their best to show policy makers that laws need to change to make sure inclusion is at the forefront when it comes to people with disabilities. Inclusion cannot be taught, it is an attitude rather than a program, and it is a philosophy that our club holds. It is about accepting differences but also about responding to the needs of each individual young person. It is really important for inclusion to occur, and it does so through integration. Inclusion is important to make sure that ignorance, which can occur through lack of awareness, or discrimination does not happen. Inclusion works at Epsom Phab because children see their peers, regardless of whether they have a disability, as just another friend.
The second reason Epsom Phab is important, is because of the advantages of free-flow play. Epsom Phab provides an environment where children can move around between areas and can try out different things without an adult leading them and telling them where to go or what to do. This is crucial, especially with the disabled children, because as Bruce (1991) explains in her book, “Time to Play”, children with special educational needs may find that teachers and helpers are pushing large amounts of education on them in the hope that this will make them quicker when trying to meet development goals, yet they ignore the fact that children learn through child-initiated play. Epsom Phab facilitates children in this play; they are in a safe environment where they can enjoy themselves supervised by adults who are there to help them. It is integral that they are surrounded by peers that have both special needs and ones that do not. Many clubs for young people with disabilities segregate disabled children from children without special educational needs, but we find at Epsom Phab, children work well together and have fun regardless of ability.
Currently at the Linton Centre we have a variety of facilities and features. An important starting point is that the centre is not open for public access at the times we are using it. This means everyone is the building is related to Epsom Phab. In the past we have had issues at other centres (having been relocated from the Linton Centre for maintenance and repairs) because members of the public have been around, and this has caused problems in making sure the children at Epsom Phab are safe and secure. Also the centre is completely shut off from the surrounding area, so children do not need one to one supervision unless required for reasons of facilitation, as they cannot leave the centre unnoticed. This opportunity of being completely secure is important for the wellbeing of the young people and the reassurance for the parents. Anywhere else that is provided would need to be shut off from the public and completely secure, with one main entrance which is manned at all times by one of our volunteers. The Linton Centre works well with Epsom Phab’s aims of providing a variety of activities to cater for the needs and desires of the many children that attend. There is a coffee bar where we have a tuck shop selling refreshments, such as penny sweets. This is really good for the children as it helps them to become independent as they are dealing with a shop situation, yet they have adults to help them if needed and they are only dealing with small amounts of money. This area also provides space for sitting down, having a chat and playing board games, a pool table and a TV screen where a Playstation is set up so children can try out some games specially suited for their age. It has been accepted that children should never spend too long at the screen and they are encouraged to find a different activity if they spend too long there. Because it in an open space, it is much less detrimental then a child sitting in a room at home on their own spending hours on a game not designed for their age. There is an activity room where circus skills take place and there is a table tennis table set out. These are activities which children don’t usually get access to so it is good for them to build on different skills. One of the main features is a large activity hall which can be used for unihoc, football, dance, parachute games and many other activities. This gives children a space to run around but can also be used for events such as discos and shows. At Linton’s we also have a classroom which we use for dance and drama, discussions and presentations. Another room we have is an arts and crafts room where the young people can be creative, we have a large storage cupboard in this room where all the equipment relating to arts and crafts can be kept, and there is a busy timetable for which crafts will be going on each week, a variety of materials and mediums is key for shaping a child’s development (Bruce, 1991). Alongside this storage space, we also have a large general walk-in cupboard for storage, and a radio station which is used for the storage of large items, but it also used for children being able to chose the music they want to listen to on the sound system that runs round the building and being able to speak into the microphone. This again provides a different experience that children would not usually get to encounter. Finally, and possibly one of the most important facilities, is the outside area, comprising of three flood-lit courts and a grassy area. We feel this area is essential to Epsom Phab as it plays host to a variety of activities and events.
When deciding upon a new building, it needs to have an outdoor area. In the past children had a lot more freedom and were allowed to go out alone and spend time doing things that nowadays adults would find risky. Because of the fear adults have today that their children could be unsafe in the occurrence of encountering strangers, parents are much more likely to let their children spend all day inside, playing on the computer, watching TV and playing games. As Palmer explores in her book “Toxic Childhood” (2006), this is having a negative impact upon children. Children need to be allowed to space to run around and enjoy themselves, this has a positive impact on their wellbeing, both physically and mentally, and it allows them to let off steam. Because of the restrictions that are now placed upon children in regards to being prevented from playing outdoors, children are less likely to have experiences of the outdoors themselves, and are also less likely to make mistakes in which they can learn from (Brooks, 2006). It has also been suggested because the risk aversion in the UK is getting to an all time high, meaning that children are advised against doing things that a short risk assessment would actually ensure to be safe, just because they may get hurt. Even with all this precaution, it has been calculated in a UNICEF study that children in the UK came very low down in a study that looked at the happiness of children in 21 industrialised countries (BBC, 2007b). This figure illustrates how more needs to be done for children, and a key starting point would be to give them the opportunity to play outside and have fun in the open air, in which to have their opportunity to play and expecting good outcomes.
When looking at childhood in this modern age, there are many issues that children face. There is the media influencing them; inescapable consumerism; the fact that parents are working more and so they have less quality family time. The list of negative things the children of today have to face is never ending. Yet many people only focus on the negatives, they look at the bad things like this summer’s riots and children that cause trouble, and then blame it all on the factors mentioned above. However, the everyday achievements of participation and positive nature of children are seldom celebrated. Epsom Phab provides an environment where even small achievement is celebrated and a positive attitude is created. The primary purpose of Epsom Phab is to be a place where children can meet up and have fun, they do not have to have a purpose, they do not go there to get high grades, score well on an exam or to achieve something in particular. The simply go for the fact they can enjoy themselves. It is really important that children are allowed to be children. Because of factors like the media and our consumer culture, children themselves are becoming consumers and are trying to grow up before they are ready. This leads to them to missing out on their childhood. This period in life is unique; this is where a human first starts to discover themselves and where self esteem is built. It is where friendships are developed and where responsibilities are beginning to be established. Because of the nature of childhood it is important that children are given places in which they can just be children. In recent years there has been the recurring notion of giving children a voice and emphasising children as the adults of tomorrow who need to be trained in their childhood so they are equipped for adulthood, this sees children as primarily adult in the making, and this brings up the debate of beings and becomings which Uprichard illustrates in her paper (2008). If a child is looked at as a being, they are a child who is constructing their own childhood and it is an important period of their lives which they actively input into. Whereas seeing a child as a becoming is the child being an adult in waiting, they are training for their adult lives and gaining the skills that will shape them as adults. At Epsom Phab we create a balance of the two constructions, the children take part in activities which allow them to be worry-free and have fun with their friends, yet we also encourage them to have their own say and let them voice their opinions about the things that matter to them. This is important in making sure children can enjoy their childhood, but also equips them with life skills which they learn subconsciously as the go along.
Something that is special about our club is that it is run entirely by a group of volunteers. This means that none of the people helping get paid for their services, and also it means that they have jobs outside of Epsom Phab from which they bring their expertise to put into the club. A volunteer is very different from a Youth Worker and this distinction needs to be established. A volunteer does the work because they want to, they do not have to have qualifications, whereas a Youth Worker needs qualifications and is paid, because it is their job. The vast majority work their hours and then leave their work at work. The difference is, for volunteers their youth work is for fun and to help others with no reward for themselves. Research has shown that people that volunteer are much happier than average people and they score high in tests for all aspects of well-being (Thoits and Hewitt, 2001). This is a noticeable when talking to children about their experiences in relation to volunteers and youth workers. In many cases young people find that volunteers are much happier to be in a situation with young people and enjoy being around them and helping them out. It is well known that through social learning, a young person, particularly someone with low self esteem, a lack of maturity or a genetic pre-disposition, is majorly influenced by role models. They observe the behaviour, remember it and then model this behaviour. (Bandura, 1977). People that are working with children should be good role models and should set standards from which they can achieve along with the children they are working with.
Surrey County Council have insisted that they will have a year to find a new centre for Epsom Phab and the other groups that use the Linton Centre (May, 2012). Yet the adults making these decisions appear to cease to remember that in childhood, life seems to move very quickly and much can change in a year. Children should not have to live in a state of uncertainty for this period of time. They want to know that provision will be assured for them now. Another worry is that they may be out of a centre completely, for a long period of time. This was the case with the Wells Respite Centre in Epsom closing in 2006 and there still being no full opening of the proposed Applewood’s Children Centre in Tadworth, even now it is 2012. The loss of a place for Epsom Phab to meet, even for a few months, would have lasting effects. Children grow up quickly, without anywhere to meet, they would be forced to find other places to go, be that sitting at home on a Friday evening watching television with no social interaction, or going out into the local town, where they may not be safe and could potentially end up in situations involving trouble. If provision was lost for a few months or even years, the children of today would not require the service anymore as they would be growing out of it, and then the club would have to start from scratch recruiting younger people. This would be both difficult for the club, and for the children who have lost out of the services. The Phab children need consistency. It has been proven that with disabled children consistency is key to their development. The Department for Education has stated that they want to strive towards consistency in services for children with special needs over five (2011). Although disabled children need different experiences in order to develop their learning, these need to be based in a familiar setting with familiar people around them. Children with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) especially would find changing between venues difficult, and so losing out on provision for even a few weeks would be very detrimental for them and could mean they can’t start attending club nights again after stopping because of the adjusting that would have to be done if having to move between multiple venues.
When deciding whether or not Epsom Phab will be losing the Linton Centre decision makers have to take the concerns of the young people and those adults that are there for them on board. Young people have a voice and it must be listened to. There is so much negativity surrounding young people in our modern age, so when young people that are making a difference and doing something positive for their community come along and want to be heard, this is what must happen. The children of today are the adults of tomorrow, they will be the decision makers for the future generation, and whatever they learn from the adults surrounding them at this age will affect their later life. If children aren’t going to be listened to and the adults make decisions which will not affect them, but will affect the lives of many children regardless of what they have asked for, then the youth service in our county becomes redundant. On Surrey’s website they state, ‘In Surrey we encourage young people to be involved in shaping the service delivery that directly affects them. Surrey Youth Development Service has made a pledge to involve young people in the consultation and decision making processes which will inform the future of the County’. Yet the way they went about selling the Youth Centre without any consultation with the young people in Surrey suggests they are not able to keep uphold what they have set forward. They have young people actively coming to them and asking to be consulted. Something must be done about this. The next generation is crucial, and they must be looked after and given the respect they deserve.
Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. New York: General Learning Press.
BBC, 2007a. Do Youth Clubs help stop crime? [online] available at <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/6917077.stm>
BBC, 2007b. No outdoor play ‘hurts children’ [online] available at <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6986544.stm>
Brooks, L. 2006.The story of Childhood Growing up in modern Britain. London: Bloomsbury Publishing
Bruce, T. 1991. Time to Play. London: Hodder and Stoughton.
Department for Education, 2011. Voluntary and community organisations to play a key role in helping children with special educational needs and disabilities. [press notice] 4 November 2011. Available online at <http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:HWUrdha48vYJ:www.education.gov.uk/a00199898/voluntary-and-community-organisations-to-play-a-key-role-in-helping-children-with-special-educational-needs-and-disabilities+disabled+children+and+consistency&cd=3&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk>
Hammond, K. 2012. Interviewing on the Breakfast Show interviewed by Nick Wallis [radio] BBC Radio Surrey. 9th January 2012, 8:40.
Palmer, S. 2006. Toxic Childhood. London: Orion Books.
Surrey County Council, 2012. Involving Young People. [online] available at <http://www.surreycc.gov.uk/get-involved/surrey-youth-parliament/involving-young-people>
Thoits, P and Hewitt, L. 2001. Volunteer Work and Well-being. Journal of Health and Social Behaviour. Vol 42. p115-131.
Uprichard, E. (2008) Children as ‘Being and Becomings’: Children, Childhood and Temporality. Children and Society. 22. pg 303-313.