Communities watch with interest as youths diverted from disorder

A GROUP of teenage boys in Selkirk are at the centre of a groundbreaking initiative which seeks to sew the seeds of harmony across the generational divide, writes Andrew Keddie.

If the 10-week programme is successful, it may be taken on board in other Borders communities in which older people have a negative perception of youngsters.

The nine Selkirk boys, aged 14 and 15, have, with the blessing of their parents, signed up for a ‘diversionary’ project which aims to reduce antisocial behaviour and improve the lot of householders who have reported alleged incidents of noise, intimidation and damage to property.

The lads know they are by no means the only ones in their age group whose activities have caused consternation. Complaints about the playing of ball games, the dropping of litter and the use of bad language have been aired regularly over the past year at the open forum section of Selkirk’s community council.

The need to address the issue of distrust between the generations peaked in November when Curror Street resident Dave Firth claimed the antics of youngsters were making his and his neighbours lives miserable.

This galvinised the ongoing resolve of the police, the community learning department of Scottish Borders Council and the volunteers who run Rowland’s Dry Bar in the town’s West Port to come up with a solution. And with the support of Selkirk Rotary Club, the project was born.

“We don’t go out of our way to cause trouble, but we’re just looking for something to do,” said 15-year-old Pedro Corria. “We realise it’s not cool to upset people and I reckon we all have a much better insight into how what we do is perceived and the impact it has on our community.”

That respect was fostered at a “restorative conference” held at Rowland’s recently when the youngsters came face to face with some of the older adults who had expressed concern over the behaviour of the town’s youth.

“We all learned a lot from that and the adults were, by and large, really quite fair,” said Greg Sandilands, also 15. “I think they appreciated that there’s not much to do for our age group in Selkirk and we heard from them about the impact of antisocial behaviour and how upsetting it is for them.”

Greg, Pedro and the other teenagers began their programme with a community project to revamp Curror Street by building a new eco-greenhouse in the grounds of Knowepark Primary school – made out of around 1,500 plastic soft drink bottles which janitor Bob Falconer has collected from the school grounds in the last four months. They will also paint shelters and tidy up the garden area within the school. A delighted Bob told us: “It’s great to see these guys, who are really role models for the younger children at our school, getting stuck in in this way. Funding is still to be worked out, but we are hoping to get the lads to help create a small dedicated area for ball games, with nets, in a fenced-off area between the school and Anderson Road.

“That should address many of the noise issues residents have complained about, and hopefully it will instill a sense of pride in what the youngsters have created themselves.”

This week the boys will visit a young offenders’ institution to speak to youngsters about the harsh realities of life behind bars. They are due to undertake a fitness and healthy lifestyle seminar organised by the Scottish Rugby Union next week.

Rotarian and retired police chief inspector Doug Forsyth commended the project.

“A lot of our members are businessmen with a real interest in helping the young people of the town develop the confidence and self-esteem they will need when they enter the job market,” explained Doug. “This is just the kind of initiative to help achieve that aim.”

PC Rachel Stevenson, the local integration officer for Selkirk and Earlston, added: “This project was launched not only to address the concerns of the community, but also to provide the youngsters with a sense of purpose and pride in the activities they undertake.

“The support of all the young participants has been tremendous and they can’t wait to get stuck in.”