Learning how to change a lightbulb or cashing up a tuckshop till are not the first things that spring to mind when it comes to youth clubs.
But then Hawick’s Escape Youth Cafe is about as far removed as you could get from the 1980s stereotype of youth clubs as just a place to get young people off the streets for a few hours, with the odd Friday night disco thrown in.
Set up as a drop-in facility in 2005, following a ‘youth summit’, the cafe in the town’s Commercial Road opens its doors five nights a week – including Saturdays – plus on Wednesdays at lunchtime.
During the evenings, the P6/7 age group use the cafe on Wednesdays from 6.30-8.30pm, while the S1 up age group are in on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7-9.30pm and on Fridays from 7-10pm.
Saturdays see all those in the age group from P7 upwards able to use the cafe from 7-10pm.
The cafe gives young people the chance not only to be involved and consulted on what activities they want to see, but to also take part fully in the management and growth of the establishment.
The 156 members come from Hawick and the surrounding area and, as well as having their own space to meet and socialise with friends, the cafe also creates opportunities, supports development and maintenance of social, domestic and educational skills, and promotes healthy lifestyles and leisure pursuits.
Members pay 20p per night, after which everything – except obviously food from the tuckshop – is free, including the use of computers, pool tables, air hockey game, Playstation and X-Box games.
These are the things that draw young people in, but once through the doors they find a world of opportunities opening up to them.
Outreach work, residential trips and creative media workshops in music, poetry, film and drama are all avilable, as are various sports, crafts and other activities.
Sian Snowdon is the Voluntary Youth Work Services Manager at the cafe and is supported by part-time senior youth worker Wendy Fiddes and nine volunteer staff.
“We want the young people to see this as their project and involve them as much as possible in the decision-making process about what is offered and how the place is run,” Sian explained.
“Whether they want to do football, craft work, any other kind of sport – anything they can come up with, we will look at if the resources are there.”
Although young people can come and go as they please to the cafe, Sian and her staff usually find that once inside, the young people tend to stay for the majority of that evening’s session.
“Each session is usually two-and-a-half to three hours and we offer at least one activity they can opt into if they want.
“It is up to the young people, but it’s our role as staff to try to encourage them to try new things they’ve never done before and to engage in new experiences.”
In the summer months, the cafe even organises outdoor activities and trips, while workshops were held last year on such diverse subjects, such as graffiti art and cookery.
Cafe staff have also performed valuable work with young people experiencing attendance issues at school, as well as with local primary seven classes, helping them prepare for the move up to the town’s secondary.
With Hawick being a very sports-orientated town, there are those youngsters who come to the cafe because they want something different.
“We get a mixture. We tend to get the sporty ones more in the winter when the weather is not so great, and their attendances tend to taper off as the weather gets better in the summer,” said Wendy
“But we also get young people who don’t access sport for a variety of reasons, including a lack of money, disability or because they’re just not interested.”
And it’s not just young people who are benefitting from the cafe’s existence.
Those offering their services as volunteers often find that it leads to new qualifications, improved CVs and even employment in the youth work sector.
Youngsters also have already found that their experience at the cafe of working a till and being responsible for handling money can open doors, with several obtaining part-time jobs as a result.
“We’ve even had a session on how to change a lightbulb because someone asked about that!” added Wendy.