Youths given a voice in Peeblesshire in a bid to tackle anti-social behaviour

Community leaders are calling on young people in Peeblesshire to help them erase the ‘anti’ out of anti-social behaviour.

Haylodge Park has been mooted as a possible site for creating a shelter and fire pit where youngsters can socialise. Photo: Olga Olesheva.
Haylodge Park has been mooted as a possible site for creating a shelter and fire pit where youngsters can socialise. Photo: Olga Olesheva.

Initiatives by Peebles Community Council to tackle the problem over many years have so far been unsuccessful, with unpaid volunteers who give up their free time at weekends to engage with youngsters sometimes being chastised for their approach.

The location for the community council’s meeting last week to discuss anti-social

behaviour was Peebles High School, where members were joined by headteacher

Campbell Wilson, his deputies, the Parent Council, representatives from Scottish Borders Council, youth workers, sergeants of Police Scotland and a group of students from the school.

The meeting could have easily gone down the route of a heated blame game with people venting their frustration, but it was the complete opposite.

And whilst acknowledging the rise of anti-social behaviour, there was no demonising or criminalising of teens.

This was quickly established by community council chairman, Les Turnbull, who started off the meeting by gratefully acknowledging the students who attended.

His message was echoed by Mr Wilson, who proudly stated he is the headteacher of the school with the best young people in Scotland.

However, anti-social behaviour, left unchecked, can destroy lives and shatter communities.

Mr Turnbull spoke about the problems, particularly acts of vandalism.

“We must not, and I don’t intend to, demonise all young people, because I know that most of the young people are decent and respectful individuals. That being said, we cannot escape the fact that a lot of anti-social behaviour is caused by young people, so we have to try and find a way to address these issues.”

Tackling crime and disorder is not just the duty of police, and Mr Turnbull said he wanted to engage in a multi-agency approach.

Community councillors Malcolm Bruce and Sophie Hamilton had developed a strategy working in conjunction with the police.

Mr Bruce said: “From the very start we knew there was a need for us to engage with the young people in the town, because there’s too much mudslinging and name calling going on. Why do we need to talk to them? Because we need the young people to tell us what it is that’s wrong, and what we, as a community council, can do about it.”

Last summer, community councillors, and Dave Hodson from Tweeddale Youth Action, took to the streets and parks of Peebles over the course of a weekend in an effort to chat to the youths. They decided to offer free pizza – a move that was publicly mocked.

“Sadly from my point of view, that idea was met with a lot of ridicule which I think was

unwarranted within the community. Someone made a comment online, along the lines of, ‘if I break someone’s window, will I get a free curry’. Clearly people couldn’t see what we were trying to do.”

Whilst the community council has no money, Mr Malcolm said it can “bring pressure to bear” in locating funds for youth projects.

As for the school’s role in making sure that students behave respectfully in the community, Mr Wilson said: “We want a community that promotes respect and respectful behaviour and positivity towards the community, and we have that in spades in our young people at Peebles High School.”

Senior leaders are on duty within the school during lunch intervals, but resources are too thin on the ground to deploy staff into the community.

Mr Wilson continued: “There’s a role for the school to support them in making better

choices when they are outside in the community, and we can work together to improve this.”

In collaboration with Peebles Community Council, a survey was sent to all the students in the school regarding their experiences as young members of their communities.

It revealed teenagers wanted spaces designated for them to enjoy – a place where “they can hang out” with friends. A cafe, open in the evening, and the freedom to enjoy life without judgement.

Mr Turnbull said the results resonated with ideas discussed at community council meetings regarding sheltered areas in parks for youngsters. "We have to think as a community how we can pull this together,” he said. “We want to make young people proud of our town.”

The meeting heard that there are difficulties in engaging with some parents, because they didn’t feel valued as young people.

Depute headteacher Donna Moretta, who has worked at Peebles High School for 32

years, shared her ideas on creating the change that is needed in society.

“Our young people are phenomenal, and they’ll be the parents of the future. We’re not going to reach all parents. I think we can do something about it by targeting the young people now, by involving them, giving them a voice and listening and talking to them.”

The school fire in 2019, which was shortly followed by the pandemic and subsequent

lockdown, upturned the lives of Peebles High students. They were confined to their

homes, with months of virtual learning.

They are emerging from those dark days, and this was summed up by Tweeddale

Councillor Drummond Begg, who said, right now, we need kindness and compassion.

An olive branch has been offered to the younger generation of Peeblesshire, inviting them to use their voice, asking them what they want - imploring them to build a community they can grow up in and be proud of, rather than destroying it.