MELKSHAM’S teenagers feel “unfairly represented” by negative stories about them online and in the media – and they want to be more included in local community matters.
These are the findings of 17-year old Melksham Oak student Lucy Birt, who investigated the “negative stereotype” that surrounds local young people in the town, whilst on work experience at Melksham News.
“There has always been a stigma attached to teenagers, a negative stereotype that follows us around,” reports Lucy, “and it doesn’t help that the media tends to only shows stories that help produce this.
“On 30th May, one of Melksham’s youths set fire to a bench in the local park. Many have been complaining about that person and his actions, but they’ve also been grouping his behaviour with every other youth in town. All over social media people have been criticising teenagers just because of one person’s actions. And according to The Guardian, this is a clear example of why 4 out of 5 teens feel unfairly represented.”
To find out how the youth of Melksham feel, Lucy sent a questionnaire to a year 10 group at Melksham Oak school, asking them what they want from Melksham. She also asked them about how they feel being a young person in the town.
“The responses clearly showed that they too feel unfairly represented by the way the media defines them from other people’s behaviour,” said Lucy. “They suggested that if people are so concerned for the way teenagers act, then the mayor should take action and do something about it to settle people’s concerns – either by including teenagers in certain decisions so people can see that teenagers are part of the community, or by addressing more positive stories so there’s not such a stigma attached to teenagers.”
Lucy also reached out to the mayor, cllr Jon Hubbard, and cllr Jack Oatley – both well-known in the community for their youth work at the Canberra Centre – for their opinions on Melksham’s youth and what more can be done to support them.
Lucy: “Social media and the news tend to represent all young people as bad people. Do you believe this is a fair representation of all young people?”
Cllr Hubbard said, “I absolutely do not see young people as bad people. There are a huge number of amazing, talented, and compassionate young people in our community – the tragedy is that these young people don’t make headlines, so it’s only the few who do misbehave who are spoken about all the time.
“Seven years ago I established the Melksham Young People’s Awards in our town to celebrate these young people and I am looking forward to reinstating these once we are fully through Covid. These awards identified just some of the fantastic truths about the majority of our young people in Melksham and I hope that people will focus on these many and not the few.”
Cllr Oatley said, “No, I don’t believe the negative stories about young people on social media and the news is a fair representation of who young people are. Unfortunately, there is a small handful of young people who give young people a bad name, but this isn’t every young person and it certainly isn’t all young people.
“Young people should be better recognised for their achievements and work within the community rather than negative stories.”
Lucy: “Do you have any plans or hopes to help make the town more interesting for young people?”
Cllr Hubbard said, “I would be keen to see the town council, working with partners at the Area Board and maybe Melksham Without Parish Council, establish a Melksham Area Youth Council which would give young people the opportunity to become part of the decision-making process in our town and not be the only group that is excluded from taking part.
“There are some young people who need to have their behaviour addressed, but there are also many adults who also need to change the way they behave. It’s very easy to blame young people, they struggle to answer back and since time began, older people have been challenged by the change that comes with new lives and the developments we see in society.
“At 4Youth (South West) – formerly Young Melksham – we are actively seeking new ways to support young people and are launching an exciting new mentoring programme to support young people as they face the challenging transition from secondary school and college into Higher Education and employment.
“If we really want to see a change in young people, then let’s be the change ourselves. Just as we say that young people should respect their elders, let’s us older ones respect the young people as well!”
Cllr Oatley said, “Yes, I do have plans to help make the town more interesting for young people, but I think this should be done with consultation with the young people.
“We should continue to support and work alongside young people’s groups and clubs within the town, but most importantly listening to our young people, finding out their needs and wants, and working with them to improve the town for them.
“Going forward, I would like to see a young people’s council or young people’s group to feedback to the council on what they would like to see for the town and contribute in making decisions that involve young people in our town.”
Lucy: “In your ‘Together for Melksham’ scheme, you only accept people to take part if they’re 18 or older. Would you consider opening it up to younger people to hear their ideas for the town?”
Cllr Hubbard said, “In the period prior to the election, Together for Melksham was looking to recruit candidates to stand for election. Unfortunately, the law stipulates that you have to be 18 to be able to participate in elections, either as a voter or a candidate. I would prefer to see that limit reduced to 16.
“As I said earlier, I would love to see a Melksham Area Youth Council that encouraged young people to be part of the decision-making process in our community and will be trying to get the other councillors to agree to introducing this.
“Age is just a number, it should never be a barrier to someone’s voice being heard or needs being considered by those in authority.
“Finally, some of your questions have hinted at the challenges there are of the perception of large numbers of young people being involved in anti-social behaviour. I would suggest that if we invested as much effort in engaging our young people that we do in putting them down, then we would see more young people excel and achieve and see less of them feeling excluded, ignored and unappreciated.”