Hart of the Matter
There have been all sorts of ideas put forward for a share in the Haverhill Community Partnership pot, and next week decisions will be made about which ones will get something – in fact you may get a chance to vote on it.
Among the ideas which it is thought might benefit the town and the community, several are to do with leisure activities – for instance meeting hall space, help with clerical work for voluntary groups and so on.
Haverhill has a large number of voluntary groups, and not that many large places to meet. Community halls are pretty well booked in the evenings and at weekends, which is when people have leisure time to take part in these various activities.
Similarly, groups have a lot of bureaucracy to deal with nowadays – health and safety, CRB checks, bids for money from various funding sources, etc, and it is thought they could do with some help with that. Most importantly, many of these are run for the benefit of youngsters.
However, the problem is rather more fundamental in many ways, and stems to a large degree from changes in the way people live their lives.
Thirty years ago many leisure activities were thriving which have since died the death through lack of support. Others have virtually had to reinvent themselves to retain any popularity.
Not content with all these changes which society has undergone, the Government sees fit to add all sorts of regulations of its own, which seem intent on making it more and more difficult to run any form of voluntary activity.
We have seen the problems youth football clubs now have because of the regulations over who is allowed to drive youngsters to matches.
The same is true of any form of outing. Disabled groups have difficulties getting up trips, and I am told some pantomimes in the area now suffer lower attendances as a result. As for any sort of public event, that is hedged around with all sorts of safety regulation and risk assessment.
In Haverhill many of these sorts of events are now run by one or other of the councils, because they have the staff to be trained in all the necessary areas to allow the event to go ahead.
It’s bad enough for them, but if you work in the voluntary sector, this sort of thing is a nightmare, because it requires people, at a time when people have less and less time to devote to leisure activities and more and more competing avenues of entertainment which are a lot less fraught (although they may not be as good for you!).
The latest cracking wheeze the Government has come up with is likely to affect the area of leisure time activity in which I have mostly been involved for the last thirty-plus years – drama.
As with football, there are lots of kids who want to have their hour on the stage, and it used to be pretty straightforward. Nowadays, alas, there are so many regulations which cover putting on youth drama that many adult groups just stay away from it altogether.
The most time-consuming of these is the amount of chaperoning required for all under 16s. It means that at all public performances there have to be a specific number of fully CRB-checked chaperones per number of youngsters.
This is a major challenge and means that whether or not the activity can take place is dependent on the number of people prepared to get themselves CRB checked and then sit in dressing rooms with youngsters when they are not performing.
But now the Government has a plan to extend this to rehearsals, and I see some top actors have already pointed out this could be the end of children going on stage at all. Sir Ian McKellan was heavily critical of the idea the other day, saying there has never been a case of abuse within an amateur dramatic organisation for the last 50 years.
It is certainly yet another big stumbling block to allowing youngsters to do something which an unending stream of them seems to want to do. And then surveys highlight that there is not enough for young people to do.
I know from talking to people in other activities that drama is not alone in finding this bureaucratic pressure so great that you end up wondering whether you can be bothered with it any longer – and the sufferers will be the kids who, one hopes, would have made up the next generation of organisers.
So serious efforts need to be directed at recruiting people who are prepared to fulfil the increasingly stringent requirements the Government is laying down. People are far more difficult to raise than cash. Otherwise groups and clubs will collapse and then we won’t need any more meeting spaces, or clerical help or anything else for that matter.