Home Page It's time to hit the cheap alcohol not the kids who drink it 11/06/10

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

Every month various agencies in Haverhill, led by the police, get together to sort out any particular problems which have arisen anywhere in the town which could threaten people’s safety in any way.

It’s mostly about ways in which the different organisations can work together to find solutions to quite minor things which annoy people such as parking, litter, noise, damage, etc, but which, if nothing is done about them can begin to make people’s lives a misery, or even put them in danger.

The agencies meet more often privately in the quest for solutions of chronic difficulties, but their monthly get-together is in public, and aimed at getting the public to come along and take part.

The fact that not many do is partly because Haverhill is generally a very safe place anyway, where not much serious crime goes on. There is a predictable amount of nuisance crime – theft from vehicles, criminal damage, alcohol-related disorder, but it’s pretty small stuff, mostly.

There was one of these meetings this week, and it was almost scratching around for something to do. What there was – and mostly has been, in recent months – was all related to the mix of young people and alcohol.

It’s the first England match of the World Cup tomorrow, so it’s not an easy time to go round telling young people they shouldn’t be drinking.

But there is an issue in small towns of young people having little to do and so hanging around in groups and getting used to drinking alcohol under-age.

Haverhill is very fortunate now to have a new activities truck, launched last week, which the youth service will be taking around to various hotspots where young people congregate. It is stacked with up-to-date sound and information technology, as well as sports equipment, so there is something for those who like to exercise just their thumb and their brain, as well as those who like a kick-around.

This truck is the envy of other towns in Suffolk, so we must hope it is successful and can be kept solely for Haverhill use, because you can be sure that if it can be proved that Haverhill kids don’t use it much, somewhere else will put together a good argument as to why they should have a look in as well, or even instead.

However, I doubt whether this will entirely solve the problem. It has come about because many young people nowadays, apparently, like to go out of an evening, but no longer want to be ‘building-based’. In other words, they don’t like youth clubs.

I don’t blame them. I never did. In my day such places were always wanting to get you to do something, and they could be a bit cliquey as well. Maybe it’s still the same, I wouldn’t know.

The point is that at that age I didn’t particularly want to do anything constructive. I just wanted to do something I liked doing, and if that was watching TV then why not?

Alcohol, of course, was not as available to young people in those days as it is now. There has been some talk of restricting sales of cheap alcohol through supermarkets recently, and I would whole-heartedly support that.

As I have written before, drinking alcohol responsibly is something you have to learn to do, whether it be a bottle of cider behind the bike sheds or an allowed glass of shandy at home.

Although drinking at home is fine within a responsible family set-up, it has its pitfalls. Comfortable, cosy, friendly pubs are the best places to drink and chew over everything from football to finance.

Unfortunately, whereas pubs used to be an adult environment, they have become increasingly childish over the last 30 years, as economic pressures have mounted upon them. Cheap off-licences and supermarkets, gastro-disasters, horrendously loud music and the drink-drive laws have all contributed to the decline of the pub.

Then along came undercutting pub chains, with their poorly-served but wide selections, to stick in the final knife. It’s not easy to find a decent, friendly bar with good beer in a town nowadays. If it wasn’t for the Queen’s Head, people like me might be hanging around outdoors of an evening, trying to find somewhere for a chat with their mates.

I suppose I was always lucky that, once weaned onto real ale, the gunk that passes for beer in bottles or cans, however cheap, was never going to have any attraction, so the temptation to grab a six-pack and head for the woodland was never there.

But I sympathise with a lot of young people wrestling with the art of social drinking nowadays. You could be loud in a pub and everyone laughs. Outdoors they call it anti-social behaviour, and it then leads on to other things which are unacceptable, and everyone gets on their case.

If we could get rid of the cheap drink, we might also revive the decent pub and social behaviour, rather than anti-social behaviour.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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