Bridging the generation gap
Burnley in Lancashire, scene of race riots in 2001, still has some of the worst community relations in the country, tensions blamed on social and ethnic segregation
But this week I went to Burnley to investigate what might be described as generational segregation - how the town's teenagers and adults live separate lives.
The Prince's Trust charity, which has a number of projects in the town, recently did a survey involving hundreds of teenagers there. What they found was Burnley's young people are turning to gangs for support and friendship because they lack parent and adult role models.
Two-thirds said they didn't consider either of their parents as someone they would wish to emulate and they are twice as likely to turn to a teenage mate than an adult if they had a problem.
Without the limits that adult society places upon them, young people can easily fall into anti-social or criminal behaviour. I met many young lads who rarely spoke to an adult - spending almost all their spare time on the streets
At a youth club where he does voluntary work, I asked 17-year-old Steven Jones how much time he spent with his parents. "None", he replied with a shrug. In the evening, he was out with his mates, returning home after his parents had gone to bed. And in the morning? "No, because I just get up and go out."
It is not just a Burnley problem, of course. There are tens of thousands of parents who cannot control their children and simply don't know where they are for much of the day and night. The young people may not want to spend time with their parents but it would be wrong to imagine they don't want adult company. They are desperate for more.
16-year-old Hayden Tomlinson told me how the workers at the youth club keep the lads on the straight and narrow. "You like to go out with your mates and stuff, but you do need adults there as well to keep it under control", he told me. "If this place it wasn't here we would all probably be near enough inside or ASBOed up and stuff", agreed Steven.
Another boy said the youth workers, unlike 'boring' parents, understood what young people were all about.
It is easy to blame the parents and many do. But then I met Sue - mother of 11-year-old Shane - and saw a woman who was on her own and struggling to cope.
"Sometimes he's out 'til 11 or quarter to 12 at night and I don't know where he is" she told me. "I have to go walking the streets late at night trying to find him."
We were chatting because Shane had gone missing - again. This time the police were touring the town looking for the youngster who was supposed to be attending a restorative justice session when he would be required to apologise to a victim of his behaviour.
The 'RJ' as police call it, is an alternative to a criminal justice response, but if Shane doesn't attend he could face arrest. The little boy already has an Acceptable Behaviour Contract (ABC) to try to provide the boundaries his family life does not offer. Now an incident in which a piece of drain pipe hit a woman in the face could threaten everything.
We finally found Shane in a back alley - a tiny lad with big eyes and a cheeky grin... He'd been to Manchester on the train with a mate and had forgotten about the appointment. But then I wonder how many 11-year-old boys would manage such responsibility without adult help?
In the rangers' hut of a local park, Shane sat at a table with Carol, his mother at his side. "How do you think Mrs Gardiner felt", PC Dave Pascoe asked him. "Angry", Shane replied. "Sorry... Mrs Gardiner."
It was if the spell was broken. Shane's mum and Carol discovered they had both had problems with children and each had received help from social services. The Family Intervention project, they agreed, had been a life saver. If only it had been there earlier.
Meanwhile, Carol's young son Richard played tag with Shane - two innocents running around in the sunshine. What the police, local authority and agencies are doing in Burnley is trying to find ways to bridge the generation gap. When parents cannot cope, they bring the skills to keep young people out of serious trouble
17-year-old Hayley is a case in point. A year before I met her, the relationship with her parents got so bad she'd ended up homeless - trapped in a downward spiral of drink, drugs and crime. Then a firemen working with The Prince's Trust came to her rescue. "I look back now and it's like a film of people who, you know, go off the rails", Hayley says. "Twelve months ago that was me and now I am working full time and I've got myself a nice little flat."
Fire officer Graham Coxon reminded her about the long nights they'd spent together just talking things through. "You kept me up until 4.30 in the morning!", replied Hayley. "But it were worth it."
It was time invested in forging relationships between people from different generations - there's 40 years between Hayley and her fireman.
Mobility has made extended families a rarity in Britain. There is no grandpa around to take over when Mum cannot cope. No auntie who can be an honest broker in disputes. And so wider society needs to step in. It is not football pitches that youngsters are short of. It's football coaches. Not facilities but facilitators.
Young people want and need adults to provide them with the structure that too often family life cannot give them.