According to research, the most pressing gripe from young people is the lack of recreational facilities in local communities.
A frequent call of youngsters, especially those in rural areas, is 'there is nothing to do around here'.
With little to occupy them, young people can become very 'visible' in village communities, hanging around on corners and in public places.
As bored youngsters become more 'visible', they can be perceived as a 'nuisance' by adults, a mutual distrust that can quickly grow into mutual resentment.
Many local authorities build and maintain recreational facilities such as playing fields and play areas. But these are often aimed at meeting the needs of adults and families with young children.
Services tend to be aimed at the traditional sports of football, tennis and badminton, while those that appeal to younger clients, such as skateboarding or BMX biking, can be ignored.
Sports such as BMX racing are deemed too expensive, just a 'passing fashion' or too challenging to implement because there is no land available to provide or convert to such uses. A recent survey by the Rural Development Commission found that over half of rural parishes provide equipped play areas for young pre-teenage children at an average cost of £25,000. In contrast, facilities for teenage children are negligible. It was once the role of schools to provide outdoor recreational facilities. With the closure of many rural schools and the continued sell-off of school playing fields, this has become an increasingly scarce resource. Regular use often requires youngsters to travel long distances on poor public transport.
One of the main reasons used to justify a lack of recreational provisions for teenagers, such as the building of a BMX track, is that of cost. The view is often put forward that there are just not enough numbers to justify the outlay. The fact is that rural areas at any one time typically have as high a teenage population as they do young children, yet outdoor play provision for the latter is much more prevalent. It is also a myth that outdoor play facilities for teenagers are much more expensive. A suitable BMX pump track, for example, can cost considerably less than a play area for young children and be far less costly to maintain.
The scale, of course, is important, and it would not be in anyone's interest to build a large-scale BMX track for just a few users. But it is surprising just how small an area is needed. A rural village skateboarding area with a limited number of skating facilities, such as a jump ramp, grind rail, and a couple of quarter pipes can easily be fitted onto a 150 square metre surface at a cost far less than a children's play area. Some communities may consider pump tracks and BMX tracks as 'high risk' and likely to lead to injury and damage with subsequent insurance claims against the local authority.
There is good evidence that BMX facilities and pump tracks can lead to improved health among youngsters. Health experts are worried about the sedentary indoor lifestyles of many young people, along with obesity and mental health development. An active sports arena that is attractive to teenagers and blends in with other modern lifestyle choices can significantly improve young people's health and social skills. Police warn that the profiles of offenders are becoming younger each year as many are drawn into anti-social activity just because of the lack of legitimate and exciting events in their local area.
No one will argue that providing a community BMX track or community Pump Track will solve all the problems associated with teenagers. Still, it could go a long way towards improving relations, building confidence and promoting healthy lifestyle choices. Given the amount of money spent on providing and maintaining play areas for young children, it is remarkable that so little is done to create youth facilities. Building BMX tracks and Pump Tracks could be a low-cost solution that engages young people and responds to their needs in a positive and community-spirited way.
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