While most of us look forward to putting our feet up on a Friday night, a dedicated team of youth workers is out on the streets, come rain or shine. Douglas and the south and west of the Island have detached youth workers on hand to guide and assist young people.
Using a van belonging to Rushen Round Table, Vivian Mercer and Neill Skillen cover an area from Ballasalla to Port St Mary in a scheme that has been up and running in the south for three years.
For three hours, they chat to teenagers about issues that might be concerning them, offer them advice and help them to stay safe, providing a non-judgmental ear. They said their aim as detached youth workers was to meet young people in their own environment.
‘We try to develop a friendly, non-judgemental and trusting relationship with young people so they feel they can approach us at any time to discuss issues such as bullying, drink, drugs etc.
We tend to meet young people walking along the road, sitting in shelters or parks, on the beach, at the disused swimming pool or school grounds. As we approach them we gauge their mood towards us and they are usually happy to chat but there are occasions when we are not too welcome and we move away and try to engage with them the following week.
Most young people we speak to are polite and welcoming but there have been occasions where alcohol has led to aggressive behaviour amongst themselves. We have assisted in diffusing tension and providing a supportive adult presence. We also ensured the safety of some young people who felt unsafe at the time.’
Vivian has a background working with children but now manages holiday properties, while Neill runs a painting and decorating business, so both come to the role with completely different experiences.
‘Neill wanted to give something back to the community as his boys had been involved in so many activities, growing up, which were all down to people giving up their own time,’ Vivian said. ‘I enjoy working with children and it fitted in with my family needs.
‘Dave Hattersley, Youth and Community Officer for the South, asked us if we would consider detached youth work as he knew we’d worked together for many years running a youth club and felt we had the right experience.
‘Most Friday nights have a similar pattern, but there are evenings that are busier than others – and occasional flare-ups,’ Vivian said. ‘There seems less activity in Port Erin than when we started, but a particular group of young people now go to Douglas on a Friday evening.’
There they are likely to meet the longest-serving detached youth team, Janette Facey, Jo White, Jackie Fisher and Martin Macfarlane, who have, between them, 48 years’ experience going out and about on a Friday night. The detached project started in Douglas in 1998.
Detached workers offer other support, too, including helping the young unemployed plan a way forward.
‘We both enjoy meeting young people outside of the working environment and feel lucky that we still have contact with nearly all the young people we have met over the years and we get to see them grow and develop,’ Vivian said.
Do Vivian and Neill mind giving up Friday evenings when people are out socialising? ‘Yes, on occasions,’ they admitted, ‘but it’s worth it for the rewards.’
Photo: Detached youth workers Vivian Mercer and Neill Skillen chat to three Port Erin youth club members as they start their Friday night out on the streets.