Scotland’s Outdoor Youth Hub

Jess, our Communications and Campaigns Manager was delighted to interview PC Derek Bain, Sarah Dunn and Hannah Clews to learn more about their work with Mastrick’s Outdoor Youth Hub (situated in a local Tesco car park). You can listen to the podcast episode on our Children’s Rights in Action Podcast Series, or you can read the transcript below.

Jess: [00:00:24] Hi, my name is Jess and I am the Communications and Campaigns Manager here at Children’s Parliament. In today’s episode of Children’s Rights in Action, I’m joined by PC Derek Bain, Hannah Clews and Sarah Dunn to hear more about the Mastrick Youth Club in Aberdeen, Scotland’s first outdoor youth club. Derek, Hannah and Sarah, thank you so much for agreeing to join me today. Could I please invite you to introduce yourselves? [00:00:45][21.4]

PC Derek Bain: [00:00:47] Absolutely. So I’m Derek Bain. I work for Police Scotland as a Partnership Development Officer and I cover Aberdeen City. [00:00:56][8.8]

Jess: [00:01:00] Hi. Good morning. My name is Hannah Clews and I’m the Street Sport Development Manager for the Denis Law Legacy Trust. [00:01:05][4.6]

Sarah Dunn: [00:01:09] Good morning. I’m Sarah. I’m the Early Intervention Worker for Police Scotland, covering Aberdeen City, but I’m also one of the youth workers as The Hub as well. [00:01:15][6.6]

Jess: [00:01:19] Fab. Thanks, gang. So I wondered if you were able to please tell me just a little bit about where the idea for the Outdoor Youth Hub came from, please. [00:01:27][8.0]

PC Derek Bain: [00:01:29] Want me to go first, ladies? [00:01:31][1.4]

PC Derek Bain: [00:01:33] Okay, so this came about through some youth anti-social behaviour, at the Tesco store. We calculated that we had just under 600 youth related incidents over the period of a year, which is a huge amount of incidents for police to manage. And bearing in mind they have a whole community, you know, to police. It was taking up a lot of resource, not just from police but also from fire and rescue who had to attend whenever the alarm was set off or there was a fire set I did a bit of preventative spend costing and it cost the public purse – and these are not hard and fast figures – but around about £150,000 to police that small area for a year. Because it had an impact on the community and also on the police’s ability to police that entire community, then we had to get some form of solution to it. And that’s kinda my role. My role is to get partners, like minded individuals, round the table and discuss solutions. We’re way past that sort of place in the world where you know, one organisation does everything. We have to share the workload in order for it to be manageable. So that’s kind of where it was born out of. The solution started with a traditional police response, which is more boots on the ground to try and catch the young people who were causing the issues, and deal with them, you know, through the youth justice management here in Police Scotland. We also had an engagement part to it. Now, the young people themselves wouldn’t engage with the police. We had to reach out to some youth workers to come and find out simple things: what do you get from hanging about this area? And so the answer was they got shelter in the foyer of the store and they got free Wi-Fi. Not a big ask. There were some who asked you know, why don’t they just do that at home? That’s when you have to have an understanding what is home life like, you know, is it safe for them at home? Are they safer in the community? Or is it just a case of they want to hang out with their mates? You know, so not a big ask. From that I reached out to Stuart, who’s a manager at Tesco. A wonderful human being. He has a similar upbringing to some of these young people. So he was bought in from the get go. I reached out to the Council for youthwork provision and got some funding. Funding – I think the initial funding cost 11 and a half thousand pounds. So we put a seating area underneath the delivery ramp so it’s sheltered with free Wi-Fi and you’ll see from the pictures that are sent there, the young people themselves have painted the mural. So we get a French guy called Marc, who has a company called Fresh Paint, and he teaches the young people from scratch how to, you know, compose a picture if you like. But that’s probably where Sarah comes in because she was more involved in that side of things. [00:05:54][261.3]

Sarah Dunn: [00:05:58] Yeah. [00:05:58][0.0]

Sarah Dunn: [00:05:58] So to get the engagement with the young people, I worked with the local schools to the Mastrick area, who allowed me to go out and engage with some of the young people who are always hanging about the Tesco store. It was very informal, just conversations around like Derek says, why they hang about, what they get from it. But it was that chance for us to make that better for them. So it was very much their voice, we were just helping to support their ideas and helping that come to life. So I’d been up quite a few times with one of the other youth workers and we just got to know them a bit. And for them to get to know us, and we got the idea for the Space Jam mural to come to life. So again, we invited Marc in and he was able to sit and draw that all out so they could see their voices being heard, and again and arranging the day for them to go up and do the mural and the best selling point for that was that they got are lunch bought and paid for as well. So that was I think, their favourite part of off the day. From there because we had good engagement, I was able to keep going up to get more ideas, what did they want, what equipment did they want, and how did they want to set up of the night to run? And again, it was just us supporting their ideas for their community. So it was really good engagement from them. The mural has lasted so well, I think with them putting in the work to getting it done. They’ve got their names all on it so they’ll always know it was them that created that legacy for the area, as well so it was a really good piece of work that was done. [00:07:36][97.8]

Jess: [00:07:39] And I suppose as well as I’m listening to you both speak, there’s something isn’t there in that about how important the relationships that you’re developing with the children are and what that impact has had on the community in building that sense of this is a place for them and a place where they can influence and impact. Which just feels fabulous. And possibly a different vibe to how it might have been or how it might have felt in the scenario that you were talking about at the beginning, Derek. [00:08:11][32.3]

PC Derek Bain: [00:08:13] Yeah, I think, just using statistics as a barometer, the first year of operation, those 600 incidents fell to 12 in a year and then the second year of operation, it’s gone down to seven. And I think that just shows if you listen to your young people and you try in, within you know whatever confines there are, whether they’re budgetary or whatever, you can give them what it is they’re asking for, you see the difference. I think, Sarah, you correct me if I’m wrong here, but I think we started off with about 15, 20 young people and now we regularly have sort of 40,45 come along. Parents are dropping their kids off, which tells us that they feel it’s a safe space. [00:09:10][57.5]

Sarah Dunn: [00:09:13] Yeah, absolutely. The numbers are – they do vary week to week, everything influences that whether it’s school holidays or the weather, just anything and everything can influence that. But yeah that are some nights that we do get 40, 50 young people which is very busy, but again Hannah has a great relationship with all the young people because of the Streetsport sessions that are across the session so everyone, everyone and their parents know Hannah and she’s a support, but she’s obviously really good as well. And so if you’re onside with Hannah, you’re onside with them as well. [00:09:48][35.6]

Hannah Clews: [00:09:52] And yeah, really just come in to say about the Street Sport programme that we run, which has been running in partnership with Robert Gordon University since 2006 as a diversionary tactics initiative. So the opportunity to partner with Police Scotland and with the Council to provide activities in that area was was really important to us and something that we tried there before, but it didn’t quite, quite work out due to just the real high level of youth annoyance. It was beyond part of our team’s capabilities. But yeah, going in with this, this new approach has definitely helped us and as a programme we are deployed across different areas of the city that also face high levels of youth annoyance. It’s been a real good kind of testing ground for new activities and different ways of working. So for us as a charity, it’s been a really important and important partnership project that influenced the the wider charity. And so, yeah, I mean, a bit more about this sort of idea behind Street Sport. We have to have an attractive offer, the space there that Derek and the team, and the young people themselves have created does make it attractive and then it’s just going in and building those relationships, working with them and finding out what activities that they want to do. Never before have we tried making slime out in the communities and oh, what else we done, Sarah? We’ve made stress balls. We’ve decorated Valentine’s cookies. We’ve done so much stuff, but it’s from from the young people and what they want and just sort of working with them to guide what we actually run beyond just the sport. That will always be an attractive offer for some young people, but particularly this session, there’s a really good gender split. So yeah, we need to be on our toes making sure that we’re doing lots of different things. To keep them interested and engaged. Essentially is a car park that we’re using. It’s not, you know, Astroturf and things which we have the benefit using in other communities. [00:11:52][119.4]

Sarah Dunn: [00:11:54] Yeah we’re always making a mess. I think that’s the main thing there, it’s always messy sessions. Water balloon fights in the summer and stuff like that. But yeah, it’s always good fun. [00:12:03][9.4]

Jess: [00:12:07] And I wonder as well, because, I’m sorry, my brain is buzzing in about 10,000 different directions. So I heard about this through like word of mouth, but almost like whispers. You know, everybody was like, Oh, you’ve got to talk to Derek. PC Derek, that’s, you know, it’s this fantastic Youth Hub that’s evolved up in Aberdeen and it’s in this Tesco car park and thenm it is – it is definitely in a carpark. But there’s, I think there’s just something so wonderful about the different people that have been involved, the different community roles that have been brought in to this project and the different ways I suppose as well for the children see actually that there are different roles in in the community that are there to support them are engaged with them and are interested in what they want. And you’ve got that really all important feedback loop, that the children are telling me what it is that they’re looking for, or what they need, and you’re going, Yeah, okay, grand. Like, how do we make that happen? And working with them as opposed to it being something that’s that’s done to them. I mean, the Space Jame mural is just fantastic. But I wondered a little bit, I mean, I’m about to ask you, how has it evolved? Because I know now that the youth hub has really been going about three years – I think – it started in 2020 or kicked off around about then…? [00:13:27][80.5]

PC Derek Bain: [00:13:28] Kicked off is probably the right phrase. So yeah, but it took us round about 9-10 months to do the engagement work to find out what the young people wanted. But then once they told us that to get funding in place, and then to to build the seating area. So you know, I come at things probably from a policing perspective. Although you know, I tip my hat to youth workers. They have skill sets I will never have. I had to get a seating area built, but because of previous behaviours we had to make sure that it was vandal proof almost. So it’s pretty much made from angled iron, It’s a U-shaped bench. It has, I think, about 20 legs and each one of them is concreted into the ground so they can’t take it away. That’s their sort of thought processes in my head. But now I said I might do a bit of a Billy Connolly, and so I drift away and come back. So it was just some of the things Sarah had said around the engagement work. So I’d mentioned boots on the ground, so extra police officers, but that doesn’t tend to solve an issue. All it does is disperses it. But the cops that were involved in it were getting a wee bit agitated because the leaders of this group of young people had strategically placed young people at the corners and they were WhatsApping each other. So they knew where the cops were at any given time. I can understand why that would be frustrating, but from my perspective, I saw that as leadership skills. So it’s about harnessing that and getting them to use it in a more positive format. Somebody mentioned food. We feed them every week. I went up once. Generally if I go, I man the barbecue just so Colin doesn’t burn stuff. Colin’s one of the other youth workers, he likes everything charcoal. So it had this young lad and he’d come up for thirds. And I sort of said, Well, do you know some people are still waiting for the first burger, sausage, whatever. I said have you not just had your tea? He said yes. I said, so what did you have for your tea? He said, I had a wrap. What was in the wrap? He said, oh I had some crisps. That kinda makes you think you know, what home life is like for them. So he got, he got thirds because I’m a big softie, really. And now I can’t remember what your question was. [00:16:52][204.0]

Jess: [00:16:54] Oh, no, that was that was great. That’s what it was. It was going to be actually really around that kind of what? I appreciate that the three of you have very community based roles anyway, and you did to start off with and that is really how, how you engaged with The Hub from the beginning. But I wondered if there’s, if there’s been any changes to your roles as The Hub has developed and evolved itself, because I do appreciate this has been a very different approach to how your roles might have looked like before and if you have any reflections on that? [00:17:30][36.0]

PC Derek Bain: [00:17:31] I hink it’s certainly had a bearing on my role. I mean, I fielded calls, Teams meetings, emails, from the north of England to the north of Scotland around this. And as you say, it’s clearly a case of sort of whispers and word has got out and people are saying, you know, oh this, this might be a good idea. And I think if you look at the the statistics, not only from the a benefit to the people who work, live and visit the area, but the youth annoyance hasn’t been sort of dispersed into the wider community. It’s just stopped. We’ve got three young people who previously were not on education, returned to education. That’s a huge one. We’ve got 12 young people who’ve got Saltire awards for volunteering, you know, that’s a turnaround in behaviour, you know, to the nth degree. Behaviours at the Hub, I’m probably not the person to speak about that, but Hannah and Sarah can probably fill that picture for you. [00:18:54][83.7]

Hannah Clews: [00:18:57] Yeah, we’ve had some interesting challenges when it comes to behaviour, but I guess that’s it’s been a benefit to me as well, working alongside Sarah. We’re on the same page and I think that sort of approach where we’re all joined up working has really helped. And you know, if by nature, you know, you’re expecting a little bit of challenging behaviour. We’ve gone into their communities. I mean, the sessions themselves, I’ll be honest, are pretty chaotic and they have that sort of like freedom there, which, you know, brings up a challenge. But yeah, I think, yeah, the main thing is like being able to work together. We have, Derek keeps us on our toes by, you know, organising meetings outside just the sessions, so we get a chance to actually discuss some proactive approaches. And mainly it does come through accepting that there is going to be challenging behaviours, giving young people lots and lots of chances, but putting those boundaries in place and kind of get in the buy in around what behaviours are expected and almost getting the young people to police that themselves, which definitely helps when we have young people that are volunteering and are giving back and are sort of taking on a leadership role that the other sessions. I don’t know if that’s… I don’t know, does that? I don’t know, Sarah you feed in as well! [00:20:11][73.7]

Sarah Dunn: [00:20:18] I think that completely describes like how we all work. But this was new for us as well, that there was so many different organisations who have their own policies and procedures on how to deal with things. So when this all started, you know, there was that time, but it was like teething issues for staff as well, because it’s like oh well, in our organisation, this is how we would deal with it. And we were all different. So we as staff had to communicate as much as possible. So even still we’re two or three years down the line, every Thursday at the end of the session we still have a debrief so we can see well this worked, this doesn’t work. And just so we know going forward, is that the best way of dealing with it. I think that is sometimes the most important part as well because if we are not communicating, then we can’t be giving the young people the best from the session. So that’s, you know, that was definitely one of the things that has helped as well is always just being able to speak to each other and have these weekly or fortnightly meetings for it just being staff so we can right, well this is coming up. How do we plan for this? What young people can we get involved and how can we work better together as well? So yeah, the behaviours have certainly been challenging, but just having that communication with each other has also really, really helped and obviously it’s helped us work better together as well. [00:21:36][77.4]

Jess: [00:21:39] Absolutely, I think, also as well, reflecting on the numbers of children that you’ve said are coming and the fact that people are returning, and I’m thinking of, so there are a number of news articles about The Hub that I’m going to be attaching to this podcast episode, but one of them has a short video and there’s a young girl who talks about, you know, it’s wonderful that they have activities that they can do and things to do, because before they were just hanging around, they wanted to see their friends. But now there’s stuff actually for them. And I just I do wonder about, I don’t know, I’m sure there will be research and there’ll be lots of impact assessments on this, but I was thinking, we did a project in the Western Isles during COVID lockdown, so it was all online that we were developing these relationships with the children and we were looking to find out – so the Western Isles Council wanted to know what mental health support services children might want in their local area. And one of the biggest things that came back was that they wanted places outside where they could just go meet their friends and that they’d be safe. And they didn’t really want anything – I mean, don’t get me wrong, there were lots of other… There was some fantastic calls to action around what the support could look like in school and what the support could look like at home. But the big ones in the community, whether they just wanted a space that felt for them. And I think that everybody wants to belong, don’t they? And how we build those spaces and work together is so important whether that’s on a staff side of being the adults who are helping to create these spaces or the child or young person’s life, where you get to experience them from from the other way. And so with that in mind, thinking about if there are other adults who might be in similar scenarios or also interested in organising something a wee bit similar for their own communities, I wondered if you have any kind of key learning that you’ve taken from being part of the Outdoor Youth Hub’s journey that you might like to share, please? [00:23:54][134.3]

PC Derek Bain: [00:23:55] I think from my perspective, it’s about listening to the young people but also managing their expectations from the get go. So it’s about saying, well you may not get everything, but we will get you what we can. But I think you hit the nail on the head. When you create something that has been designed by the young person, it does give them a sense of place. You give them a sense of belonging, a sense of community, and you can see that. I’ve shared in the chat here, the second mural that’s been done since. It’s a Pokemon theme. And you’ll see there, it’s a container and it’s been painted as well as a sort of wraparound thing. And for me, his has been the success as well as the young people, what it’s done for their self-esteem – for their wellbeing, their mental health is the community or communities in Aberdeen have come together to make this happen. The container you see in that picture, I sent out some emails to some companies. One of them had it an old container that wasn’t fit for purpose, so they were going to get rid of it. How was I to get it from their place to The Hub? Well, that involved me sending out more emails to haulage companies. It turns out that a family friend owns a haulage company, so he took the container up. There’s a construction company building flats in the neighbourhood. We got them to take a forklift truck and they manoeuvred put into place. And obviously Tesco. We had to ask them if it was okay to have that. So you’ve got five different organisations all coming together for the benefit of another and they’re all small things that are being offered, but they make such a huge difference. So yeah, I guess for me it’s about coming together. It’s about that people factor. And when you get the right people round the table with you, you can make huge differences. [00:26:29][153.6]

Jess: [00:26:34] That’s really fab, thank you. I’m very aware of our time and keeping you guys any any longer than I originally promised.Sarah and Hannah, is there anything else that you might like to add before we finish up for today? [00:26:47][13.5]

Hannah Clews: [00:26:49] Yeah, I would just say on the advice for other adults or organisations looking to run something, I wouldn’t be scared of having everything, all singing, all dancing like we previously discussed. Like they don’t always want a lot. They just want that safe space. And if it starts off as just a picnic table and, you know, offering some hot chocolate or doing some minimal activities, I mean, we’ve done just random quizzes and things that we’ve used our our phone for like a game of Heads Up, they’ll enjoy and then just building it from there. So yeah it has led to a night somewhere doing like big barbecues and things like that. But that’s when you get even more people involved. But yeah, week to week, don’t be scared that the offer isn’t good enough and there’s not enough going on because yeah, they don’t always want a lot. And then when you’ve got them there you can build it from who you have. And then you know it’s genuinely what they want, and then when you do provide more, it’s obviously something that can be taken away if the behaviour is poor. So some nights, you know, they’ll just get basic hot chocolate where if it’s good the week before they’ll get cream and syrup and marshmallows and just like little things like that they can, listening is especially important. And yes, I think that’s my main advice. [00:28:06][77.2]

Sarah Dunn: [00:28:08] Yeah, I agree with Hannah. Obviously Derek as well, but I think if you are looking for something like that, don’t be afraid to try it. You know, it probably will always work in some way or another, but every aspect might not come together the way you think it will. But that’s totally alright because the young people, you know, we’ve got loads of different age ranges. Between 8 and 17 attending and they all come with their own ideas and their own personalities that make the sessions. And so if you give it to them, they try and plan and obviously support them through that they come up with amazing things to do. Definitely don’t be scared to try things and the kids, yeah, the young people always make it work one way or another. It just might not be the way you thought it was going to go. [00:28:59][51.5]

Jess: [00:29:02] Oh, that’s fantastic. Thank you all so much for your time today. It’s an absolute pleasure to hear more about the Outdoor Youth Hub project and if anybody is looking for more information, I’m going to make sure that the articles from the Press and Journal will be linked into the episode bio. And I’ll also put up the Denis Law Legacy Trust website, Hannah, because I appreciate The Hub on the Locations page of there, so I’ll make sure that that’s easy for them to find as well. So really other than that, it’s just thank you ever so much. And I look forward to being in touch with you all again. [00:29:37][35.2]

Sarah Dunn: [00:29:38] Thank you so much. [00:29:39][0.5]

PC Derek Bain: [00:29:40] Cheers Jess! Thanks Sarah, thanks, Hannah! [00:29:40][0.0]

Outdoor youth hub mural
Date: 3rd May 2023
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