No place for young men – Alex Kostyakov
Wednesday, 13 July 2016
Before you get stuck into this article, thinking this is an attack on my old stomping ground, you need to know a few things. I love Hebden Bridge. To the core of my body I am proud of where I have come from, and the life lessons that this little market town taught me. You need to know that I helped to organise Fair for Youth for the majority of my teenage years, and you need to know that i'm not scared of hurting a few people in the writing of this piece if it knocks some sense of realisation into this community. I can only hope that you understand that I write this out of my love for this town, and for the greater good that I hope this will achieve.
I woke today (22nd June) to read about an Australian family's barge being broken into whilst they are on holiday in our West Yorkshire village. This comes just days after Park Life Café, and the Train Station Café have also both been the victims of malicious break ins.
This is nothing new to someone who has grown up in Hebden. Every time the news is shared on social media the responses are much the same:
'I hope the scum that did this gets what's coming to them',
'Horrible people doing this, ruining the image of our beautiful town'.
'Blah blah blah'.
Typical Hebden keyboard activists. When we turn our minds to who probably did this, no-one would blame anyone for thinking, 'It's those youths on the park' and I'm not writing to argue that. The geographical location of all these recent incidents surround the park, and there is no denying that there is an air of criminality that closes in on Calder Holmes as day turns to night.
I aim to raise the issue of why this is happening, and to me it is blatantly obvious. As a young man who now runs his own company over in Manchester, whilst studying a degree, I am very proud of where I have come and what I have achieved. I'm motivated and hardworking, and have been, in my opinion, for many years.
However, on my gap year, where my travel plans to Peru fell through I was left in a void of spare time to spend in Hebden. It was probably the worst year of my life, and as someone who has come up through the care system since the age 3, lost a father early to alcoholism and generally not had a great start, that is a bold statement, and I'll explain why.
I thought, that I would get a job pretty easily, but that was not the case. So I signed on to Job Seekers' Allowance, like many other young men in the local area do. 'Men' being the operative word here.
Treated as a liar and cheat
They treated me like a liar, a cheat and generally a dreg of society. I had moments where they made me feel so worthless that I had suicidal thoughts, had angry rages and near constant anxiety that was only thwarted with heavy smoking sessions.
Now some people reading this will think 'lazy bugger', couldn't get a job and in some respect you're right. I could have done more, I now know that. But at the time, my confidence was at such a low, that going into shop after shop handing out CVs and hearing nothing back time and time again left me rendered to filling out online forms which we all know is no way to get a job. However, to the people thinking that, let me show you a truth that has probably (through no fault of your own) evaded your notice.
No jobs for young men
I will start with an example that you can go and look at right now, and reflects Hebden Bridge as a society. We are a tourist town, and as such, nearly all the jobs are in hospitality and tourism. In these jobs, a young, previously, or currently troubled man has no place. You have to have a good fashion sense, long slick hair and an air of confidence that many of us don't have at that age.
It only takes a look around all the shops to notice a distinct lack of average looking young men, amongst a cornucopia of vibrant, good looking young ladies. There's a simple reason for that. They sell. They get bigger tips and whilst no one outwardly says it, brings in more customers. I'm making this up right? Wrong. I have some examples to back up what I say.
One of my favourite Eateries has never employed a man in the time that I can remember. As short staffed as they may be at times, I have never had my favourite gourmet sandwich made by a bloke other than the owner. I'm not saying this is a choice. Maybe no man has ever handed in a CV in the 17 years it has been open.
I've rarely had a latte made for me in many coffee shops by a man, and if I have, they've been my mates at school that had cool hair or were on the football team. The only way for a young man, who didn't have it all going for him was to know someone that might give him a chance, and to show them that you were worth a job. But that normally requires having a well connected parent, with friends who owned a café and as you can imagine, only a few were lucky enough to have that. For the rest of us, we were told to seek jobs that were up to, wait for it, an hour and a half away by public transport. Now that seems fair enough, and it is. Driven young people could take those jobs no problems, but those driven people aren't the same ones that might start making trouble late at night.
I'm not saying that we should shrink the country in order to get people with average motivation a decent job that they can be happy with but I'm saying that once those people get a taste of working for themselves, and the confidence and freedom it brings they will never want to sign on ever again. So it is therefore a case of giving them that opportunity, or forever have this perpetual problem of young people causing a nuisance.
Young men behind closed doors
The only jobs, as it stands, for young men in Hebden Bridge is to get your foot in the door, doing pot washing or train as a chef and work behind the doors of one the numerous restaurants in Hebden. But why are all of our young people expected to be effing chefs? The staff turnover rate at one pub notorious for hiring and firing young men is ridiculous.
I have heard so many stories (which I have to declare are just what people have told me) of them threatening young men, saying 'Get a job somewhere else then!', which they know is not possible for most of the young staff working for them. Based on my personal experience with the pub, and how well I know the people who have told me these stories, I believe them enough to put them in this story.
Give young men a chance
I'm not asking the town to start a charity for the young men that need work, but I am asking them to think about it. If we got more young men into work at an early age, then that taste of work will never leave them and they can progress into their later life with self confidence and the ability to support themselves before they enter a downward spiral that I was lucky enough to escape.
It is up to the café, shop and restaurant owners to at least make an effort to get more young men into work and serving customers. Just as much as it is up to the council to attract business other than tourism facing industry. Call centres, manufacturing opportunities, factories. These will supply large amounts of young men with the means to get work.
Other towns don't do this, so why should we? Other towns don't have alternative Christmases to help flooded businesses. Other towns don't promote creativity, and togetherness as much as we do, but it will all be in vain if we never address the underlying problem that has plagued the evolution of Hebden Bridge. Our beautiful Hebden Bridge. If everyone put as much effort into sorting this problem out, as much as we have other problems, we can lead the country in yet another area.
So yes, blame the young people for yet another atrocity, for it is them who likely committed it and, although this article attacks Hebden Bridge, and could perhaps be seen as opportunistic, please know that my heart goes out to the Australian family, Kim and Charlie, and the staff at the train station café, but it also goes out to all the young men, who like I was, are lost and without purpose. Stuck in an environment where they see no way out, and no helping hand, as they trod ritually on the 592 to Todmorden and the awaiting menace of the JSA advisor.
Fair for Youth: how it changed me by Alex Kostyakov (October 2015)