A lack of things to do and places to hang out in Kenilworth were among the main concerns of teenagers from the town at the first Young People’s Forum held last week.
Organised by Kenilworth mayor Cllr Mike Hitchins and his partner Cathy McCarney, the forum was set up as an informal way for young people to talk about problems in the town and what ideas they had to improve things.
Although it started at 7.30pm on Friday October 26 in the Parochial Hall, no young people turned up until around 7.50pm when around 12 arrived. More joined later.
After tucking into free pizza and soft drinks, the group began talking to Michelle Harris, a youth worker employed by St John’s Church.
One girl who turned up said: “Kenilworth’s so boring. We need somewhere to go and something to do."
Many said they wanted a space where they could hang out informally and listen to music. Without that, they said they preferred to hang out in parks such as Abbey Fields.
The group also expressed their distrust of the police. On arrival, one boy said he thought the forum might have been a trap set up by officers. He was relieved when he realised the forum was legitimate.
Another girl criticised the police for harassing young people too much. She added: “They shout at us a lot when we’re not even doing anything.”
Cllr Hitchins felt the forum had been useful, but did not yet know when the next forum was going to be held.
Concerns had previously been raised about the forum by Cllr Kate Dickson (Lib Dem, Abbey) at a Kenilworth Town Council meeting on Thursday October 25 around how much safeguarding was in place for young people attending and the people running it.
She said: “I’m concerned that some of the work at the forum is not supported by a (professional) body. The publicity surrounding this may suggest the town council is overseeing the work. I don’t believe this is the case, and I wonder whether the mayor can seek to put policies and procedures in place to protect himself, young people and this council.”
In a later interview, Cllr Hitchins insisted this would be sorted.
And John Whitehouse, chair of trustees at the Kenilworth Centre, said Cllr Hitchins needed to have a clear idea about what the forums were trying to achieve.
He said: "I think it's about clarity of objectives. We've supported the idea of a forum if properly managed, and we want to be a part of it.
"But I really don't know what he's trying to do. We feel like we're in the dark a bit."