Run a youth club in 10 easy steps

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Youth Clubs have a lot in common with Abbattoirs. They perform similar functions. They process unruly materials so that they can be assimilated into the human race. Also, they generate a huge amount of waste matter that is simply thrown away. Yet very few people want to go to either, necessary though they may be. Everyone knows they exist, indeed they must exist, but not anywhere near human habitation, thank you. Almost like sewage farms, they keep disease harmlessly out of the way whilst performing a disinfecting function. Youth Clubs resemble lepers in the Middle Ages, best kept away from normal people lest they infect them with some dread disease. They should be founded deep in the countryside, although if they were, no youths would ever go. What would they do? Who cares?

A Youth Club is not a building, not a place. It is an idea, a concept that everyone understands. A Youth Club exists in a place all right, but not for long. It moves about, like the Wandering Jew. It is a tramp, or a gypsy, everyone knows what it is, but nobody welcomes it. Nobody wants it on their doorstep, not for long. Yet many think it is a Good Idea, there should be Youth Clubs, but not near them. They bring trouble. Worthy people run them, muscular Christians full of good intentions, or boxers who can bring discipline to the rowdy youths who come under their sway. Men with strong principles and the ability to communicate with lawless lunatics are the kind that run them. Reformed criminals are suitable candidates too, although the public wonder if the criminals are really reformed, and won’t infect their charges with whatever miasma that sent them off the rails in the first place. 

The public always think there should be a Youth Club somewhere, “to keep the troublesome lads off the streets”, but Not In My Back Yard, thanks very much. And they never do keep the lads off the streets. For one thing, they are only open a few hours a week, and the lads can be on the streets twenty-four hours a day. For another, the lads probably meet other lads there, and plot and plan their mayhem in the comfort of the Youth Club. But they are seen as potentially Good, even though the practice of them creates a lot of trouble. But like most Christian principles, like “Love Thy Neighbour” and “Thou Shalt Not Kill”, the moral bits are more honoured in the breach than the observance.  God wants them to exist, even though the Devil rules there. Oh well, it can’t be helped. That’s how the world runs.

The History of Youth Clubs is a short one. There were none at all for millennia, then around 150 years ago, the first ones started. They were an invention of the Victorians, who saw lots of idle youth on the streets, unable or unwilling to get jobs, so they started educating them, and preaching Christianity to them. Then along came the YMCA, and then the Scouts. Neither would be though of as Youth Clubs today. The first statutory ones were in the late Fifties, when there was a public panic about the barbaric Youth Culture. They provided shelter, activities and adults to be bounced off, all very suitable for disaffected young people. No-one had much idea of what was their purpose, since Christianity and boxing were definitely out of favour. So what else was there? Just milling about with your mates was the commonest activity, but this didn’t satisfy the Do-gooders, or the funders. So they had a kind of limbo life, rising and falling with the tides of human fashion and inclination. It is not clear whether the kids would have run them themselves if they had been allowed to hire premises, but they were not, so that never arose. Probably not, as all the kids wanted was a kind of junior pub. Some places actually ran clubs like that in pubs, without alcohol, of course, but not for long. They went the way of all youth clubs, here today and gone tomorrow.

Of course, this book will no more tell you how to run a youth club than the Bible tells you how to be good, or an art book tells you how to paint. It cannot be done in a book. You simply have to do it. Try it out, find where the difficulties are, then go to the book for guidance. This book will give you no guidance either. That is because each youth club is unhappy in its own way. No, it was Tolstoy said that about families. But it applies to youth clubs too. Like families, they can also be happy. Just not for very long. 


How do I set about starting a youth club?  Find some youths and ask them if they want a club. Then find a place to set it up. This last step may take some time, and you may get downhearted, especially if the youths you have asked start to shout at you in the street, and mock you for being a wimp and making promises you cannot keep. If you are destined to run a youth club, carry on. If not, pack up now and take up macrame.

I want to start a youth club, but I do not always like youngsters. What should I do?  Nothing. Nobody can like youngsters all the time, even they themselves. At times I have detested them. But if you have to ask that question before you start, then don’t start. Find a group of people who you will like all the time. When you do, you will find you have died and gone to Heaven. Grow up.

How do you control behaviour without using violence? Never use violence of any kind, even verbal violence, in public. It starts the others off,  sets a bad example, and it is illegal; you will find yourself in court in the wink of a teenagers eye. They know the Law. However, threatened violence in private works wonders. Here is how to do it:

Take the offender aside, make sure nobody is listening, and ask them if they recall Tom breaking a leg, or some young person who suffered drastic injury recently. When they say yes, you say ‘That was me did that.’ When they express scorn, say ‘I haven’t always been a nice youth leader, you know. You don’t know what I did before I came here. I have met some seriously bad men in my time, some when I was in prison/ the army/  mental hospital. Look, I don’t want to have to do this, but they don’t like me being disrespected. I only have to say the word, and they come down from Leicester and do whatever I ask, They owe me, see. They actually love their work. Now, you aren’t going to do that again, are you? Good lad/lass!’ You must say all this, with variations if necessary, with an absolutely straight face. I have never known it fail, but it must not be overused. Of course, if you really do know violent lads from Leicester, what are you asking me stupid questions for, then?

What do you do about drugs? You can’t afford to allow them in the club, but never be righteous and holier-than-thou about the subject. All of them will have tried cannabis, in the form of Skunk-weed. By all means tell them about the connection between skunk and schizophrenia, and tell them what the symptoms of psychosis are (if you don’t know, look it up on Google). Some will tell you they already hear voices, or see visions; don’t necessarily take any action about it, but watch for other signs of madness. This is difficult, because being a teenager IS a form of madness, which they get over in time.  The ones that don’t get over it go to prison, mental hospital, or into politics. Or become teachers, or, worse, youth club workers. If you hear they are trying the stronger drugs repeatedly, report them to the authorities, but first the parents. I have no compunction about this, I tell them that is what I do, so they never tell me if they are doing hard drugs. That is the way I want it. If they do tell you, it is a cry for help, above your pay grade, so report them, since they lack the courage to turn themselves in. They want addiction treatment, which you cannot begin to provide. 

What if some of the teenagers show symptoms of mental illness? Get this straight, they all show symptoms of mental disturbance, much of the time. That is because they ARE  mentally disturbed, as you were at their age. There is a huge amount of evidence coming from brain imaging, a new research tool, that human brains undergo a colossal reorganisation between the ages of 13 and 19, which we call puberty. This is not just sex hormones coursing through the body, it is the emergence of self-awareness, amongst a lot of other changes in consciousness. They are having to cope with this, as well as parents, pressure at school, pressure from their peers, pressure from the media to be ‘normal teenagers’ (as if there were any such animal!), and the acute sense of loss that comes with leaving innocent childhood behind for ever. Don’t think that just because someone behaves like a yob that they don’t have fine sensibilities. It may be that is the reason for their behaviour. It may also be that they are a born yob. Certainly, you cannot tell which they are when they are young, so give them the benefit of the doubt, give them some space to act mad, bad and sad. They may not get another chance. And you yourself may find you need to do that with them, too. A youth club is a fine place for grown-ups to act very silly indeed, since no-one will notice, you are just like the rest.

Shouldn’t we forget about youth clubs, and move on into a Modern way of dealing with youngsters?  Can you suggest what would take their place? Are you a politician, or a Tory voter seeking to save money? What’s wrong with them? What’s wrong with you? You might like to come down and see what we do, talk to some of them. Can I recruit you as a potential volunteer? Perhaps you might like to get to know them before your kind force them to take from you what is rightfully theirs. It might save your life one day. It will make you into a bigger human being, that’s certain. 

Shouldn’t we forget about youth clubs, and move on into a Modern way of dealing with youngsters?  Can you suggest what would take their place? Are you a politician, or a Tory voter seeking to save money? What’s wrong with them? What’s wrong with you? You might like to come down and see what we do, talk to some of them. Can I recruit you as a potential volunteer? Perhaps you might like to get to know them before you and your kind force them to take from you what is rightfully theirs. It might save your life one day. It will make you into a bigger human being, that’s certain. 

What would Jesus say about youth clubs? I think He might just want to run one. He would be very welcome in ours, and a few miracles would go down well with the kids. He was concerned with the publicans and sinners, after all. It is true that hardly any teenagers appear in the New Testament, but there must have been some around. Unless people were born adults then. Jesus himself was a baby, and went into the synagogue at the age of ten to ask the Rabbis questions. Perhaps one of them was “When will you run a youth club for us?” He wouldn’t care for the bad behaviour, but inside the club there isn’t much, and I don’t care for it either. Turning the other cheek is what you really learn how to do when you work in a youth club. It’s not being a wimp, either, it’s treating unpleasantness with pleasantness and firmness. Come down and try it, be a volunteer, and practice Christianity as Jesus told it. It’s really hard, but you can get there if you want to. 

What is the Purpose of Youth Clubs?  I have thought long and hard about this question, for all of my 33 years involvement. I have decided that they have no purpose at all. They merely exist, like the Poor, or wasps. They don’t need a purpose, although many people think they do. When I was young and green, I spoke to the Town Council about why I wanted to run a youth club. I said it was ‘to keep kids off the streets.” Len Wade, then an Elcaster councillor, who came here from London, stood up and said, “What’s wrong with the streets, Mr. Bayley? I did most of my courting on the streets.” He was right. There is nothing wrong with the streets, it’s what some people do on them that can be wrong. It’s the same with youth clubs, or any human institution. It’s the people who make it, good or bad. So youth clubs have no purpose but to be a collection of people who interact with each other, mainly of young people, but with some tolerant adults too, and make the Universe a more joyful place. 

But enough of these questions. There is no use trying to write down how to do it. You might as well write down “How to be Good”. Or “Run a Youth Club in Ten Easy Steps” , and expect the text to inform people how to do it. Forget it. You get the guide-lines, and then you have to do it. Like a map guides you on a walk, but the magnificence of the actual landscape is not set down on the surface of the map. How could it be? This book is not even a map. It is certainly not a history, but it is my history as I remember it in the twilight of my old age. Yet I am intending to run another youth club. perhaps twilight has not arrived just yet.


My life in Elcaster is shit. I’m a girl, I’m in my last year at school, and I can’t wait to get out. Get out of Elcaster, I mean. This place has nothing for me, even though I’ve lived here all my life. Some life! What is there to do here? Get out of school, get off your face on weed and alcohol down in the field. That’s in the summer, in the winter you can’t even do that. Most of my mates do it, it’s not just me. You can get a bit of a laugh sometimes at school, but mostly it’s boredom, wall-to-wall. There’s one teacher there, I swear I’m going to die before she does, so that I can come back and haunt her to death. I really hate her, and she hates me, I think. She must do, the way she goes on at me all the time.

I don’t go to church, not at all, not ever. I don’t believe in God, how can there be a God and let all this shit happen? He must be some kind of sadist to do that. Free will? What’s free about it? Nothing’s free in this life, except being bored. I don’t know what happens to you after you’re dead. Nothing, I imagine. Just a big black Nothing. Like Elcaster on a wet Monday morning, when you’ve got Science first thing, and you haven’t done your course work.

The men are all right, in a way. Well, they’re not men, are they, just boys really. They put themselves around, they’re players, which the girls aren’t, or else we’re called slags. They think they’re cool and tough, but they’re not, not really. They are fit! You can have a laugh with some of them, at times. Others are just boring, or annoying. They think they’re so fascinating and grown up, but they act like silly little kids. Why don’t they grow up?

I’m not going to have any kids, I think. Well, I don’t know, at the moment I think I won’t, but you never know. I’m certainly not getting married! Look at all my friends’ parents, hardly any of them still together. I’d make marriage illegal, put people in prison for doing it. It really screws you up, does marriage.

I want to be famous, and come back to Elcaster and tell them what a pokey little place this is. I don’t know what I will be famous at. I can’t sing, anyway I’m too old to be a Pop Star. Maybe an actress, or something like that. Anything that gets you lots of money, because money is the way to a Good Life, and you can’t deny it. I want to be rich. I may marry a rich guy, as long as he dies soon after. Yeah, I know I said marriage was bad, but this would have a purpose to it, like.

My Mum knows all this. She knows. I don’t suppose she likes it much, but she sees why I think like this. She probably thought the same when she was my age. Although she wouldn’t have done the grass, it wasn’t around then. I don’t do pills or anything else, scag is really out. It’s just weed and alcohol for me. It keeps me kind of fit, in a way.

Some things are really phat, like having a laugh with your mates at school, when you’re in a lesson where you can muck about. I don’t hate all the teachers, some of them are OK, well, some of the time. I’m going to do Business Studies when I leave, if I can get the right place to do it. I’ll have to go to college, but I think that might be phat too. You don’t do much work, it’s not like GCSEs, and they’re lecturers there, they treat you a bit more like an adult.

My future? I’ve got no future, not here in this place. I suppose I’ll get a job. I’ve had one here for ages, part-time, and it’s shit. I know I’ll have to earn my own living one day, and work for it. I just want to have a good time, a laugh. Like I said, my life in Elcaster is shit.


Eight years later, I did the same with one of the boys that came to my house, to the One Henley Street Club, since by this time, 2010, there was no youth club running.


I’m not giving my name. That’s why I wear a hood most of the time, so no-one knows who I am. Like that girl said in your paper years ago, my life in Alcester is shit. I’ve left school, thank goodness. They never liked me there, I was just a nuisance to them. I know I played around a bit with my mates, but it was the teachers job to keep us in order, wasn’t it? I wasn’t much good at anything really, except IT.., which meant I could get onto the Internet. Anyway, they chucked me out before I took any exams. I went to the PRU (Pupil Referral Unit) for a bit, but I didn’t go very often, and they wouldn’t let me take any GCSEs from there. So I’ve got no passes. Nothing to show for eleven years in education. Yes, I can read and write OK, but I don’t like doing either.

I don’t do much in the daytime, except hang out with my mates, or sleep. Most of them are like me, no exams, hated school. My Dad gets fed up with me, when he’s at home. He’s away a lot, he’s a lorry driver and he works all hours, sometimes he’s away for days at a time. He says I should get a job, but he doesn’t understand, there aren’t any around. He says he’s been working ever since he left school. He didn’t get any exams either, but he started working on the land, weeding and such. Those jobs aren’t around any more. He learned to drive when he was 17, he saved the money to pay for his test, but now it costs £200 or more to take a driving test. He just doesn’t understand, he goes down to the pub and leaves Mum to ‘deal’ with me.

Mum’s OK, she gives me money and tells me not to tell my Dad. I smoke fags when I can afford them, and sometimes Mum gives me the money to buy them. She says I have to have some fun in life. She gets on at me about doing nothing, and tries to get me up in the morning, but what’s the point? I sleep late because me and my mates go out at night until late. Nobody bothers you late at night, you can do what you want without nosy parkers watching you like you were a criminal all the time.

Yes, I have been in trouble with the coppers. We like to climb on the roofs of empty buildings at night, and we got reported and caught. We weren’t actually doing anything, but they said we were trespassing, and gave us an official caution. We have done a bit of vandalism around the Town, mostly because we dare each other to do things. We like to take risks, it makes us feel good. Especially when we get away with it.

Mostly it’s very boring in Alcester. There isn’t even a Youth Club now, hasn’t been one for two years. We’re too young to go to the pubs, they know our ages and throw us out. We sometimes get drink, like beer and vodka, if one of us has an older brother or cousin, and some of the Mums give us drink occasionally. But usually they haven’t got the money.

We all smoke weed. It takes away that bored feeling for a time, it’s better than drink for that. It’s not that expensive, but it can be hard to get. If we get a stash and sell some to our mates, the cops say that’s dealing, and you can go to prison for it. Skunk weed sends you mad, they say, but sometimes I’d rather be mad than bored out of my skull here in Alcester. Nobody cares whether we live or die, except our Mums, we’re just a nuisance to most people. Well, if we’re going to be a nuisance, lets do the job properly, I say. Maybe I’ll start on the hard drugs, there’s money to be made dealing in that. Can’t see where else I can get money, except the occasional job on the fair at weekends. I don’t like to think about the future.