“Where are all your mates tonight?”

Can you imagine what it would be like to go into a shop, with your wallet, with the knowledge that the shop does sell the item that you are looking for, only to be told “thanks for coming long, but its not worth me selling you the item because you’re on your own”.
In these times of financial insecurity – its the last thing to expect in a shop, often its the opposite.

In the last few months i have moved to Hartlepool, and as part of my weekly shopping activities and needs, i buy all my fruit and veg at the green grocers at the end of the street. I tend to buy everything else in one of the supermarkets.
Sometimes i do the fruit & veg first, sometimes last. However, in the bigger shop, where there are more people, more staff the supermarket is a place to be alone and anonymous speak only if I cant find anything- a small unimportant drop in a large ocean. I usually make the effort to speak to the cashiers, so that they dont feel like machines.
However, even though at 9am on a saturday im on my own in the green grocers, he says ‘hello young man’, and we have a conversation, last saturday he gave me the opportunity to try a rare aztec mint tasting herb and we chatted further. I felt valued..even in a shop, even in a place where there is a finacial transaction and sale of goods.
The point im making is this; what kind of experience or relationship do we create with our young people?

Ive been guilty of saying to young people on the street :”its a bit quiet tonight, are your mates around?” And as soon as ive said it i know its felt very wrong.. why? Well what does that say about the value im placing on the young people who are there, right in front of me? Are they more or less valued because I asked them of others?
However as ive spoken to many youthworkers and tragically ministers recently, the predominant narrative is to worry that a youth work provision includes only a small number of young people, and to be trying to increase that, or say that something isnt working because numbers are small. What is that compared to? And why do numbers matter? Says who? What does this say about value? The young people that are there, that are faithful, that need us? Can we not do something of quality with the few God has sent and committed to us. Can we decide not to measure the number of young people attending and instead…the quality conversations within…the moments of meaning, of significance. ..
Yet by concerning ourselves with the other young people we make the young people with us anonymous. They get as much special attention from us, as we get in a supermarket. Young people, shafted by the government, misunderstood by society and media, at least deserve that people called by God or working supposedly for them, should be with them..and value them where theyre at. If they get a better service from somewhere else then guess what. Thats where theyll go. We wont have lost them, but its bloody hard to press undo.

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