Image CC BY-NC-SA nzbuu
I grew up and have returned to live on the edge of a very deprived area. What caused its deprivation? Going from once being the largest mining village in the world to having no coal mines in the area. We’re talking (at least) third generation unemployment for many people.
But I’m surrounded by wonderfully different and independent people, proud of their mining heritage. Which is why it makes me sad when those in a position to make things better conflate two different forms of ‘culture’.
On the one hand, we’ve got a dialect (‘Pitmatic’) audibly distinct from ‘Geordie’ (that of Newcastle-upon-Tyne), along with different traditions, customs and even artwork that’s a product of the areas mining heritage.
On the other, there’s the drugs, graffiti and crime ‘culture’ that’s been a result of the decline of coal mining.
So when schools and local organizations remind young people of their area’s past, they’re doing them a favour. I was part of a local history project in Doncaster that aimed to do just that. We disseminated video interviews of people involved in the coal mining industry – leading to some wonderful learning conversations and realisations.
But when schools and local organizations allow (or even encourage) young people to graffiti, make drugs references and reward them with gift vouchers that they know will end up being spent on cigarettes and alcohol, they’re doing them a massive disservice. That’s got nothing to do with culture and everything to do with crime and social disadvantage.
We need some clear thinking and action on this. I doubt my area’s any different from others in anything other than specifics.
There’s a difference between meeting young people half-way with cultural references and capitulating to the criminal underworld.