So let's start with an image to give some meaning to the first of those acronyms.
ASB stands for Anti Social Behaviour. The picture above is of the picnic shelter at Arborfield Park. It is by no means the first arson attack on Parish owned property at the park, there have been other fires deliberately started and intended to cause damage, along with other mindless acts of vandalism including the wilful destruction of Parish notice boards and graffiti on the play equipment in the children's play ground.
This is costing the precept payers of Arborfield and Newland quite a lot of time, effort and money to put right, and it is continuing on a fairly regular basis. The majority of people I have spoken to assume that this is the work of gangs of disaffected local youths. This prompts the obvious question: what can be done to stop it?
CCTV Video surveillance may help us to deter, or even catch the culprits and is being worked on. But then the question becomes: why are they (whoever "they" might be) doing this? Yes, catching them, punishing them, and making them pay for the damage might well make them think twice before trying it again. But does that address the question of why they act like this in the first place?
It seems to me that this campaign of destruction, which has gone on for many months now, is intended to send a message. That message is, I believe, a response to our message to them. This is not an attempt to justify this behaviour, but we have made no provision for our teenagers in Arborfield and the surrounding areas and this wilful destruction is a way of calling our attention to that fact.
No doubt there is much else at fault here; poor parenting, poor education and low self esteem are likely candidates for being part of the problem. Then there are all the other problems of growing up in 21st Century Britain, not least of which is peer group pressure and misuse of alcohol and drugs. I will come on to what I think can and should be done about it, but first let's compare and contrast with another bit of recent activity in the same park.
The burnt out remains of the picnic shelter are in the background but in the foreground are members of the Arborfield community enjoying a Platinum Jubilee Picnic. People came, had fun, cleared away and left nothing but footprints in the grass. Not just here but across the country people came together to celebrate our Queen and the 70 years of service she has given us.
I am sure the people in the photograph will forgive me for pointing out that they are not teenagers anymore. With maturity of years comes less need to show off, less insecurity, more commitment to social order and a greater willingness to give freely of themselves in the service of others. This is learned behaviour. People are not innately inclined towards sociable behaviour, it is learned over time and reinforced through positive feedback.
ASC is the Arborfield Social Club. They are one of the main reasons the Picnic in the Park was able to go ahead and they were also the force behind two other events that took place over the Jubilee weekend. An afternoon Tea Party, which they not only ran but also paid for, and which then went on to raise a further £75 in voluntary contributions to a local charity.
Plus one final event, a Craft Party aimed at some of the younger members of the community. The big "take away" for me from this event was the opportunity to chat with parents and to discover just how grateful they were for the opportunity to share in some creative fun with their children. How little we provide this kind of opportunity to our children. The children loved it, the parents loved it, the organisers loved it. We all had a thoroughly great time. How many times that day was I asked "Why can't this be a regular thing?".
My answer, as I back peddled slightly from offering the services of the ASC on a regular basis was to mumble some excuses about volunteers needing to be background checked for "safeguarding" purposes and finding funds for booking the space and buying in resources, but these are not insurmountable difficulties. Where there is a will etc. But noticeably absent from all of this were the teenagers and young adults.
I said I would come on to this, and it will surprise no one who reads this Blog regularly to discover that my answer lies at least in part in our alternative proposals for Hall Farm. As has been pointed out many times before on this site the evidence is there that working outdoors, working with animals, learning to nurture, share and care are all excellent ways to improve social cohesion and build a sense of community. It works in troubled inner city areas of London, Bristol and the like and it can work here.
SOLVE Hall Farm have been invited to meet with representatives from the University of Reading to discuss our "Alternative Vision for Hall Farm" and I am optimistic that if they are the University they claim to be, committed to working with the local community, committed to environmental sustainability, and above all else, committed to education then our ideas for a Community Farm at Hall Farm can help turn around the behaviour of even some of the most embittered and criminally inclined members of our society.
Which brings me to the APM. This refers to the Annual Parish Meeting. It will take place this Wednesday 15th June from 6.30 to 8.00 pm. There will be cheese and wine courtesy of the Arborfield and Newland Parish Council and there will be an opportunity to meet with various local groups, including SOLVE Hall Farm, and to ask questions about what is happening in and around Arborfield.
I look forward to seeing you there if you can make it.