Wise words on the street
Most of us feel intimidated and hurry on by – but when mum Carol Darbyshire sees a gang of teenagers hanging around on a street corner at night, she always stops to chat. Neil Hudson finds out why.
Supermum Carol Darbyshire has no qualms about confronting gangs of teenagers on the streets at night. In fact, the registered drug worker goes out of her way to look for them.
In the last three months alone, she’s spoken to more than 5,000 youngsters on street corners, parks, playgrounds – anywhere youngsters congregate.
Now her work, and that of fellow youth outreach worker Daniel Dearnley, has been praised by the police and other agencies as invaluable in helping steer young people away from crime and drugs.
Mother-of-one Carol, 47, is no stranger to dealing with children – she’s been a foster mum to 11 over the years and now acts as a kind of surrogate street mum to thousands more.
While many might wince at the mere prospect of having to confront gangs of young teens, it’s not something that bothers the ever-optimistic drugs worker.
Her work means she is out on the streets, engaging with groups of teenagers, at least three nights every week, whatever the weather.
Since she started her job just over two years ago, she’s helped get funding for floodlights in parks so children can use football and tennis courts during the evening and is a well known face at the under-16s nights at Batley’s Frontier nightclub, where she offers young people advice on everything from drugs to safe sex.
With a background in education – she worked for Kirklees Education Authority for 11 years – and a sound knowledge of what makes young people tick, her practical down-to-earth approach is what helps her break the ice.
“My remit is to be on the streets three nights a week at the very least. We go looking for young people. I’ve worked with young people for 30 years. I can walk up to a group of 20 kids and it doesn’t really bother me. It’s a judgment call every time. I’m on their territory and I go with their ground rules. When it’s time to leave, I go.”
Her full-frontal assault on what most people today regard as gangs of yobs in hoodies loitering on street corners up to no good, has paid dividends.
Moreover, rather than conform to the stereotype, she says the groups of teenagers she talks to often welcome her, and even if she does find herself up against some initial resistance, she is not someone who is easily put off.
“I ask them what they are doing and why they are there. If I have been asked to go there because of reports from residents about drinking and other stuff, I never lecture them on the first date. I go back three or four times before I start to give them advice.
“I talk to them about hard drugs, crime, sex, if they are doing cannabis. It’s not about slapping Asbos on young people, it’s about preventing them from getting into that sort of thing in the first place.
“I feel sorry for them, stood out there in the cold for hours on end, with people complaining about them. I point out to them how intimidating they look to older people and I do get the odd remark, but that’s just bravado. I have never been abused and groups are never rude to me.”
In the last three months, Carol has contacted no less than 5,909 people, either on the street, or in clubs and other events – over the coming year, she will have another 15,000 encounters.
Carol’s post is commissioned by Kirklees Drug Action Team, which is part of Kirklees Safer Communities Partnership. It is funded by West Yorkshire Police and managed by Lifeline Kirklees.
But her work also has a darker side and it’s something she does not shy away from, but confronts with the same vigour and determination.
In Dewsbury alone, she’s helped close down three ‘gas pits’ – secluded areas about the town where mainly young people gather to sniff deadly gas.
She’s also contributed to the setting up of a soup kitchen for the homeless, based at Dewsbury Minster. She values her work at the Frontier’s Future Generation under 16s night, which has a strict zero tolerance policy on alcohol and cigarettes.
She said: “The men who run that evening are family men. It’s all about educating young people how to behave. Some of them don’t know how to act in a club, they will do things that are out of place like walking on furniture or taking their shirts off, but they soon learn. Now it’s not a problem and their manners are improving.”
She added: “I’ve got the best job in the world. I get a buzz out of it.”
John Hill, Operations Director of The Frontier nightclub in Batley, which stages regular under-16s nights, said: “Carol has worked with us since the first day we started our Future Generation nights a year ago. She has a great rapport with the thousands of young customers who attend out events and has built up valuable relationships with many of them.
“We recently hosted a consultation event which gave us extremely valuable feedback in the kind of events our young customers want to see here in the future.
“We operate a strict zero-tolerance policy on anti-social behaviour and there is no drinking or smoking allowed in the club on the Under-16s nights. Carol’s work is invaluable in shaping the attitudes and behaviours of these youngsters who will be our customers in the future.”
Chief Insp Jon Carter, from West Yorkshire Police, said: “Carol provides a great service engaging with young people who are often disaffected, fringing on crime and have issues around drugs, alcohol or other substance abuse.
“On occasions they have been known to let her down but she doesn’t give up on them and works relentlessly to gain their confidence and trust and get to the heart of their particular problems.
“She has had fantastic success in getting young people off the streets and her Young Person’s Event at the Frontier Club is a typical example where up to 1,400 young people attend on a regular basis.
“Events such as this make young people feel valued and they go a long way towards reducing the levels of anti-social behaviour in our neighbourhoods and this in turn helps to reassure those who live there.”