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Hoodies and goodies.

PUBLISHED: 08:46 01 February 2011

Witney Catchpole and Charlie Dinsdale and their Shelter A Hoodie project .

Witney Catchpole and Charlie Dinsdale and their Shelter A Hoodie project .

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Hoodies are fighting - back against crime, injustice and stereotyping. Last week Life Matters highlighted some of the great work being done by local teenagers. Now ROWAN MANTELL meets more of the many teens with stories worth celebrating.

They chose the hoodies very deliberately. Hoodies had become shorthand for trouble, for people who should be banned from shopping centres and avoided in the street.

So the teenage members of a unique panel, dedicated to helping other young people, decided to wear hoodies as their uniform. Now whenever the work of Norfolk’s pioneering Youth Advisory Panel is publicised, the accompa-nying pictures are of teenagers wearing hoodies, not causing trouble, or even simply hanging around, but actively helping their local community.

“They decided they wanted their uniform to be a hoodie to dispel the myth that all young people hanging around in hoodies are causing trouble,” said Kara Shingleton, of Victim Support.

The Youth Advisory Panel is part of Victim Support and was set up to give a voice to youngsters who had been victims of crime.

It is the only one in the country.

Even so, the words “teenager” and “youth justice system” in the same sentence might have local people bracing themselves for the latest grim crime and punishment statistics.

But Madi and Holly are neither criminals or victims – but teenagers who have chosen to give up their spare time to help other young people deal with the effects of crime.

Sixteen-year-old Madi, who lives near Hethersett, said: “I joined the Victim Support Youth Advisory Panel, or ‘Yap’ because I thought it would be a really good opportunity to put something back into the community, and meet some like-minded young people.

“I enjoy the meetings - they’re always a laugh! I also enjoy the feeling that I’m not sponging off society, and that I’m doing something that really helps other young people, like the residential activity breaks for young victims of crime that we helped set up.”

The Hethersett sixth former hopes to go on to study medicine at university, said: “I’m astounded by how many older people actually shy away from my friends and me when we’re in the city together, as if we’re going to pull a knife on them!”

“The older generations are a bit tentative around young people, and don’t trust us as an age group.”

However, she knows that young people are actually more likely to be the victims of crime than any other age group.

Seventeen-year-old Holly, from Wymondham, is also on Norfolk’s Victim Support Youth Advisory Panel.

She said: “It seemed like a good opportunity to meet new people and feel like I’m having a say in what goes on in our community,” said Holly. “I think that there are older people who certainly under-estimate our generation.

“It is often assumed that young people are only causing crime, and the amount of young victims there are is over-looked. As with any generation, there is a small amount of people that cause problems. I’m proud to say that more often than not, I’ve met young people that want to make a positive difference rather than a negative one.

“It’s nice to feel that I’m making a difference within our community.”

Welcoming the chance to focus on some of our most positive teens, Kara Shingleton said: “I think this is really helpful to the community, otherwise we will end up with older people being scared of the young and young people being scared of each other. It’s just not fair to label people as ‘hoodies’ or ‘chavs’ and think of everyone in a hoodie as a criminal.”

The original panel members, when it was started four years ago, were all victims of crime themselves, but today the teenagers simply need to have an interest in helping other young victims.

They have been part of anti-bullying initiatives and have helped design leaflets and information for fellow-teens. Last summer the Norfolk teenagers travelled to London to make a film with the National Youth Theatre and they have also made a video for Norfolk police.

“The whole criminal justice system uses them,” said Kara.

Jessica Harris is 15 years old and has high hopes for her future. She is already involved in community radio and a local decision-making group for young people.

The Wymondham High pupil is wondering whether to pursue a career in journalism, publishing, politics or as an author.

And yet, when she walks around her home town of Wymondham this bright, committed, ambitious, thoughtful 15-year-old gets “odd looks or wary glances.”

She said: “I cannot begin to count the amount of times I’ve been given odd looks or wary glances because of my age. When I go to the shops, when I’m just walking down the street, if I’m talking to another adult - well, whenever I’m outside really!

“I think adults just label all teenagers in the ‘horrible youths’ category without getting to know each individual.”

Jessica, in common with most teenagers, loves her hoodies. “Hoodies don’t mean trouble they’re comfortable and practical, of course I wear one, I think basically every teenager owns one!” she said.

“If it’s cold, they’re warm, if it rains, you have a hood, if gets too hot, you can take it off and tie it round your waist. And they’re cheap and affordable.”

Jessica is a member of South Norfolk Youth Action, a group of 11 to19-year-olds set up six years ago to allow young people a route into the decisions being made by South Norfolk District Council. She helps with its radio station and newspaper and said: “I like meeting new people and learning things I wouldn’t learn at school, taking part in things I would have never considered doing. It’s also given me an insight into what I want to do when I’m older and how things work. It’s been really interesting and fun.”

She insists the teenagers featured on television news bulletins are just a tiny proportion of our teens.

“They don’t represent the rest of us. The people that should represent us never seem to get a look at, or given a thought,” said Jessica. “The ‘good’ teenagers are going to be the people looking after the adult generation when the roles have swapped. Do we really want it to be built on mistrust from the start?”

Witney Catchpole had no idea she was about to launch a community campaign and win awards when she started meeting friends in her home village. But the teens gathering at Carlton Colville, near Lowestoft, began to annoy older residents.

“Police kept getting called on us because of complaints that our group was too large and too loud to be in residen-tial areas,” said 16-year-old Witney.

“They realised we weren’t really doing anything wrong but were just in the wrong place, in a large group, which is why we were so loud.”

So a meeting was called between the teenagers, the parish council, and local police and youth workers.

“We came up with the idea of a youth shelter and it took off from there really,” said Witney.

She and her 17-year-old friend Charlie Dinsdale spearheaded a project they called Shelter a Hoodie and soon won support from local charities, councillors and churches.

The teens raised £9,500 to fund a specially-built solar-heated shelter to be installed at the local park.

“I hadn’t done any community or voluntary work before but it wasn’t like giving up our free time as it was never boring. It just gave us something to do,” said Witney.

Witney and Charlie were shortlisted for the Suffolk Young People of the Year awards and won a regional vIn-spired award for youth volunteers.

Local youth worker Debbie Goddard said: “The shelter will make a huge difference. Before this, the kids used to crawl under the skate ramps when it rained because it was the only dry place.”

And are older people prejudiced against teenagers? Witney, a student at Norwich City College, has an interesting view. “I think most older people think of teenagers as what they were doing at our age,” she said. “Some think just because they were bad, we are the same.”

Do you know a terrific teenager? We would love to highlight the work of more of our teens.

So if you know a young person whose work, at home or at school, and in the local community or for a fairer world, is worth celebrating – please email rowan.mantell@archant.co.uk

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