Recollections of a 1960s Youth Worker: An Interview with John Brady
John Brady was the central youth worker at the Albemarle Youth House in the late 1960s. His interview gives a good insight into how this decade changed young people’s behaviour and outlook.
When and where were you born?
I was born in 1930 in South Shields, County Durham.
Apparently, you were once a miner.
That’s right. Nearly all my family were, my father, my grandfather.
How long were you down the pit for?
Eight or nine years.
Did you leave school at 14?
No, I was 16 or 17. I went to a grammar school.
Was it quite unusual then to go from grammar school to the pit?
Not that unusual. For me, I left with no qualifications. In those days, you needed an English grade and five other passes. I got four and so nothing.
What year did you leave mining?
It must have been about 1956. Then I worked in a factory and then on the railways.
Did the pit close or had you just had enough?
I was very keen to get out; I didn’t like it at all.
How did you get involved in the youth service?
I had always been a youth club member. I used to go to the Catholic youth club and there I was elected to what was called the ‘council of youth’. It sounds quite high powered but it wasn’t, there was one from each club. I really was hooked on that. My younger brother joined the youth club in another part of town – we used to live in a housing estate in the outskirts – and he joined this youth club and there were many problems. So he came in one night and he said that unless they got somebody to help they would have to close. The leader was going on holiday and his replacement had gone to Germany for a few weeks. I just went along to help for a while, and my girlfriend at the time came and we carried on the boys’ club.
Somebody had originally set it up as a boys’ sports club. It was an old pub, which was four levels and a cellar, and it had one room on each floor.
Are you talking about the late 1950s?
And from there?
That was a voluntary position, and eventually I took it over completely and ran it and I got increasingly interested in youth work. The premises closed and it changed into a local authority youth club, and I became what was known as a warden.
Were you being paid full-time wages?
No, just part-time, £5 per week for six nights. In the early 1960s they had a thing called the Albemarle Report. One of the recommendations for that was that there was to be a training course for youth leaders, and I was following this very closely. I used to read the Times Educational Supplement and read all the education articles. When I read that I thought, ‘I wonder if I should reply because I have nothing to lose.’ I applied and I was quite surprised when I was accepted for a one-year course.
Was the Albemarle Report the first serious strategy for the youth service in England?
Yes it was. It was led by Lady Albemarle. She made many recommendations and a lot of them were put into effect: more money was made available, premises were built, full-time youth clubs were introduced. It made a tremendous difference to youth work.
Was the Albemarle Report written because of concerns over crime?
I think that was the reason. The crime rates were rising and people were worried about what was happening. Nevertheless, there was a genuine concern for kids; they weren’t being treated properly or being provided for.
So did that kick off a rash of new youth clubs around the country as well as Harold Hill?
That’s right. It wasn’t called the Albemarle at the beginning. The first warden was Trevor Williams, who then became the coordinating youth officer for Havering. One of his first recommendations was to change its name to the Albemarle Youth House.
How did you end up in Harold Hill?
I had always been attracted to London so when I left college I went to Hammersmith, which I packed up after five months because it was awful. I then went to work in Orpington in Kent.
Was that a working-class area?
No not really, very much middle class. The kids I attracted came from the housing estates on the outskirts. It was a very, very small building, and not very good at all. Again, it was very much based on boys’ clubs stuff: gym and football. There were things like a PE class.
I wasn’t anti-sport, although I’ve never been the sporting type, but there were many things wrong with it: they made no provision for girls, for instance. The only provision for the girls was the boys. I tried to organise other things like cookery, in inverted commas, because they only messed about. Something creative, you know. It was a very, very active club. It was very small though, and eventually we had to put a ceiling of 80 boys and 80 girls, with most of them coming down every night, so as you can imagine it was throbbing.
What sort of age were they?
It was 16, 17 oldest. They did have a junior club but I wasn’t interested in that and although I oversaw it, I had somebody else organise that.
From there to Harold Hill?
I was pissed off at the Orpington youth centre because voluntary people, such as a certain colonel who was also on the education committee, made decisions. When it came to allocating money for things, we thought we were going to get money to build an extension, but he said, ‘Well you’ve got something but the Methodist club has nothing.’ So he voted for the money to go to the Methodist club.
So I thought, ‘I’ve had enough of this’, and I started looking for another job.
Where did you see the Albemarle job advertised?
In the Times Educational Supplement.
For a full-time youth worker?
Yes. I applied for it and I was quite amazed when I got it because there was a lot of competition.
It was considered a plum job which was well paid and had new premises.
What year did you come here?
June 6, 1966.
Had you heard of Harold Hill before you moved here?
No I hadn’t.
You obviously knew it was a housing estate?
I knew it was a resettlement area. That appealed to me because I am very much working class and I had lived in a very small housing estate in South Shields that was built in 1939. I lived there until I came to London.
What sort of state was the Albemarle in when you arrived?
It was only a year old but I thought that it looked very, very neglected. The first thing that I saw was that the grass at the front was waist high and the windows were dirty: it had an air of neglect about it. Inside, they had sofas but they were torn and dirty. There was a good weightlifting room and anything that was broken was stacked in the weightlifting room. That was the only group that was going and the man was really fed up because he had to work around all the rubbish.
The fellow that had run the club previously was a son of a vicar, and he had trained in social science: all youth work was teacher-orientated then.
What he was trying to do was not cater for the kids of Harold Hill, but for the whole of Havering. Specialist groups were accommodated. There was an orchestra, which was fairly good, but they used to occupy the whole hall on a Friday night.
Also, because they were members of another youth club, they never paid to use the Albemarle. When they wanted equipment they would get a grant, but if it fell short the difference came out of our funds, which I thought was terribly unfair.
Was it open every evening or only on some evenings?
It was open every weekday evening, Monday to Friday.
Was it popular when you arrived?
Not particularly. There was a nucleus but there wasn’t a huge membership or attendance.
Were there many youth club workers at the time that had come from working-class backgrounds?
It varied. A lot of them were ex-servicemen and a lot of them were part-time teachers or ex-teachers. Back in South Shields there were a lot of part-time youth workers and they were nearly all working class, but when you got away from places like that you used to find a lot of ex-squadron leaders and people like that.
There were only two full-time jobs in Havering at that time. The rest were part-time and a lot were ordinary working-class guys but middle-class aspiring, middle-class values. I was told off once by one of their wives for swearing because I said ‘bloody’! ‘We don’t have any swearing in this club,’ she told me. There were also a lot of part-time teachers on the staff.
Working as volunteers?
Part-time paid. Their standards were terrible. I wouldn’t let them throw any kids out because being teachers they wanted to do that.
Did you ever throw kids out of the Albemarle?
I didn’t, it would have to have been something drastic, and I would want to be the one that did it, not a youth worker that came in one night a week and didn’t know what was happening. I saw this kid being led out one night and I said, ‘What’s happening here?’
And he said, ‘I’m sending him home.’
So I said, ‘Oh yes, what’s the problem?’
‘He was swearing.’
‘Swearing? But you swear.’
‘Yes, but not in front of the girls.’
So I said, ‘Were the girls objecting then?’
‘No but I didn’t like it.’
So I said, ‘Fuck off!’
It was absolutely ridiculous.
I can’t remember what I threw kids out for but it had to be something serious and not swearing or something trivial like that. I would try and talk to them about swearing because every other word was ‘fuck’, so I used to sit down and talk with them: ‘Don’t you think that you put people off by swearing, don’t you think that you should try and temper it. Try to judge the situation, will the person be offended or put off. If you swear like that at school then teachers will refuse to teach you and you won’t get an education.’
I used to try to talk to them about the practical issues.
Did they listen?
Well they didn’t stop swearing, but I think they listened to what I had to say. I remember once this kid asked me, ‘Can I borrow your fucking pen?’
So I said, ‘You fucking what?’
He was like, ‘Sorry John, your pen.’
Did you have much dealing with any other agencies, such as schools?
Yes, there were regular meetings. There was a lot of youth work going on in Havering. There was a part-time youth worker in every school and so there were a lot of meetings. Those I had met at college I stayed in touch with because we were very much aware that one year of training wasn’t sufficient. We also used to belong to the National Association of Youth Clubs and the National Association of Boys’ Clubs, and they have since amalgamated into the National Association of Youth Clubs.
Was that government-funded?
No, it was voluntary. It was an opportunity to get together and talk to a lot of people. They also organised big concerts, table tennis tournaments and the like.
Was there much in the way of awayday trips, weekends out or holidays?
There were loads of that.
Was there plenty of funding for trips?
No, you charged the kids or took it out of club funds.
The 1960s was quite a golden age for youth in this country. Did you feel at the time that you were involved in a special era?
No, I didn’t. I thought it was taking off, which I thought was interesting and nice. I thought it was here to stay.
When you asked about funding, one of the things that we did was that every Friday night we had a dance with groups that you could get fairly cheaply in those days. That was exciting. We didn’t just put on a dance, we used to create an atmosphere. We used to get crowds coming to these dances and we charged them entry and from those funds, we could subsidise trips.
Were the kids that came to these dances exclusively from Harold Hill?
Mostly, but I didn’t restrict it to areas. There were lots of barriers to stop kids coming into youth clubs. ‘The kids won’t come in, and when they do come in they wander off in the summer.’
Part of the problem was that they had to fill in forms: How old are you? Where do you live? Which school did you go to? So I kept that to a minimum and instead of charging them a termly subscription, I said they could pay as they came in. I tried to persuade them to give information because I believe that the more you know about kids, the easier it is to work with them, but mostly I got that by standing talking and chatting to them. We used to get loads of kids coming in even in the summer. They used to spill out into the grass and we used to put things like chairs and tables outside.
Another thing that I strongly believed in was member participation. There was a kid called Steve who started to come to the club, and I had been warned about him: ‘Little bastard, he’s only semi-literate and he’ll put a knife in your back if you give him a chance.’
He flared up and he had a temper, but he wasn’t very bright so he misunderstood a lot.
He came and said to me, ‘John, why can’t we have a football team?’
So I said, ‘Steven, football teams take up a lot of time and a lot of money and only for 11 boys. All the rest of the club are excluded from that, the girls can’t take part, and I’m not putting all my time into a football team for 11 kids.’
So he said, ‘I’ll run it.’
So I said, ‘Okay, if you want to run it, where are you going to get the money from?’
‘I’ll raise the money.’
So he started a football team. It was never world-famous or anything, but they turned up and played regularly. When it had been going for just a few weeks, he showed me the books and they were the most immaculate books I’ve ever seen in my life: every penny that was taken was recorded, the girls who turned up, who scored the goals. And this was from a lad who was labelled semi-literate.
We also had a rugby club that was started from scratch.
Everything in the club was based around the kids’ involvement. They decided that dances were never going to be popular with the way the club was. So what they did was put in coloured bulbs in a pattern, and they painted the ceiling tiles different colours, and we had these new blinds installed, which cost a lot of money. It was a very good atmosphere, and they used to contact agencies and they would send relatively good groups.
They organised that. One of the kids would do it for about a year and they would get fed up and then somebody else would take it over. They used to line up to organise the dances. I had a lot of staff in on Friday night and they used to go around and talk to the kids.
Were you open on other nights of the week?
We were open every night of the week except Saturdays. We were open on Sundays for football, rugby, table tennis coaching and, sometimes, drama. I wasn’t always there; I used to get another member of staff to supervise that.
What was the average age of the kids when you first arrived?
The top age was 16, and I gradually increased that. The older age was neglected and as far as the younger ones were concerned, there were plenty of facilities for them in the form of out-of-hours school clubs. They were easier to handle; once you get to 16 you start thinking for yourself, and people don’t like that, do they? So at every opportunity I put the age up until we had the minimum age of 16.
Was it you who set the minimum age of 16?
It wasn’t spelt out, but I was being encouraged to run a young adults’ club. But the time I finished there were a lot of people in their early- and mid-20s, which I really enjoyed. I quite like young kids and I get on with them alright, but it’s much more exciting with the older kids because they are more daring.
As the age went up, did the activities change as well?
Yes, but it was really the membership themselves which decided the activities. We had two good table tennis tables and they approached me to organise proper coaching. There was that, and girls came to me and asked for the use of a room in which they could apply make-up, wash their hair, etc. So they came to me and said, ‘Can we have somebody come to cut our hair?’ So somebody came in to wash their hair, put make-up on their faces and things like that.
There were a lot of problems with the kids, the biggest one being drugs.
When did that start?
Almost as soon as I got there I was aware of the problem.
Was it hard drugs?
Hard drugs such as heroin were there almost straight away.
Had that problem been there before you arrived?
Yes, people ignored it. I was at a meeting once and the headteachers were saying, ‘There’s no drugs in my club.’
And one said, ‘We don’t have any drugs in my school,’ and he looked up and caught my eye and said, ‘Except one.’
Oh yeah, the only one you’re admitting to, you bugger. It was there but they preferred not to do anything about it. They chucked them out for taking drugs. I didn’t but I must admit I was sorely tempted at times because it was an awful headache.
How many kids were involved in heroin? Did hard drugs have a profile in the national media – were people aware that these drugs were about?
I think so. It was certainly a big problem in the Albemarle. I can’t remember offhand how many were on it. I used to keep secret records in which they had numbers because I was terrified of it falling into the wrong hands, but I think there must have been a hard core of 50. There were about seven club members who died from overdoses. I never saw myself as a social worker, I saw myself as an educator.
Your own youth didn’t involve drugs, so how did you learn about them? Were there other youth workers dealing with the same problem elsewhere?
Not nearby. The only people who were dealing with drugs were in Central London.
So the drugs were coming out of London then?
Well they had a ‘runner’. Everybody would give him a quid and he’d go down to Piccadilly and he’d come back with a big order. They weren’t selling but if they had been caught, they would have been classed as pushers. It came from Piccadilly but gradually the pushers were coming into the youth club and onto the Hill, and it got quite out of hand. It wasn’t just heroin; it was anything that was going. Cocaine was on the list then. A lot of pot, which I really didn’t mind although I used to create merry hell if I caught them smoking it on the premises, but it didn’t do them any harm. The kids who smoked pot were generally as boring as hell: ‘John, John, you’re a good lad, blah, blah, blah’, and then again it would be ‘John, John, you’re a good lad, blah, blah, blah’. They were like a gramophone record with the needle stuck! Thursday was pot night. I think that somebody used to come up and sell it and if he didn’t turn up they would go and get pissed. That was what I dreaded the most because there was always trouble in there when they had been drinking.
Did the heroin problem get worse the longer you were there?
Yes, I think it did.
I’ve been told that there was a deal between the council and the police to stop the place being raided so that the problem could be contained.
I don’t know about that. I remember once being tipped off about a raid. I didn’t care because my hands were clean, although the police were quite nasty because they used to stop kids and say, ‘Does John Brady sell you drugs?’ I’m absolutely anti-drugs. I wouldn’t touch them at all.
Did the police over raid the Albemarle?
No, but we only just avoided it. I had to ring the youth officer and say, ‘I hear they’re going to raid. Can you do anything about it?’
He would then have a meeting with the superintendent of Harold Hill and the man who ran the drug squad. We would have these arguments about the right way to proceed.
I was asked, ‘What would happen if you had a pusher in the club?’
‘I would give them their marching orders, I wouldn’t stand for that.’ And that was right I wouldn’t. What I agreed on was that if I had a pusher in the club I would get them to come and they would arrest him. They seemed to be happy with that up to a point. The drugs man was at any rate, but the superintendent of the police was very, very nasty.
At one point the kids had been coming out of the youth club shouting, and if there was any police outside they would shout ‘Batman and Robin!’ which I thought was terribly funny.
One evening about 12 police were standing outside, including the superintendent in his uniform. So I went up to them and said, ‘What’s going on here then, I thought we had an agreement about drugs?’
And he said, ‘It’s nothing to do with pushing, it’s about the behaviour of your club members!’ I just had to stand with them to stop any violence. It didn’t come to that but it was very scary.
What sort of age were the hard drug users?
About 15 to 18.
Apparently you took some of them into your home?
Yes, there was one who used to get chucked out of his own home by his parents. His drug-taking was getting worse and worse and worse. His parents used to throw him out of their house. When I first met him I’d never seen anything like it in my life: he was filthy. So someone said, ‘John, what do we do with him? He’s living in the back of an abandoned car?’
I only had a one-bedroom flat, but every time I got him back on track he’d be invited to live back at home, and I said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t go back there.’
But he always did. I tried to get him a job, get him a pair of decent trousers. To get him a job we sat down on my front room floor with the paper spread out and we’d go down the whole list of vacancies. He eventually got himself on a building site. So he got this job and he came in absolutely filthy, as you can imagine, and I had to order him to have a bath before he could come in properly. It was amazing how he sorted himself out.
Eventually he got married, which was too much for him and he went back on drugs again. He then went off to Ireland with his family. He stayed there for a while until his father interfered again. Anyway, this kid comes back to Harold Hill for a visit. As he came through Piccadilly he just couldn’t resist picking up some heroin. And what kids didn’t realise was that they built up a tolerance to drugs, so he went back to the dose he had taken two years previously, and he died on the train from Liverpool Street to Southend. He went past his stop and fell out further down the line and he died in hospital. He was the main one but quite a few used to crash around my flat, which wasn’t terribly convenient.
Were you dealing with parents?
Yes, I used to try and explain and encourage them to try to tolerate their kids. They used to get into a state of being pretty aggressive.
I can imagine.
It was hard work. The other thing was to try to explain that what I was trying to do was helpful. (They would say) ‘Why do you let them take drugs in your youth club?’
And I was like, ‘I don’t, but I can’t stop them. They do it. If I catch them, I’ll challenge them.’ I would try to get them registered.
Doctors could prescribe heroin then, couldn’t they?
Yes, from the prescription clinic.
So they couldn’t get it from their GP?
No. It was very time-consuming, but I used to take them up to London and get them registered.
So you had to take them all the way into London?
Yes, Westminster and Whitechapel. But it was easier to get them to Westminster.
I used to go around to their houses a bit. There was this one woman who I’ll never forget. She rang me up and said that her son had come in with drugs and would I come around and see her. By the time I had got there she was sitting there like some sort of Hollywood actress with her legs crossed and smoking a cigarette. There was heroin on the mantelpiece, and she said, ‘I told him, he doesn’t need it, do you Stephen?’
So I said, ‘That’s fine if he doesn’t, but are you sure he doesn’t need it?’
And then she said, ‘By the way, the police will be here shortly because I’ve rang them.’
‘To help him.’
So I said, ‘But the police won’t help him, they’ll arrest him.’
‘Oh no, they’ve promised me that they will help him.’
And of course he went into a detention centre. If I’d been a little bit more daring I would have picked it up and flushed it down the toilet. She wouldn’t be told, she knew everything.
How many registered drug addicts were there?
I would think there were more than 20. But the kids who were registered would pretend they were in a worse state than they were, and they’d go get hold of more than they needed which they would either sell or pass on, so a lot more became hooked. A lot wouldn’t register. They weren’t prepared to go into London once a week.
I used to get parents coming to the house as well. Some of them were abusive; some were pleased. The ones that were pleased were the ones whose kids had stabilised and had cut down to a minimum dosage. I remember one father beat his son up on the football pitch.
Didn’t they organise a sit-in in protest against the Vietnam War?
One of the things I realised early on was that the kids were actually quite intelligent: they weren’t stupid by any means. A lot of them were quite sophisticated, especially politically. It started with the problems. I used to bring people in to talk about drugs and VD, which was another big problem we had. Then politics. It was largely because of the Vietnam War that was raging at the time, and it was something that I didn’t know much about. I’ve always been a member of the Labour Party, but I didn’t know much about international matters. I only knew about the NHS and nationalisation, that sort of thing. National politics rather than international politics.
There was a youth worker there who suggested that we invite the historian A.J.P. Taylor to come and speak because all the kids were going on about the war. He wrote back declining, saying that he was too busy, but we found other people who would come down to talk about all aspects of politics. We had somebody to talk about the Vietnam War, and then we had local parliamentary candidates come and talk.
The kids took over there as well. That’s natural though, isn’t it?
You educate kids to read and write and then they read what they want and write what they want. It was the same with politics. One night the police came into the club and said, ‘John, are you being held prisoner here? Are you being stopped from going home?’
So I went, ‘What are you talking about?’
‘Well, we understand that this club is being occupied’ – it was fashionable at the time to occupy buildings in protest.
Well, we were being occupied and it was all down to bloody Del Smith!
I knew nothing about it.
Apparently, he went onto the stage at the end of the dance night and announced that the club was being occupied in solidarity with the Vietnamese people, but then somebody switched the speaker system off and he was left standing on the stage looking bloody stupid.
I said to him afterwards, ‘Were you really going to do that?’
And he said, ‘Well it wouldn’t have done you any harm, it’s warm, there’s places to sleep, there’s toilets.’ They had even arranged for food as well.
When there was a big demonstration they went up to London. I have to say that I considered club members as part of my extended family. I knew that they were on the Grosvenor Square demo and I watched the trouble on the news, and I couldn’t wait for them to come back and see if they were alright. There were two big marches they went on.
What also went on was they had a big exhibition in the youth club with posters, tables of literature. They were inviting people to come in off the streets and talk about Vietnam. My bosses rang me up and questioned me about what was going on, and I said, ‘I don’t know anything about it. I was on holiday.’
‘Oh yes, good time to go on holiday wasn’t it, John.’
‘Honestly, I don’t know anything about it.’
The event was quite successful as far as I can gather. There were loads of people that came in and people were expressing their opposition to the Vietnam War.
Were there other problems apart from drugs?
There were a lot of unwanted pregnancies. It was the beginning of the permissive era and they were reading the wrong end of the stick and they weren’t educated about these things: ‘We want sex when we want it, how we want it.’
And a lot of them became pregnant. So they’d come to me and say, ‘What do I do?’
I’m not a practising Catholic anymore, I haven’t been for years, but it’s still there. So I thought there’s only one solution to this and that’s an abortion. I used to hate it, I used to really dread it. I would ring up and introduce them to people and send them along. A lot of them ended up having abortions, and then of course the problems started with kids coming back to me and going, ‘I shouldn’t have done it,’ and having breakdowns because of it.
And because of promiscuity there were a lot of kids who had VD of various kinds. It wasn’t so difficult getting them treatment for that, but there was one awful, feckless family: the parents were awful. She was a Catholic, and her daughter had had VD and had gone for treatment, but she didn’t keep up with the treatment, which causes problems if you start a course of antibiotics and don’t finish it off. So I had to chase around trying to find her.
There was this particular girl, she was beautiful, a really beautiful girl: beautiful to look at and nice natured too, but she would drop her knickers for anybody. She spread a hell of a lot of it around, and she wouldn’t come into the talks that I had organised. She was too shy to come to the health talks. Then her mother turned up and she was Irish and really shouting at me about what I thought I was trying to do to her daughter, contaminating her and corrupting her and I was indecent. So I said, ‘It’s your bloody daughter that’s caused the problem in the first place!’
All sorts of educational things were going on at the same time as the ordinary youth club work. It upset me a bit because it took up a hell of a lot of time and resources. It had to be done, but more productive things could have been achieved. It’s the way things were; they had to have priority.
There was one kid who died because of an overdose and his mother was really upset, and so I said, ‘Look, do you realise that rather than killing your son I gave him an extra six months because he took an overdose six months ago and was dumped in the youth club yard. I had to call an ambulance and he went to the hospital, which saved his life. And he didn’t take those drugs in the Albemarle, he took them in your house.’
Do you have any regrets about the way you handled the drug problem?
No not really. I think that I was slightly off-target because I hated drugs. My aim was to get them off drugs completely, and I should have aimed to stabilise and reduce their intake to a sensible dosage. Some of them are still addicts to this day and are on a minimum dosage and they are working, have families and are married, and you can’t ask for more than that can you? If anything I should have been more relaxed about it, but that’s the only regret I have.
How long were you at the Albemarle altogether?
Five years, up to ’71.
Why did you leave?
It was a real mix-up. The youth club was very, very wearing, and it was really taking its toll on me. I was going home and not being able to sleep. I was getting very edgy and ratty and I wasn’t functioning very well and my bosses could see this. They gave me another member of staff for an extra two nights a week, and then they offered me a sabbatical to get me away from the club. It was a break, but when I was away they reorganised the youth service. We had four full-time youth workers in Havering, and they reorganised it so that instead of being youth club workers they became area workers, and I was appointed to Rainham. So my job went. There was no youth leader at the Albemarle.
Do you think that the club suffered because of that?
Well, my deputy took the appointment in Harold Hill. The four areas were Pettits, Rainham – where there was nothing, we just had a room in the library – Hornchurch and Harold Hill. And she took the Albemarle job. She said, ‘John, nothing will change, I’ll still carry on with your philosophy.’
But when I went back for a visit I was absolutely horrified. What she’d done was she’d given in to pressure to reduce the age range so you had all these kiddiewinkles running around, and there were all sorts of unsuitable people working there. She got involved with a single-mothers group and she’d given a lot of these people jobs and they brought their kids along with them. She introduced things like bingo, a licensed bar, cigarette machines. It was quite funny because a Scottish Methodist lady introduced all these and I was the atheist who had resisted all these things, and suddenly it became an adult club. There was bingo once a week, there was archery, and none of the club members were allowed in. There were all these sorts of things in the club, and the age group that I had concentrated on went. There was the junior club left and the adults, so I just thought, ‘This isn’t really appropriate for a youth club.’ So in my books it went really downhill from there.
When I visited, I was told, ‘Kids have changed since you were here John, I can tell you they have changed, they won’t come to youth clubs.’
I’d been hearing that story for years. If you give them the right things and treat them the right way, kids will come to youth clubs – if you handle them properly. And that’s what I think happened at the Albemarle. I was appalled. I never went back. I couldn’t bear it.
The ideas that my actions as a youth worker were based upon when to have faith in kids, give them opportunities, let them make their own mistakes. I was never disappointed in this ethos, I think it worked.
My colleagues told me, ‘They’ll walk all over you if you do things like that.’ It didn’t happen like that. Kids were given these opportunities and they took them. I was never disappointed.
Sometimes I had a kid come to me and say, ‘John, I’ve got a new job starting tomorrow and I need new boots. Can you lend me £10?’
And I’d go, ‘Yeah sure.’ I’d never see the £10 again. But that was few and far between, and basically I think my philosophy was borne out. I’ve never regretted it. They took every opportunity that was presented to them and they developed.
Some kids used to shout at me and tell me that I shouldn’t do this and I shouldn’t do that and tell me, ‘Get all these bloody addicts out of the club!’ There were one or two like that, but basically the kids used to live up to my expectations and I was quite pleased with the Albemarle. It was the highlight of my working life. The chemistry was just right. It was the right time, they were the right kids, and I was the right guy. We were all right for each other.
I’m going to pass on a copy of this interview to the youth workers. The Albemarle is only open one evening a week.
That’s tragic, that really is. It was throbbing, there were crowds trying to get in.
I didn’t always have success with the staff. I used to say, ‘Get in there and talk to them.’
‘Anything, find out about their mothers and fathers, how many brothers and sisters they have, what school they go to. Just talk to them.’
There was a wonderful member of staff called Sheila Horler, but the only thing wrong with her was that she could really lose her temper with the other staff. She would talk to the kids about anything, they all loved her, they trusted her.
One lad came and said to her, ‘Sheila, I think I’m homosexual.’
So she said, ‘Oh I don’t think you are, give yourself time, you’re in adolescence, give yourself time, and if you are, well, you’ve just got to accept it.’
And he said, ‘I think if I have sex with you I’ll be alright.’
We never worked out whether he was genuine or not.