Deaf Life15th March 2014

Deaf Centres - The Youth Are Our Future Leaders

If Deaf Centres are to have a strong future, it is important to attract youngsters today

by Sarah Lawrence

It is only through the recent re-establishment of the Deaf Youth Club that the Deaf Youth have been actively involved in Cardiff Deaf Centre. The Deaf Youth Club was set up in the early 1990’s by Simon Scandrett, a responsibility taken over by Stuart Parkinson some time later.

In those early days, Ashgrove School for the Deaf was still running and the club met on Monday evenings. Unfortunately, they had to rely on a person to open the club for them as they were not given a key. Sometimes, the person did not turn up and they had no way of contacting the key holder. Back then there were no mobile phones and contact between one Deaf person and another was far more difficult. Eventually, the Deaf Youth Club closed due to those internal difficulties.

A few years later the Community Education Officer for Heol Hir Youth Centre based in the grounds of Llanishen High School, Cardiff, asked Stuart to set up a Youth Club for Deaf youngsters with the aim of then integrating with their hearing peers. The idea was great, but in practice, it did not work. The Deaf youth members were asking Stuart what the hearing young people were talking about and the hearing youth members were asking him what the Deaf Youth Members were saying. The two groups separated themselves into different areas of the Youth Centre.

In 1995, Stuart was made redundant as a result of the cuts at the Cardiff County Council and eventually the Deaf Youth Club closed as it was impossible to run without a Deaf Youth Worker who can sign in BSL.

The British Deaf Association (BDA) then set up an office in Cardiff and in 2000, they set up training for Deaf people to become youth workers. Some of the group went on to study a BA Hons in Youth and Community Work at the University of Wales, Newport. The graduates were Ian Glover, Cathie-Robins Talbot, Melanie Jones and Stuart Parkinson. This eventually led to the re-establishment of a Deaf Youth Club at Fitzalan Youth Centre led by Melanie Jones, supported by Youth Workers Elwyn Jones, Aman Ibrahim and Guy Balch. This was also held on a Friday evening but as Fitzalan Youth Centre was near the Cardiff City Football Stadium, many parents were uncomfortable about their children travelling on the buses, very often with rowdy football fans. Consequently, the numbers attending began to shrink. This eventually led to the setting up of a ‘drop in centre’ based at the BDA’s Wales Office in Newport Road. 

Around 2000, Stuart was working at Heol Hir Youth Centre with young hearing people with the support of BSL/English Interpreters and a few years later he felt that it was time to move on. An opportunity arose to set up a Deaf Youth Club at Cardiff Deaf Centre and Stuart jumped at the chance. Thursday was chosen as the day to run the Club.

Commenting about the Youth Club, Stuart said, “Although the numbers have gone up and down over the years, we are still passionate about providing social and educational activities that improve the confidence of young Deaf and Hard of Hearing people, providing them with adult role models to inspire them. Ultimately, we want to inspire them so that they can believe in themselves.”

Asked about the challenges the Youth Club faces, Stuart replied. “There are some people who do not understand what Youth Work is about. Some assume that all we do is play pool and table tennis. The focus is to provide activities that follow the Youth Work Curriculum for Wales that states we must deliver activities that are Educative, Empowering, Participative and Expressive. Another challenge comes from attracting Deaf youngsters to the club. With Schools for the Deaf closing across the UK and many youngsters being educated orally in mainstream schools it is important that all members of Deaf Clubs welcome youngsters and make Deaf Clubs a place they want to hang out."

“Without the involvement of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing young people of today, it is quite possible that there will not be a future generation to take over Deaf Clubs. There is a window of opportunity for us all to provide young Deaf people with a strong sense of Deaf identity, self belief in themselves and be proud to sign British Sign Language.”

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Community / Deaf Life

15th March 2014