from YAPRap August 2004
by Al Bingham, YAPRap feature writer
One of the most common needs expressed by young people across NSW is for something to do. Just about any consultation run with young people will identify that they want to do things in their locality. This need is observable even in areas that seem to provide many entertainment options for young people. Why, then, does it keep arising?
Traditionally, activities for young people to do are targeted at young people with personal resources. They need finances in order to watch movies, play arcade games, buy food or clothing, etc. For young people who don't have disposable income, these entertainment options aren't viable on a regular basis. Activities that don't require many funds are either less social, eg. watching TV, reading a book, or are often seen as threatening to other community members, eg. hanging out at the local train station or shopping centre.
Of course, there is always kicking a soccer ball around a local park, but what if it's raining that day? Or what if your friends are all inside playing with their Play Station? What if your preference is for a less structured activity, where you can just relax and talk? Many adults seem to enjoy this type of leisure pursuit, if the plethora of restaurants, coffee shops and pubs in our country are anything to go by.
The Channel Café in Penrith, operated by Fusion Australia, strives to offer this type of outlet for young people. Fusion Australia is a Christian community-based organisation with a particular focus on helping young people and those around them discover how they can become more valued in the community.
'RAYZ' Café and Night Club ran from 1990 to 1994 in Penrith. It then moved to Werrington from 1994 to 1996, and took on the character of band nights and dance parties, run as the 'Axolotol'. From the success of these events it became apparent that young people liked hanging out in social settings.
From Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures Fusion Australia could see that there were large numbers of young people in the Penrith area. The band nights themselves were attracting up to five hundred young people on the busiest nights, and other groups of young people were observed hanging around the shopping district of the Penrith Plaza, with little to do.
In the light of all of this, Fusion Australia negotiated with the local community, Department of Community Services, young people, local churches, the owner of the Calikerinos arcade, and local members of parliament, to establish the Channel Café.
The Channel Café opens Tuesday to Friday and offers leisure activities such as pool, table tennis, video games, board games, cards, etc. Often more structured events such as pool and table tennis competitions are run. The Café is in the process of setting up a computer network, so that young people will be able to play games, access the internet, and do word processing onsite.
Once a month the young people attending the café are offered an external outing on a Friday. These include things such as bush walks, swimming, bowling, and ice skating. Activities outside the café are also offered Tuesday to Friday during school holidays. Camps are often run at this time.
Monthly band nights are also held. This is a good opportunity for young bands to gain experience playing in front of live audiences, and start to get exposure in the local market. There aren't a lot of venues for young bands in the Penrith area, and those that are available are often financially beyond their reach to hire. Young people organise the band nights and work out the details of security, advertising, food, lighting, PA, etc. Often young people design a web site and fliers to advertise the upcoming event. In this way the band nights operate as a training ground where young people can learn valuable skills to apply in other areas of their lives.
The other positive outcome from the band nights is that any profit made from door takings is put into a fund for an annual Uluru Trip. Young people from all over Australia can be selected to take this trip and be a part of linking with Indigenous cultural centres on Journey To The Heart, a pilgrimage towards awareness, understanding and reconciliation.
A further training opportunity provided by the Channel Café is offering young people the chance to work behind the counter. The café offers young people a range of affordable food and drink, from snacks to milkshakes to hot food. All items are sold to cover costs, not to make a profit, which makes them cheaper than food sold through commercial outlets. Young people are selected by the youth workers to sell food, if they are interested. They gain skills and confidence from handling money and dealing with their peers as customers.
The biggest benefit of the café is providing young people with a safe space to congregate, where they aren't viewed as a nuisance by other community members, and where they can talk to trusted adults about their lives. Anyone can drop in and be a part of what is happening, provided they are between the ages of twelve and seventeen. The Channel Café is so successful in providing a comfortable environment that often its customers need to be persuaded to find another place to hang around, once they have turned eighteen. They get so used to the friends, cheap food and drink and the encouragement to talk, that they don't want to leave.
The Café is only one part of Fusion's work in Western Sydney. Fusion Australia also operates such activities breakfast and lunchtime programs in local high schools, community festivals, art projects, REACT (a magazine for young people by young people), and youth accommodation services.
The Channel Café is a long running service, having been in operation for almost eight years. Next month we will be looking at Homebass, a younger café that has been set up in the Bankstown area.
Snapshot of the Channel Cafe
Young People aged 12-17, living in and frequenting the Penrith Local Government Area.
Tasty Fact #1
Most young people learn about the Channel by meeting café youth workers at breakfast programs run through Penrith high schools.
Tasty Fact #2
Without the support of volunteers the breakfast programs would not be as effective. Workers would need to focus on organising breakfast, rather than making meaningful contact with young people.
Many organisations would be able to set up a café in their local area, provided that they had the worker hours to staff it, the space, and the resources to set up serving counters and places to sit.
David Beer (Team Leader, Channel Café) or
Fusion Australia (NSW)
(02) 8805 5900