Let me tell you a joke – it goes like this:
How long does it take to get a skate park built in Lochgilphead?
Answer: Forty years.
Yes you are right - it is not remotely funny is it? But what is even less funny is that it is actually true.
Because, you see, the little town of Lochgilphead in Scotland where my children went to school, has been after a skate park for about the same amount of time that someone invented the BMX bike. Well, when I say the ‘town’ I actually mean the children residing there.
Since the 1980’s they have petitioned, sought funding and practically begged someone to build this facility so they can actually have some fun for a change. And the adults, bless them, have kept their hopes up all this time by kind of hinting that one will be built anytime. Very nearly at some point not too far away in the future. Possibly...
When that particular future will manifest, however, seems to be infinitely distant. Because as I write in the year 2021, over forty years after the first youngsters did their best to get someone (anyone!) to help them, the Lochgilphead skate park is still a dream.
There is apparently a plot of land for it, though. Yes, a children’s ‘organisation’ was given, yes given, about £155,000 to buy land and property. The first thing they did was to buy their own building (well, why not?) and with the rest they bought an adjoining piece of land, and announced that this is where the skate park would be built. It was in the paper and everything (Lochgilphead skate park) Kids rejoiced.
Well, no, not just yet...
This was in 2018 and do you know how much of the work to progress the skate park has been undertaken?
Niente; nada; nil; zilch; zippo.
And when I enquired as to why the patch of land is still just a patch of land without anything on it I received a response that felt like someone was blowing fluff into my face.
It didn’t make sense; it didn’t stack up and apparent ‘facts’ were, not to put too fine a point on it, slightly on the wrong side of inaccurate (this is me being politically correct)! The fabled 'plans' were apparently somewhere, but not actually available (at least I could not find them). I tried to get an idea of how long it would take to build. The person responsible gave me the following inscrutable response:
"As you are aware we are a small team and a charity and out with all the work on the new development we still have to keep the running and development of our current services going which includes young carers commissioning services, ADP work in schools, diversionary programs, counselling etc., which is priority but I can assure you that things are moving along as how we would hope in regards to the new development." Fiona Kalache, 2nd January 2020.
Diversionary programs and Counselling? Presumably that is due to our children being bored to death with little in the way of hope? And what is 'ADP work', anyway? I never found out, despite asking.
Our kids are desperate. They have little else to do in town. There is no youth club where they can hang out and do teenagery things (yes I know, I just made it up) without little old ladies having hysterics. There is a sports centre and a swimming pool, sure, but the thing is they are for, you know, sports. Youngsters don’t always want to be chasing a ball around or getting various limbs beaten on the waterlogged shinty field. Sometimes they just want to chill.
Someone once said to me ‘Oh, well – they’ve got the loch, haven’t they?’
The loch...Oh, yes loch Gilp; frigid for 10 months of the year and with a tide that recedes about a mile out to sea several times a day. Oh, and with not a boat in sight - unless you count the private yachts in Ardrishaig harbour. Perhaps they could go snorkelling?
They could, of course, hang out at the public toilets – after all it is under cover. Or possibly spend the day in the Lochgilphead medical centre waiting room - after all, everyone over 60 seems to.
So, as I said, there is nothing for these kids to do. You would have thought we would be giving our youngsters a bit more fun, wouldn’t you?
But I am afraid that whatever else is great in Scotland’s rural towns (and there are a great many things to celebrate about this beautiful nation) it is most certainly not holding children in high regard.
Rather, it would seem that those who are in charge of local policy want to ensure anyone between ( oh I don’t know – say about zero and 18 years of age) is treated like something on the underside of one’s shoe. At best they are treated as if they are all little criminals in the making who couldn’t look after themselves if they tried. So there is a plethora of ‘support services’ and ‘information events’ about the need to never go near alcohol, pick up a cigarette or how to have safe sex (not necessarily all at the same time).
I can just see these kids queuing up to be bored rigid by some old fart sporting a frown.
So let me be a mouthpiece for the generations of children who have come and gone in the little town of Lochgilphead in Argyll:
Please will someone finally remove the blight of forty years and build Lochgilphead Skate Park?
Thank you so much.