Back in November 2009 I wrote an article for Youth Work Now magazine arguing that it was OK in principle to charge young people to attend a youth club. I still believe that to be true, but want to explore the journey we’ve been on with one of our groups.
For a number of years the church where I work has run a Thursday night youth club for young people aged between 11 and 14. It’s always been pretty popular and has historically been free to attend, but last September we introduced a 50 pence fee.
This was mainly as a response to the huge numbers attending. We were getting nearly 80 young people a week and simply couldn’t cope with that many in one go (especially as the majority of the team are volunteers). It was obviously a good problem to have, and we did look at other solutions such as splitting the session, opening other nights, etc. Unfortunately none of these were viable due to the use of the building and the availability of the team, so we bit the bullet and charged the young people. We rationalised the decision as I had done in the previous article:
Although money can be a huge barrier for young people accessing a club or service, for a creative worker charging a fee does not have to exclude anyone. Often those at the door with no money have chosen to spend it elsewhere, but even those who genuinely canâ€™t afford it can still be granted access on a free trial, by volunteering in some way, simply waiving the fee, or by many other appropriate solutions.
So that’s what we did. And although every other youth club in the area charged the same amount, we effectively halved our numbers overnight. Thankfully that was still around 40 young people each session and this was much more manageable.
However, we are now a year on and numbers have steadily been declining. There are other contributing factors; the team has changed significantly so relationships with the young people are not as strong as they were, and many of the core group of young people have moved up to the older group. Still, there is no escaping that due to the economic climate the cost of living has gone up and there is a lot less disposable income around. It seems that fewer young people have 50p available or choose to spend it at the club.
As I said at the beginning, I still think that it is OK to charge for access to youth clubs. BUT it won’t be appropriate in every situation and I wonder if we need to drastically rethink what we are doing with this particular Thursday night group. So this is where I need your help.
Do you charge for any youth clubs? Why or why not? What is your experience?
Please consider leaving a comment and joining the discussion below.
To put our 50p charge in context locally, all the statutory youth service activities have now gone up to Â£1 per session! Does it help being the cheapest in town? Does it matter?