Charging for Youth Clubs

3 October 2011 — 22 Comments

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.

Is paying to attend a club just small change?

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 can’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.

Update

To put our 50p charge in context locally, all the statutory youth service activities have now gone up to £1 per session! Does it help being the cheapest in town? Does it matter?

Jon

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I am a qualified youth worker, writer and consultant based in Littlehampton, UK. I've worked in the voluntary youth sector for over 12 years, am married to Kirsty and we have two daughters named Hope and Eloise. Check out 'Journeying Together: Growing Youth Work and Youth Workers in Local Communities' and read my opening chapter.

22 responses to Charging for Youth Clubs

  1. What’s the reason(s) for doing the club?

    • Hi Andrew,

      It’s an open-access youth club so anyone (aged 11-14) can come in and take part. Although run by the church, there’s no faith content, the purpose is simply to provide a fun activity based youth club that was different/distinct from other provision in the area.

      Does that help? What are you thinking? 🙂

  2. Charging has been something that I have always fought against, although some of Seth Godin’s posts of the last few years have changed by ‘harsh’ stance to one of grudging acceptance – there may be some merit in charging.
    So what am I saying – do what is best for the group. If innovative ways can ensure those without cash can still participate (as you recognise in your post) – then it cannot be ignored as an option.

  3. We never charged for our youth ministry activities, with the exception when there was diner involved. Then it would be about 3-5 euro’s to cover the costs of dinner. What we did do with our youth cafe is charge a small amount for the drinks and that worked like a charm. It prevented the youth from going all out on the drinks (before we charged, some would drink a whole bottle of coke) and it helped us keep the costs in check. If your youth club is open to everyone, I don’t think charging is on principle wrong. It shouldn’t however become an obstacle, which it might for families in financial stress so I’d take that into consideration.

    • Brilliant Rachel, that’s exactly my thoughts too. Originally we thought it wouldn’t become an obstacle (or we could be flexible enough to work around it), but now things have changed. I think it’s been compounded by the changes to the team and lack of relationships with young people, so I’m tempted to drop the fee again.

  4. yes, charging for activities is not an issue for me personally – my concern came from charging for regular clubs. I think it was fighting the slim possibility that we were becoming a private members type of club.
    In some ways we profitted with the mark up on activities/tuck shops but all profits went back into the clubs or supported a busary type fund for trips/residentials.

  5. I have ran a number of clubs in Belfast and have always had an free door policy.
    You may say that the club has no faith element but it does by simply being run by a church. The message that you are creating then is that church is a members club where an entry fee is required.

    • Hi Mark, thanks for the comment. I agree that simply by being run by the church, the club makes a statement. However we run a huge number of activities for the community, some are free and some are charged and most are well attended. By charging for this one group, I don’t think it makes a statement about the exclusive nature of the church (or otherwise) although I could be wrong! 🙂

  6. “I think it’s been compounded by the changes to the team and lack of relationships with young people, so I’m tempted to drop the fee again.”

    So by not charging you create a bigger group with lack of relationships?

    I don’t believe charging is an issue – it’s obviously the local culture and 50p isn’t a big deal for 99%. I’ve done both in the past and don’t think it’s a big deal either way – perhaps in this case it was a catlyst for decline, but not reason for it.

    • Thanks Robin,

      You make a valid and insightful observation. I don’t think the decline was purely down to the cost of entry, but probably played a part. The team dynamics is a big issue.

      I posted the scenario to see how people feel about charging young people for clubs. I know many who feel strongly against it, but I don’t think it’s a problem in the right context.

  7. It’s intriguing to see that you felt the need to rationalise the requirement for charging. Either it was right or it wasn’t. Using it as a form of control to set the standard by which young people could access the club would suggest you only wanted those who could contribute.

    By setting your rate to 50p, the cheapest in the area, seems to have been a nod to the conscience. If you’re going to charge then make it cheap. Would 10p have had the same effect? Would the same young people have still attended for £2?

    If a club is going to charge then why not make it realistically reflect the costs of running the club then at least the young people are directly contributing its running?

    What I didn’t see in your article was any reference to what the young people decided to do? I wonder if perhaps you discussed your problems with them about the ever-increasing numbers and your proposed solution what they may have suggested.

    Still its water under the bridge and in the real world we often depend on subs like you to help pay for those occasional resources or console games or footballs that keep the club running. Personally I was able to move away from charging for a time because of funding I received. My own experience of managing a club on a school site was that the practise of collecting subs became a battle of wills between those who had a great sob story why they couldn’t afford it this week and the poor volunteer taking in the money. Often young people would sneak in after the first 30 minutes and we had stopped manning the door. Often those who claimed they had no money would need change for their multiple purchases at the tuck shop.

    I think the best thing in this situation is to leave it to the club members to decide. Would they prefer subs to be charged? Or how about a better tuck shop? Or perhaps charging for specific activities? Or how about donations by parents?

    Club members come and go. We’ll see one group together for two, three years and then some will move on to a new activity, or friendships break up. Each year it seems worthwhile to revisit with the current group the problem of charging and what it means to managing the club.

    For me the essence of the problem is still – why am I putting my time and effort into this club, and who do I want to come through the door? Anything that prevents the young person I want to support accessing the service has got to be a bad thing. All that then remains is for me to work out how to fund, resource and manage what happens next.

    • Wow, that’s a long reply Chris! Where do I start to respond?

      I’m not sure charging for entry is as simple as “either it was right or it wasn’t”. We decided to charge because we needed to reduce numbers, but we talked long and hard about retaining those who might not afford to pay each week. Therefore it was a “form of control” as you say, but I would deny we only wanted those who could contribute (financially that is).

      At the time, we set the rate at 50p because it was the same as everywhere else so it wasn’t about easing a conscience. We brought ourselves into line with others who have only recently raised their costs to £1 (which I think is pushing it). But I do take the point, would 10p have made the difference we needed? As for the costs of running the club, it’s always been supported through the work of the church so income is actually irrelevant. We did tell the young people that their money would be put back into the club and they would get a say over how it is spent. What I failed to do (as you questioned) is to ask them for an initial solution to the problem of too many numbers. In hindsight I would do some sessions and group work around how to move forward.

      As an aside, I laughed at your description of trying to collect subs from young people who “have no money” and then spend loads at the tuck shop! So true.

  8. Interesting conversation… My two pence worth (sorry, 48p short):

    If the club is an expression of the church’s hospitality I would find it slightly bizzare to charge, even a nominal amount.

    If it’s ‘discipling’ young people, even in a low key way, I could see an argument for charging in terms of getting them to share the costs of the club actually running – giving a sense of ‘ownership’ etc.

    Like one of the comments above I, personally speaking, am always worried that church / ministries can give the message ‘we are a business’ to people even unintentionally.

    • Thanks Andrew, I find your comment fascinating as I often see it the other way; that groups exploring faith and discipleship should be free for anyone to access, while a ‘service’ such as a youth club might have some cost attached to it! I love that you’ve got a different perspective on that.

      Regarding the church being seen as a business, I think that’s a real danger. I’ve always tried to avoid that by bring upfront about what our groups are and why we charge. Take a look at what we currently do to see what I mean: http://aruncommunitychurch.com/groups/13/children-youth. Groups range from free to £2.50 depending on length, content, etc. Also because we’ve been providing activities (lots of them free) for over 20 years, we have a good reputation (I think)!

  9. Would you charge someone to come to your house an evening?

    If it’s hospitality then I think it should be free.

    We have a range of activities and groups/clubs that run across a project that comes under the banner Churches Together.

    Some charge, some don’t. Of those that charge, some insist that on no money, no entry, no exceptions. And some allow a couple of weeks credit to be built up before the question is posed – are you going to pay.

    For me the issue is around what is the charge for?

    If it’s for rent, bills etc then it, must reflect that. And be explianed to all stakeholders.

    If it’s to ensure the young people make a contribution because as you know – ‘nothing in life is free’, then a nominal fee say 50p may be appropriate.

    I think I prefer taking away any barriers away from young people, and money, even 50p, can be a barrier for young people from the poorest backgrounds. Maybe the reason they are first at the tuck shop is because there was no food at home and their parents sent them off with a pound or two to feed themselves. Then even if the charge is only 50p then we could be asking for 25 or 50% of their food budget.

    The bottom line is we all know our communities, our young people and therefore probably know a lot about their financial situation so as long as those who need extra support get it I think charge or don’t charge, but we need to make sure that we are reaching those young people who are most in need.

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  2. Miz (@benmiz) - 3 October 2011

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  3. Rachel Blom (@youthleadersac) - 3 October 2011

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