The following is a short article I wrote that was published in Youth Work Now Magazine (A supplement of Children & Young People Now) last week. In addition to the print copy, it can be found on the CYPNow website here.
It’s fair to charge for youth clubs
I’ve been following the debate on the cypnow.co.uk forum about whether young people should be charged for access to youth clubs. It’s an excellent question and one that has prompted a range of responses.
The most compelling reason I read for not charging a fee is that it has the potential to frustrate the process of youth engagement by turning away those who do not have the funds. In this way, charging even a nominal amount can be seen as a barrier that can and should be removed. By charging, we are excluding the most vulnerable, so is it even ethical to charge at all?
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.
The obvious response to this is that if we are just going to work around the fee whenever it suits us, then why bother charging at all? From experience, I’ve found that when something is consistently free, it doesn’t always hold as much value for those who use it. Think about a glass of water versus a can of Coca-Cola.
I used to run a project that took young people on weekly trips after school. The project was in a deprived area and for a time we ran it for free. Because we used a minibus and had limited spaces, we were always fully booked with people on the waiting list. But when we came to pick people up they often weren’t there, leaving us with empty seats.
In response, we started charging 50p a session. If someone couldn’t afford it, we would let it carry over to another week and often simply write it off. As a result, there was a sudden uptake in attendance as the young people started to realise they might miss out on something worthwhile. If they had to pay for it, then they would make use of it.
When charging an entry fee, it is important for young people to see where the money goes. It’s also a great opportunity for some participation work by setting up a committee or group that decides how and where to spend the income.
But I hasten to add that the group I currently run is totally free to attend. Like many other clubs, we run a small tuck shop to raise income that can be put back into the centre.
Essentially, what it boils down to is participation and belonging. If a young person feels an affiliation to a club, worker or group, then they will probably be willing to make some small sacrifice to be part of it. Yet there is no one-size-fits-all in youth work. There needs to be a variety of models and approaches that cater for the widely diverse young people we serve. Sometimes that will involve charging them.
You can view all my Youth Work Now articles here.