Youth Shelters and
A good practice guide
by Roger Hampshire and Mark Wilkinson
The problems with youths
Nowhere to go
What is a youth shelter?
Possible benefits of a youth shelter project
Sports facilities issues to be considered
Evaluation indicators menu
Sir Charles Pollard
Chief Constable 1991-2002
Crime Prevention Design Adviser
Crime Prevention Design Adviser
Thames Valley Police
Crime and disorder and community safety are of major concern to the public. In
addition police officers spend many hours of their time dealing with incidents
involving young people. When youths congregate on street corners or outside shops
their actions raise fear of crime for some members of our communities.
This revised document has been updated to include further experience and advice
about the problem of young people with nowhere to meet and socialise with their
friends. The concept of youth shelters is excellent as it provides a solution which is
acceptable to both young people and local residents.
As Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police I was pleased to introduce the original
document on youth shelters in 1999. Although I have now retired from the police
service I will retain my interest in this subject, as I will continue to work for the
National Youth Justice Board.
In July 2001 the Government’s Home Affairs Committee visited several youth
shelters and sports facilities in the Thames Valley Police area. As a result of their
report, Home Secretary David Blunkett has indicated that youth shelters will qualify
for funding under new crime reduction schemes. He went on to say: "I believe such
schemes can play a role in working with young people and dealing with disaffection".
Research has demonstrated the benefits of providing local facilities for this
vulnerable age group. The involvement of youths throughout these projects has been
shown to pay dividends and helps to prove that discussions and negotiation between
different parties is one of the most positive ways of helping to solve problems. Best
practice shows that where possible, youth shelters should be located with sports
facilities or equipment.
I am very grateful to Roger Hampshire and Mark Wilkinson for continuing to
research this subject. Following the success of the first publication they have
spent a great deal of time promoting the concept of youth shelters. I am also
pleased they continue to work with the University of the West of England in
studying Community Safety and Crime Prevention.
Thames Valley Police aims to work with our communities to reduce crime,
disorder and fear and the youth shelters programme is an excellent illustration
of how this can work in practice.
Sir Charles Pollard
Chief Constable Thames Valley Police 1991-2002
When Mark Wilkinson undertook a study of youth
shelters as a course project here at the University
of the West of England, I encouraged him and his
colleague Roger Hampshire to try and publish their
findings for a wider audience. At the time I thought
it would have a limited but worthwhile readership.
Twenty five thousand copies later and into a second
reprint, I realise that there are a lot of people out
there who want to do something positive for young
people! This is most encouraging as, for far too
long, we have regarded gatherings of young people
as a problem to be eliminated rather than as a
need to be catered for.
Young people need to socialise as part of their normal growth and
development; they need to learn how to relate to each other in the absence
of adults – this is how they mature. It is true that they will sometimes make
fools of themselves, take a few risks, get too boisterous and show off
inappropriately in front of their peers. It is much better to let them do this
in a designated space out of harm’s way, than to try and stop them
gathering outside shops or bus shelters and asking the police to move them
on. At best this merely displaces the problem and it may well lead to other,
more serious difficulties that could cost dearly in the longer term.
Youth shelters are not the whole solution – young people may also need more
structured environments such as youth clubs, organised activities, drop-in
cafés, advice and counselling services – but shelters and sports systems can
make up an important part of the youth development jigsaw. Failure to invest
in facilities that young people want is a false economy. This guide shows you
how to invest wisely and I commend it to anyone who wants to improve the
future for all our citizens.
Award Leader, Community Safety and Crime Prevention Open Learning Programme -
University of the West of England, Bristol.
The problems with youths
There are many excellent facilities
for the under 12s, but where will
they play and meet in a few years
time? Will these children be seen
as tomorrow’s future, or a group
Some people in our communities view groups of youths as being frightening
and blame them for damage, graffiti and nuisance behaviour. To these people,
three or four youths sitting on a park bench, at a bus stop, or cycling
amongst shoppers in a High Street, appear intimidating. This can affect
everyone’s quality of life and causes conflicts between generations.
Local councils provide play equipment for young children, yet often spend
vast sums repairing damage to it following abuse by older children.
Complaints about youths congregating near shops and community buildings,
or playing ball games around homes and cars are frequent and difficult to
resolve. ‘No ball game’ signs are put up, but can they be enforced? The
problems become exaggerated, the public expects enforcement of the rule,
but the cause of the problem has been ignored.
The police are called to deal with these problems but this does not often
provide long-term answers. The short-term solution of moving youths on is
not effective, as they merely move back as soon as police officers have left.
This process frustrates everyone involved. These conflicts can escalate and
result in more serious offences against people and their property.
Young people resent being seen as a problem and often consider themselves
as the victims. They complain about a lack of facilities and often wish to be
involved in finding solutions to the problems. In fact, it is imperative to work
with young people in any project where ‘youths’ are seen to be an issue.
"Hanging out’ is part of the natural process of growing up, an intermediate
Nowhere to go
stage between the comfort and protection of a child’s home environment
and the complete independence of adult life. If we do not cater for this need
by offering (in consultation with young people) suitable locations and
structures, then young people will continue to use places not intended for
this purpose. This may then result in confrontations and complaints.
Latest research by the Home Office shows the average age of offending
starts at 131/2 years for boys and 14 years for girls, whilst the peak age of
offending is about 15 years. If young people don’t have a place of their own
to go to, it may increase the risk of minor damage that can take place when
they meet in unsuitable places. This can lead to a spiral of anti-social
behaviour and the start of a criminal record.
Youths often congregate in a play area in which they grew up. However, when
they are older they feel little respect for the equipment and are more likely
to damage it rather than play on it. It is not ‘cool’ to merely sit on a toy
elephant (for example) unless you can bash it against the ground or twist its
trunk off. So why don’t we ask youths what facilities they would like and
where they should be located? In cases where young people have been asked,
their requirements are often surprisingly modest – just somewhere dry
where they can meet their friends.
The problem caused by the gap in recreational facilities covering adolescent
years is frequently increased by the lack of free alternatives that are open
for casual use. Clubs and youth organisations, although popular, tend to open
for just a few hours each week, which means youths have to find something
else to do for the rest of the time.
Young people need to socialise and become integrated into their
communities. If we do not help this process we may be storing up problems
for the future.
SMP Arena Shelter
Base Leisure Trojan Youth Shelter
Adults tend to assume that young people need youth clubs or other
structured (and expensive) activities. Some even find it difficult to accept that
children and young people are allowed on the streets or in public areas without
adult supervision. But ask young people what they want and they will tell you:
"Somewhere to go that is safe, where we won’t get hassled"
"A place of our own away from adults"
"Somewhere to kick a ball about, try out skating or cycling", and most
importantly "Just a place to meet friends"
It may be that they would just like a simple shelter with seating, in a safe
place. It is important to choose the right location. The opportunity to
supervise a younger brother or sister on adjacent toddlers play equipment,
whilst staying in an area close to home, could have advantages.
Asking young people what they want and then involving them in providing
it increases the chances that the equipment will be used properly and
What is a youth shelter?
A youth shelter is a structure designed to meet the social needs of young
people - a sheltered place to sit and talk. Sports equipment could be included
and a litter bin is often asked for to help keep the area tidy. The roof provides
shelter from the weather, but most shelters are open on all sides, enabling all
round visibility, ‘natural policing’ and safety for users. The most successful
shelters are those that are linked to some type of sporting facility - these
complement each other by becoming a place to go for both physical and social
activity. Variations on ball games and various ‘wheeled sports equipment’ are
always popular and it is vital to fully involve users of all ages in selecting their
preferred equipment for this and future generations.
Often local authorities have provided a sports field for community use, but any
equipment such as goal posts are removed, so young people are expected to
run around the field for a few hours and then go straight home without any
opportunity to sit and talk. As adults, whenever we take part in sport we
socialise afterwards, often in pleasant surroundings designed for the purpose.
Many shelters are open on all sides, but in some cases this has proved
unpopular and uncomfortable to use as the young people are exposed to wind
and rain. Some shelters now include partial screening on one or more sides.
The users’ needs for safety and some protection from the elements should
be carefully balanced and designed for at each location.
The correct location of shelters and sports areas has proved to be the most
difficult to resolve. Local residents are concerned about noise and behaviour,
the local authority and youths are concerned about their safety or that of
the equipment. The size of any proposed shelter needs to be in proportion to
the immediate surroundings. The objective should be to achieve sufficient
views for safety of users and as a deterrent to vandalism, without excessive
annoyance to the nearby houses.
The National Playing Fields Association has a document called the Six Acre
Standard which recommends minimum standards and distances for
outdoor playing space. It is widely recognised as a good reference
document. Whilst the Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents, RoSPA,
produces a number of booklets on children’s and young people’s facilities.
Documents from both these organisations have recently been updated and
provide a good source of information.
Possible benefits of a youth
• a place to go and meet that is non-confrontational
• facilitates young people’s development by learning about independence
• develops involvement and pride in their neighbourhood
• is a constructive rather than destructive experience
• reduces boredom if associated with a sports facility
• removes a possible first step towards crime
• team games provide a physical outlet for emotions and energy
• improves the employability of project team
• all round visibility allows users to feel safe
For the community:
• reduced damage, graffiti, crime and fear of crime
• enhanced community harmony
• children’s play areas remain undamaged and useable
• reduced maintenance costs.
But there is also potential for the
following problems if the shelter is
poorly designed or located:
• gangs could dominate the shelter
• availability of drugs and under-age drinking and drug taking
• conflicts between groups about use/abuse
• litter and maintenance cost - who pays? Some parish councils may be reluctant
to commit themselves
• noise and annoyance to nearest residents
• graffiti, possibility of obscenities
• the next generation will need to be given ownership
• not easy to link to other education or youth service activities
• solid sides reduce visibility and may increase risk of bullying and intimidation.
Don’t expect youth shelters to solve many of the broader issues - this is
one idea to help with some common problems, but it is more effective to use
several approaches at the same time than to rely upon one. For example, if
drugs are a problem in the area, tackle that issue as well. A youth shelter
may experience some of the above problems, but aren’t those problems
going to occur anyway?
Shelters will not necessary encourage the problems, as alternative
locations to congregate will always be found. For example if graffiti is a
problem in the area, consider providing a dedicated wall for graffiti.
Guildford in Surrey built a graffiti wall, in a town centre park, which is
painted white every few months, they found this has reduced graffiti on
other buildings in the town.
To enable proper consultation to take place it is important to work closely
with the young people involved. This could be in the form of a youth council
or youth sub-group steered by an appointed councillor. A specialist youth
out-reach worker may be appointed to assist and advise.
A ‘planning for real’ exercise using maps and photographs could be used to
involve the wider community where there are a number of locations or
options to be considered.
Youth involvement is often very difficult at the start of a project but a
number of good ideas have been used to overcome this. Initially consider an
invitation with a lucky number on it to be drawn at the consultation event.
Don’t draw the lucky number too soon and have a gift that will appeal,
such as music vouchers. Some communities and schools have held discos
or barbecues as an incentive to get all the local youths along to a meeting.
The aim is to avoid a formal, unrewarding and probably poorly attended
To assist in starting this process consider seeking sponsorship from local
businesses which could benefit from reduced problems, also try to involve
When involving your local schools consider the following school-based
• a design competition
• suggest an English language class writing a questionnaire and letters to
• maths students can evaluate data
• the debating society can help run the ‘planning for real’ exercise
• geography students can survey potential sites
• technical drawing students can produce scale drawings of the
• the sixth form can go on work experience placements to departments in
the local authority where the idea needs processing (this could also speed
• consider involving youths on local authority sub-committees