THE much publicised Gulbenkian Foundation report on " The Needs of Youth in Stevenage," which appeared last week, does not contain any comment from a specifically Catholic point of view. Stevenage is one of the " New Towns," and is situated 30 miles north of London.
On enquiry at the headquarters of the committee responsible for the report. I was told that " informal feelers" were put out to the three Catholic parish priests in the area, but that they did not react.
There are three parish priests at Stevenage: Fr. Leo Straub (Stevenage Old Town); Fr. James Coughlan, now succeeded by Fr. T. Nobbs (Bedwell); and Fr. W. Donovan (Shepha II).
They have no recollection of having been per sonally approached to express their views on the needs of youth at Stevenage to the fact-finders.
But Fr. Straub thinks that a circular was in fact sent round " However ", he tells me, " had I been called upon to express my views, I would have told them that at the root of the boredom of young people there is the fact of absence of home life".
The alleged boredom of Stevenage youngsters has been stressed in the national press by reporters who have visited the town subsequent to the appearance of the report. But the Anglican Rector of Stevenage, when I spoke to him, denied that there is any " boredom " at all.
Incidentally, he was the only clergyman who was personally approached for his views by the committee, and I understand from a spokesman of the Stevenage Development Corporation, who gave me this information, that this was in his capacity as member of the Youth Advisory Council.
The report is, in effect, an examination of a problem shortly to be faced in Stevenage. There are 34.000 people in this typical New Town, with 4,000 new arrivals per year, and most are younger people with growing families.
There were close on 500 schoolleavers this year, and the figure is expected to reach 1,400 in ten years' time.
The committee, which was presided over by Brigadier E. T. Williams, studied the problem of what to do with these schoolleavers. They will expect to be given facilities for passing away their leisure hours in the evening. The committee has recommended, among other things, the appointment of a youth officer to coordinate existing youth activities, and to prepare for the menace of this future " bulge ".
Asked what facilities there are in the area for Catholic youth activities, I was informed by Fr. Nobbs that at the moment there are none, because most of the young Catholics are still at school. " But we shall organise our own, and we shall work in co-operation with the local youth authorities he added.
A clear picture of Stevenage New Town is given by the Williams Committee in their report. "The first impression upon the newcomer ", it reads, " is one of a thriving industrial community, without poverty. without slums, intensely concerned with the business of raising families and making homes (we heard of cases where the children are scarcely allowed inside the beautifully decorated and furnished new house), but conscious also of a certain emptiness which goes with newness, and of the effort required to adjust London-bred minds to life in this special type of town ".
Thus it is against this background that reporters from London papers have been able to build up several stories of " boredom " on the part of young people.
But Fr. Straub traces any boredom that might exist to certain important facts: " Mother goes out to work. She has to ". he says. " The house she came from in London was often a one-room affair. Here in Stevenage she goes to work to help find the money for a much higher rent than she has been paying in the past, and to buy the things that are in fact luxuries, but which she feels are necessities".
Both parents are tired in the evening. The children are overlooked, and they wander out of doors in search of amusement. " But ", asks Fr. Straub, " what young person wants to dance every evening? or go to the pictures night after night? or watch telly every time? "
Fr. Straub differentiates between "homes" and " houses". " In a ' home '", he says, as he emphasises the word, " there arc enough things going on to keep children and young people occupied, and therefore free from boredom. In Stevenage there are lots of lovely houses, but not many homes. But isn't that the case throughout the whole of England?"
Fr. Donovan told me he will be shortly starting a Scout Group, and a Girls Guide section. in his parish. "We shall work with goodwill with the local youth organisations", he said.