Wigan Reverend speaks out about youth group drug issues

Rev Denise Hayes
Rev Denise Hayes

A vicar has spoken out about the closure of a youth group due to teenagers using drugs and alcohol.

The weekly sessions at St Barnabas’ Church in Marsh Green ended last month due to the behaviour of the youngsters.

They had been run by various organisations for around 12 months, but the issues “escalated” and the group was brought to a halt.

The Reverend Denise Hayes said: “It’s the secondary-age children we have been having quite a few problems with.

“They have been using drugs of some sort. Once they have taken drugs, you can’t reason with them, you can’t get them to take responsibility or engage them in anything.

“The behaviour was really bad on January 10 and we had to stop that group. We are still running the younger groups.

“We were really just providing a place where they met and they were bringing alcohol and drugs and getting themselves high.”

A police community support officer attended the last session, but Miss Hayes said there were still problems.

“They ended up outside with a bluetooth speaker on a zebra crossing, dancing,” she said.

“It was a foggy night and even with cars going past, they wouldn’t get out of the way.

“They were shouting, playing music and banging on doors and windows.”

The police have been called several times, both to warn them there could be a disturbance and the week after the sessions ended, in case the youths still attended.

Miss Hayes said: “The police have been fantastic.

“We want the best for the kids. Individually they are cracking children, but once they get together and they start making wrong choices, the behaviour goes unbelievable.

“They are just wild and there is no reasoning with them.”

The problems meant the organisers felt they had no choice but to stop running the youth group.

Miss Hayes said: “It was a tough decision and it was really hard to shut the group, but we can’t keep them safe and we can’t keep the community safe.”

But it is believed the same youths have now moved to causing havoc at the nearby Intrahealth GP Surgery, as reported in last week’s Observer.

Staff there said a group of up to 20 teenagers with their faces covered try to get into the health centre every day.

They kick, punch and spit on the door, call staff names and threaten them, making both workers and patients feel scared.

They have also been seen causing issues at a convenience store and a takeaway.

Miss Hayes is concerned for the safety of the young people and questions how they are getting alcohol, cannabis and other drugs.

She said: “Their bodies can’t cope with what they are putting in. They haven’t got the sense to work out what’s getting them up and down and to mix what they are mixing they are going to have serious health issues or they could be killed.

“They are only 13 to 15. They are good kids, they are not bad kids.”

The youth group was run by Inspiring Healthy Lifestyles, Sure Start and Targeted Services.

It is hoped the sessions can be resumed and Targeted Services will do outreach work with the youths in the meantime.

Miss Hayes said: “It’s not shut permanently, we just want to do some work with them and hopefully we will open again.”

Last week, Sgt Melanie Roberts told the Observer she had been made aware of a number of incidents of anti-social behaviour in the Marsh Green area in recent

weeks.

She said she was working closely with partners, including Wigan Council and Targeted Services, to tackle the problems and was looking at ways to improve youth provision in the area.