Monday, 31 August 2009

WE'RE NOT JOBSWORTHY

I took a quiet break from blogging yesterday, so I hope you'll forgive me the luxury of rest. Although, quite exactly why I'm resting is beyond me – perhaps it's because I'm unemployed and have absolutely nothing better to do than wallow in my own filth.

Well, at least I'm not alone – it turns out those like myself who happen to be between the ages of 18 to 24 are the most unemployed age bracket in Kent (and approximately 1 million nationally, lest we forget). In fact, a recent BBC News article revealed that youth unemployment is a "rising concern" (no shit!) and that I have the grave misfortune to belong to "a lost generation of young people who can't get work", so it's quite clear that I, to put it bluntly, am well and truly buggered.

See, I've just graduated from De Montfort University with a BA in Media Studies. To top it off, I got a first, won a prize for writing the best dissertation in my year, and even had a little asterisk marked against my name in my graduation yearbook. Not only this, but I didn't just spend my time boozing like most students – oh no, I was Head of Music for Demon FM, our student radio station, did some work doing marketing and PR campaigns for a company called Campus Group, and I even learnt the sodding guitar.

Call me naïve, but I initially thought these accomplishments would make my triumphant return to Thanet all the more sweeter, boosting my employment prospects tenfold, but alas, it did not. Nobody will hire me. I've had lots of interviews (both locally and in London, in fact) but despite my past experience doing marketing and PR campaigns with Campus Group, employers much favour hiring somebody with just a little bit more experience than me. I very nearly got a job working for the Kent Messenger Group as a Media Sales Executive in Whitstable, but instead they chose to give it to an Invicta FM reject who'd obviously been given the boot due to their recent transformation into Heart.

I mean, what can you do? Most of the jobs simply don't exist, and the ones that do require the most obscure qualifications imaginable just to wipe some OAP's arse in a care home. You can't even work on a building site without having a certficicate proving that you can lift bricks without dropping them. And the remaining jobs don't pay well enough to cover the rent and bills so, in short, I've come out of university and straight into the dole queue.

Now, I'm sure some cynics will scoff at my acquisition of a Media Studies degree, denouncing it as a Mickey Mouse course or a 'soft option', probably even going so far as to agree with Chief Schools Insector Chris Woodhead's claim that it's “a one way ticket to the dole queue,” but I will defend the integrity of my course to the very end. In fact, I'm pretty sure one quick glance at my dissertation topic will doubtlessly cause most people to have brain aneurysms, so I'm certainly not ashamed of my degree.

Besides, I chose Media Studies because I want a job in the media: this can be as far-reaching as working in publishing, journalism, magazines, newspapers, radio, local TV, applied research, copywriting and, thanks to my extra-curricular work in marketing and PR, advertising. So it's not like I don't have any career options at my disposal, it's just the jobs aren't bloody there. Even the odious slimebag Peter Mandelson's talking about the government creating internships and work experience placements to increase youth employment prospects, but that seems little more than an afterthought. This matter should've been dealt with years ago before the shit hit the fan.

Speaking on Your Thanet News, Communities Secretary John Denham even delivered his PR spiel about creating jobs locally in the Kent area, but most of these plans emphasize training or apprenticeship schemes, and, as some of my old school friends will testify, most of these schemes are notorious for paying ridiculously low wages, so it's probably not gonna help much. I also discovered about Thanet Council's Thanet Works initiative, aimed at getting school leavers (but not university graduates) into training, education or work.

In fact, when you look closer and see which projects Thanet Council approves of as part of this Thanet Works initiative, one of them is called Thanet Doorstep Learning, done in partnership with Amicus Horizon, Orbit Housing, KAES and Thanet College. Now, I had an interview with Amicus Horizon about a month ago and they told me that although I gave a very good interview, they'd opted not to hire me in favour of somebody with more experience.

So it seems to me that even though Thanet Council claims to be helping younger people into employment as part of this Thanet Works initiative, it hasn't really done me much favours, has it? Especially if school leavers are given more priority over university graduates such as myself. I guess, in the eyes of Thanet Council, all young people are equal, but some happen to more equal (and perhaps a little bit younger) than others, wouldn't you say?

Friday, 28 August 2009

IS SHOPPING A DEAD ART?

© Copyright Pam Fray and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
It's no laughing matter, of course, but Margate High Street officially has the highest rate of empty shops than any other town in the UK. It's dead, finito, completely devoid of joi de vivre, it is an ex-parrot. According to the stats, 24.6% of Margate's shops are completely empty, but even the remaining 75.4% ain't much cop, if you ask me. In my view, if you pin all your hopes and aspirations of a town on its shops, then it's bound to be a recipe for complete disaster.

That's part of the problem with Margate. For far too long, it's been reliant upon a steady stream of customers and shopaholics to keep the town alive and vibrant, especially since the closure of Dreamland Theme Park. Whether it be Primark shoppers, people feasting on Maccy D's, or chavs bottling each other outside Escape or Bar 26, Margate has unfortunately become solely reliant upon shopping to define its own sense of identity, and since the recession has left people continually out of pocket, is it any wonder all the shops are shutting down?

What erks me is I'm constantly reading letters in our local newspaper from people bemoaning the creation of Westwood Cross as leading to the downfall of the High Street. What a load of tosh. I mean, sure, it's certainly a factor, but I personally support the migration of the bigger chain stores to Westwood Cross (like Primark, for instance, when's that gonna go?). I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to having shops in Margate, but if we're clearly living in an era where franchises and monopolies are making every High Street in the country look bloody identical, isn't it perfectly rational to be pleased to see 'em bugger off?

No matter where you go, in every High Street up and down the country, there is always a McDonald's, a KFC, a Gamestation, or a Dominos. This great nation of shopkeepers has reduced itself to adopting 'clone towns' after being invaded by hugely wealthy corporate behemoths. This, to me, is depressing, because it crushes all sense of competition from the smaller businesses or independent shop owners trying to get a foothold, and also makes everything homogeneous, boring and identical. If Margate, let's face it, has lost its sense of character and its personality as a town, then losing all these corporate retailers to Westwood Cross - particularly the big outlets - could give it a unique opportunity to reinvent itself in a completely different light.

We need new shops, yes, but we need them to be different. After all, it is only by making Margate the antithesis of all the other High Streets in the country that it can truly set itself apart and renew its appeal as a seaside town. This, in my opinion, means the shops need to be completely unique and independently-owned. This, believe it or not, is already sort of happening in the Old Town Centre – Helter Skelter, a retro furniture store, is opening soon, as is the Cup Cake Café – but nothing much else is seemingly being done in the High Street, itself it's just being left to die on its arse.

Even so, I don't think that the answer to Margate's problems is just opening more shops. It also needs more venues to host events or festivals (e.g. Broadstairs Folk Week) – it needs more wine bars, bistros and restaurants. It needs a venue to compete with Wetherspoons, or maybe another nightclub to compete with Escape. If there's more competition, more people will visit Margate, and the more venues there are, the more events there will be to host. Soon enough, if we inject a little bit of quirkiness and fun into Margate, improving our nightlife, I'm sure our little seaside town will soon be buzzing with activity.

I mean, why not have a Margate Comedy Festival, where stand-up comedians can perform in places like the World Bar or even the Rokka bar? However, I'm not gonna lie, some of these venues in Margate need to be more affordable, because the drinks are ridiculously expensive in some places. Also, though I accept the Turner Contemporary is definitely gonna bring some potential to reinvigorate Margate, more effort needs to be made to appeal to a wider range of people, not just the chin-strokey boho sorts that the Turner Contemporary is gonna pull in. Everybody needs to be catered for, even those who don't happen to appreciate modern art.

Generally, however, I feel if Margate models itself as an arty yet unpretentious equivalent of those beautifully quaint Belgian seaside towns, then it won't go far wrong in my book. It's got a lot of promise, despite things looking very bleak at the moment, but I must stress that my vision of how Margate should be reinvigorated is probably very different to everyone else's. Not everyone will probably agree with my stance on forcing the chain stores to congregate at Westwood Cross, for instance. But I honestly don't think that wholly relying upon shopping outlets is a good idea - unless, of course, those shops happen to add a bit of colour and magic to the town. After all, a town needs more than shops, people. It needs spirit.