Over the past six months, we have posted a number of articles concerning the increasing number of teenage suicides in the small Welsh town of Bridgend and its surrounding areas. As of Sunday, November 9th 2008, there have been 21 reported suicides within this region in addition to a number of attempted suicides. To fully understand these macabre events, it is vital to understand a little about the area.
Bridgend is a small, industrial based town located 22 miles west of Cardiff. It’s neighboring town of Pencoed lies at the foot of an off-ramp onto the M4 motorway, one of the main routes from the south to London and its surrounding port towns. Until the late 90’s the area had a steady growth of new industry with Sony, Ford, Bayer and other leading companies employing a large number of the population. By the early 2000’s, these industries started to decline and workers faced redundancies almost daily. Even the opening of the new Lloyds TSB call centre in Pencoed didn’t assist in elevating employment. With more and more families facing unemployment, it is clear to see that a social pathos hit the area as a whole.
Having grown up in Pencoed, it was always very clear to see that the future for many of my friends seemed bleak. Very few people left Wales to attend University or find employment. There is a big, underlying social phobia (or sorts) of many living within the area that life outside the box is better left to others. I remember discussing with friends where we would end up after school was over, most of them said Cardiff. Most of their parents were completely opposed to their children leaving the home land. One father even said that he would not visit his daughter, should she attend a non Welsh university. Out of my core group of ten friends, two of us ventured to England, and that was it. Since then, we have had no further communication with our old friends.
In retrospect, we were the lucky group (all ten of us). The majority of our contemporaries in school had life plans set when they were young and stuck to them. A number of girls in my year had children by the age of 16, and the majority of boys walked out of the school gate after their final GCSE exam, and straight into Sony. That’s the way things were. Education was a necessary evil until you were old enough to get a factory job. One day, should you attend Bridgend Tec to get a NVQ, you might be a line manager and buy a new house in Brackla.
Education aside, the teenage lifestyle in the area remains the same as it did back in the 90’s, and likely before. There is little to do in Bridgend itself other than to go drinking. The old cinema closed down in the mid 1980’s and a new one wasn’t built until the late 1990’s. That is in an out of town complex and buses run rather infrequently, so getting there and back takes up most of the evening. A bowling centre was established in the 1990’s, but that turned into just another teenage drinking den. A typical night out then, as is now, is one spent wandering from pub to pub. There is nothing locally to really stimulate the youth. While the younger teens hang around street corners begging people to buy them alcohol from the local Spar, the 16+ group hang out in various pubs known for lack of responsibility when it comes to underage drinking.
While compiling news for this website, I’ve noticed a number of suggested reasons as to why Bridgend has been hit so hard by these deaths. From internet groups to, in one case, power lines, the blame is coming thick and fast. My personal opinion is that it’s down to the socio-economic factor above all else. Children see little hope in obtaining decent employment in the area when all the major employers are cutting back. Children see their parents worrying about finances and wonder what it will be like for them.
It is unfortunate that more onus isn’t placed on education. It isn’t that Bridgend is victim to a terrible school system. Ysgol Pencoed School received a glowing OFSTED report in 2004 for its teaching standards. The crux of the problem seems to lie more with the overall environmental and social impact of the area. Many parents are apathetic to their children’s education because, as I was told “What good’s going to school when you could be earning money.” That seems to be a more general consensus.
So, what does the future hold for the youth of Bridgend? Back in May 2008, the National Lottery’s “Mental Health Matters” scheme provided a £1m donation to Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University NHS for the establishment of the “Let’s Talk” suicide prevention project. The project will “establish a network of specially-trained people who will be able to promote suicide prevention techniques both in the local community and across voluntary and statutory sector services.” While this will go to help, there is still much to be done to revitalize the general area and promote hope to our young.