Why The Youth Of Today Deserve A Hooray

THE youth of today . . . aren’t they all supposed to be hanging around, not doing much, getting into trouble?

And if teenagers aren’t bored or angry, they are staying up all night in their rooms playing what they claim to be “music”, emerging bleary eyed next afternoon to grunt their way to the fridge.

Well aren’t they?

Alan Gray certainly doesn’t agree. “A lot of young people do a lot of good things that should be recognised,” insists the talented Blackhall teenager. He should know.

Last November he joined some of the Capital’s most talented, hardworking, caring and considerate young people at a thrilling and highly emotional ceremony aimed at highlighting just how special the youth of today really can be.

Alan was one of 11 young people – along with four youth organisations, a school and the particularly child-friendly staff of a city library – to win the heartfelt thanks of their community at last year’s Youngedinburgh Awards, chosen from hundreds of nominations.

Established in 2004 by Edinburgh City Council in association with the Edinburgh Evening News, the unique awards pay tribute to the hard work, determination and dedication shown by talented city youngsters like Alan in sports, the environment, visual and performing arts, enterprise and community involvement.

And they gave you, our readers, the chance to highlight the very special young people in your community – and give them a night to remember.

Now it’s time to nominate youngsters for this year’s awards, by either filling in the coupon or going online and entering the details of a young person you think deserves to have their achievements recognised.

Alan, 16, of Forthview Road, is still thrilled with his award for Sporting Achievement. “I think the awards are great,” he says. “They [young people] can often be shown in a bad light and the awards recognise the positives.”

He was a worthy joint winner of the prestigious award. For although cerebral palsy means he walks with the aid of sticks, he has still shown remarkable determination and talent to become one of Scotland’s leading disabled swimmers. He represented Scotland at last year’s World Cerebral Palsy games in Connecticut, snatching three bronze medals and helping Scotland win two relay golds – which included setting a new world record.

“It was really special, and the biggest achievement of my life so far,” he says.

Since last year’s successes, Alan hasn’t exactly rested on his laurels. As well as studying for his Highers at George Watson’s College, he is training hard and hoping to break into the senior Scotland squad. He won the Sporting Achievement Award along with Kayleigh Ashall, an 18-year-old secretary who is one of the country’s leading archery talents.

She was just eight when she stumbled upon an archery display at a local open day – and was immediately hooked. Eight years later her determination led her to a clean-sweep of the World, European, UK and Scottish titles for field archery in the 13-17 age group, bagging a world record en route.

It was that talent, drive and enthusiasm for her sport that caught the Youngedinburgh award judges’ attention. Yet Kayleigh insists no-one was more surprised than her when her name echoed out around the packed ceremony at The Hub on Castlehill attended by almost 200 specially invited guests and dignitaries.

It was, she recalls, “a shock, a big shock” and a night to remember. “I kind of froze! I looked at my mum as if to say ‘is it really me?'” she recalls.

“All I remember is a lot of flashing lights. Getting my picture taken with Tony Mowbray was great too – my sister’s a huge Hibby so she was jealous!”

Sporting achievements, however, are just one element of the Youngedinburgh Awards. For young people’s achievements in visual and performing arts, enterprise, community involvement and the environment are all recognised.

The awards emerged from a major research project in 2001 which examined the views of youngsters on the services available for them in the city. The issues raised now shape the council’s strategy for services aimed at young people, and the annual awards recognise their outstanding achievements.