Whilst the original vision and the primary focus of the charity are to establish a memorial to the lost youth of Thame and the surrounding villages, that is only the beginning and the objectives of the charity have much wider and longer term challenges.
Our public awareness efforts to date have already had an impact in the community and, by involving youngsters in so many of our events and fund raising activities, we are finding that the ‘generation gap’ is largely a fiction and that people of all ages and backgrounds are working together in support of our cause.
Particularly encouraging has been the way that we have been approached by the families and friends of youngsters who have died, in many cases offering practical support and making donations, and we have representatives from five of the families actively and closely involved in our supporter’s group, planning and facilitating our many fund raising events.
We recognise that a lump of stone (or steel, or bronze, or whatever it turns out to be), no matter how attractive the design or how it complements its surroundings, is ultimately just an edifice What really matters in the long term is how it fits into the consciousness of the community or, as a couple of Councillors said at the outset, it should be for the living, not for the dead. It is not intended to commemorate the dead so much as to provide solace and inspiration to the youth of today by acting as a place of reflection and remembrance.
There is also a need for support and understanding for those affected by the death of a young family member or friend, and we are already seeking input from health professionals to enable the charity to become a natural point of reference in the event of future tragedies, offering a local level of care and counselling and acting as a signpost to more professional services where required. Unique in this objective is the readiness of bereaved families within our community to be a part of this process, helping others to cope and come to terms with something that they have themselves been through. The potency of this has already been demonstrated by those families currently involved with the charity, none of whom had previously met but who have now established their own mutual support network.
Of course, even better than coping with bereavement would be to help prevent such tragedies ever occurring. The very fact of a dedicated Youth Memorial and Garden acknowledging that too many are taken too young may in itself help to promote awareness that these things happen and if, as a result, fewer young lives are lost then it will have served a useful purpose. Being more proactive it is also within our future plans to work with local schools and health providers to help fund and facilitate such things as cycle proficiency training, road safety courses, drug awareness programmes, and anything else that can help to reduce youth mortality.
In summary, whilst our initial objective is to provide a memorial to the lost youth of Thame and the surrounding villages, the real function of the memorial is to provide a focus on unnecessary tragedy, to support those directly affected by it, and to engage the community in helping to prevent, or at least reduce, the incidence of such tragedies in the future. The premature loss of a youngster, before they have ever had the opportunity to realise their potential in life, is a loss to our whole community.