Historic buildings, Self-harm teenagers and others

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Restoration of historic buildings brings benefits to everyone

Restoration of historic buildings brings benefits to everyone

Sir: Janet Street-Porter misses two key points about BBC2's Restoration and the rescuing of neglected historic buildings ("Don't save buildings - demolish them", 22 July). Firstly, every building featured in the programme is chosen because a group of local people have come together to try to save it, not because the BBC or a heritage body wants to. People care passionately about their local environ- ment and, more importantly, want to see a practical and positive use made of redundant buildings.

At The Architectural Heritage Fund we support hundreds of groups like this every year, helping them to form charitable trusts, giving grants towards options' appraisals and making loans towards the capital costs. But, like all the responsible heritage funders, we will only do so when we can see that the project involves a viable, and sustainable, long-term use for the building.

Second, the restoration of historic buildings brings enormous economic and social benefits to the urban and rural areas in which they are situated; not the "coffee bars ... and music halls" disparagingly referred to by Ms Street-Porter, but new jobs, new homes, new businesses, and new life.

Chief Executive
The Architectural Heritage Fund
London SW1

Sir: I have to take issue with Janet Street-Porter's comments on Restoration. I find the programme absorbing and am delighted to see the interest being generated in saving and drawing attention to our architectural past. I am thrilled to see buildings other than stately homes and mansions featured, such as cinemas and workhouses: all these are important testaments to our social past and should be saved and used.

Admittedly a lot of these buildings may not be important architecturally, but many are a delight to see and somehow have a soul totally missing in modern buildings. So, save what we have, as once it is gone it is lost forever and our land will be a poorer place for it.

Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire

Self-harm teenagers need trained help

Sir: The tragic death of Sarah Lawson should highlight to all those who work with young people the seriousness of self-harm and what lies beneath it ("The hidden epidemic", 27 July). Sadly from our experience this case has done nothing to improve the response of organisations who are responsible for the young, particularly in education but also within the NHS.

We have a 15-year-old teenager who has been self-harming for about 18 months. I, her mother, am a qualified social worker, with counselling and mental health work experience, but do not seem able to access the help she needs, nor the understanding required from her school, which, incidentally has a problem with several young girls in her year group doing the same to my knowledge.

We referred her to our GP, but despite having to take her to casualty two weeks ago as she was harming herself, no one was prepared to offer any medical assistance, and we are still waiting for the referral to result in an appointment after two months.

There seems to be a "rag-bag" of "quasi professionals" who will be wheeled out to "talk" to your offspring if you are lucky. School nurses and "welfare" assistants without qualifications may have their roles, but they are not experienced in dealing with these highly sensitive situations. Given the taboo of raising these concerns publicly in the first place, one wants a professional response from someone trained in understanding and working with the often transient and developmentally based adolescent issues that arise, which need targeted crisis management, not tea and a paracetamol.

As a society we devalue adolescents, subjecting them to a life where they are like hamsters in wheels in the pursuit of qualifications, with very little else on offer in terms of establishing their identity unless you include pop music, TV and the internet.

Action to integrate services is needed, with the provision of informed, qualified and, most importantly, timely intervention, rather than the broom cupboard mentality that prevails.


Sir: It should come as little surprise that there is a collusively denied epidemic of self-harm amongst our young people, with levels of youth alienation, crime and anomie continuing to rampage out of control in the wider Western world. Along with the now well documented increase in children's mental health problems, this is the entirely predictable outcome of an unsustainable technocratic modernity with its pervasive materialistic consumerism and meaning-impoverished education system, its over-technologised soulless life-styles and the like.

The equally predictable response to this crisis - that of our hand-wringing, moralising political leaders pontificating about the excesses of the "liberal Sixties" - will be quite irrelevant to the true cause of these symptoms of late modernity so long as they fail to understand and respond, with wisdom, to the true psycho-cultural origins of this malaise.

NHS Counsellor

Sir: As a psychotherapist in private practice I am not surprised by the figures indicating an "epidemic" of self-harm in the UK. Nevertheless, it is important that the acute and often private human pain which such figures indicate is not understood exclusively in terms of medical models of mental illness, and thus in terms of the individual alone. They are, arguably, an indictment of the social and institutional relationships which we, as a society, are continuing to develop.

In this respect, a progressive response is unlikely to depend upon psychiatric diagnoses and prescription drugs, but will listen and learn from the experiences of those who continue to suffer in our changing families, schools, communities and workplaces.


Japanese whaling

Sir: The article "Harpooned: the world's fight to save the whale" and the editorial "Saving the whale: an achievement suddenly in danger" (19 July) contained some misunderstandings regarding Japan's whaling practices.

Japan's basic position is that the preservation and utilisation of natural resources, including whales, should be based on scientific evidence rather than emotional value. Since many species of whales are increasing and abundant, Japan has consistently maintained the position that scientific advice indicates that whaling can safely be resumed.

Your allegation that "Japan buys (small countries') votes in return for aid money" is inaccurate. Japan also supports anti-whaling countries as well, such as India and Argentina.

Scientific research has been of vital importance to the IWC, since the convention stipulates that regulations adopted by the Commission shall be based on scientific findings. The scientific committee of the IWC has commended Japan's research programme.

The idea that some species of whales are abundant and can be hunted safely has been confirmed by the scientific committee of the IWC. Based on scientific surveys, the committee estimated that minke whales in the Antarctic numbered over 760,000 in 1990, and calculated that an annual harvest of 2,000 whales would not threaten the stocks because of their reproductive capability. Moreover, we believe that the increase in minke whale stocks could pose a threat to the natural feeding grounds of endangered species of whales such as the blue whale, as well as those of other fishing resources.

I am convinced that not only Japan's fishing communities, but in fact most people in the rest of our country, have supported our Government's position.

Counsellor, Embassy of Japan
London W1

Worthwhile degrees

Sir: Yet again an ill-informed person has had a cheap shot at so-called "mickey mouse" degrees (report, 26 July). These tend to be those which cover new subject areas, often those which contribute significantly to the local economy and cannot be dismissed as mere hobbies.

Indeed, the reason many of these degrees are established is that employers are calling for well-qualified staff to support a developing business. They tend to be vocational such as applied golf management studies at Birmingham, a Russell group institution by the way. If this antediluvian attitude had prevailed in earlier times universities would be teaching little other than theology and possibly medicine, a prime example of a vocational rather than an "academic" subject.

It is particularly worrying that on this occasion it was a teacher's representative who made this comment, as they are surely those who should be better informed in order to show their students the full range of opportunities available to them.

Finally, might I point out that Mickey Mouse is a pretty successful product.

Vice Chancellor's Office
University of Westminster
London W1

Attitudes to crime

Sir: Your front page story "Crime: the truth" (22 July) shows the great importance of publishing caveats.

The limitations of the British Crime Survey (BCS) when taken in conjunction with the results of your own survey (18 April) and the WHO survey of 11, 13 and 15-year-olds (4 June), would seem to indicate that BCS's 39 per cent crime reduction claim is at best over-optimistic. The inclusion of crime experienced by under-16s and of business-related crime, with its mountain of fraud, would make a serious dent in it; as might criminal and violent acts committed abroad by home-based Britons.

Perhaps we are seeing a changing attitude towards crime, as Professor Paul Wiles says, but I think it is being balanced more by a change in the pattern of crime rather than a reduction. But, as you point out, the worry remains of that upward trend of violence. Even here in grey-hair Bexhill there has been an increase in violent crime.

Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex

Sir: I was sad to read the negative article on Margetson Road shops and area ("How vandalism, theft and abuse are devastating one blighted community", 20 July). The tone was depressing and negative.

This is a challenging area, but such progress has been made that anti-social behaviour has been greatly reduced, and a recent community meeting attended by more than 65 residents gave a vote of thanks and applause to the community officers present. This area is already seeing excellent partnership work between South Yorkshire Police and Sheffield City Council to deal with the problems, and we're getting the full support of residents for our neighbourhood policing team.

If we don't reflect the positive reality, but merely rehash defeatist headlines, how will we ever get confident united communities?

Deputy Chief Constable,
South Yorkshire Police

Language relations

Sir: That 70 per cent of surveyed languages use "papa" (or something similar) to mean "father" does not prove a global common root" (report, 22 July).

Sure, when the similarity is between languages known to be related, common ancestry is probably involved; between unrelated languages spoken in the same region, borrowing may be involved; but similarities between languages of such "motherese" words, as also of onomatopoeic words, proves no "proto-world" ancestry.

The sounds "m" and "p" are among the first consonants mastered, and so it should not be surprising that the same words have been invented for "mama" and "papa" quite independently in different parts of the world. The exceptions that prove the rule include Old Japanese "papa", meaning "mother".

School of East Asian Studies, Language & Literature Centre
University of Sheffield

Maggie's degree

Sir: You say that Margaret Thatcher "scraped a 2:2" (Review, 21 July). She could not have got a 2:2, scraped or otherwise, because at that time Oxford University did not split the second class. A graduate got either a first, second, third of fourth. As for the silly statement that she got her degree while studying the chemistry of ice-cream, this merely shows the anti-science bias of too many journalists.

Beverley, East Riding of Yorkshire

Home for an obelisk

Sir: Ethiopia lacks the funds (report, 26 July) to care for the 2,500 year-old Obelisk of Axum taken by Benito Mussolini. Returned to its original site this ancient granite wonder, the Ethiopian equivalent of Stonehenge, will be seen by only a handful of well-heeled tourists. And there's the risk of damage from civil war. If Silvio Berlusconi is open to offers, I am sure the British Museum will oblige.

London E4

Samson's suicide

Sir: Both Jonathan Smilansky and Mark Elf (letters, 27 July, etc) are wrong. The first recorded suicide "bombing" in the Middle East was Samson's destruction of the Temple.


Strawberry puzzle

Sir: Can anyone explain why, in the middle of the British strawberry season, the strawberries on sale in my local supermarket in Brighton have been flown in from the United States?

East Sussex

Terror advice

Sir: The Government's advice in case of a terrorist incident is to "tune in, turn on and drop out" (report, 27 July). But aren't we meant to be denouncing the Sixties this week?