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Swearing youths, staff pushed and buildings vandalised – is it really as bad as it seems in Fort William?

While several businesses have had problems with anti-social behaviour in the area - not helped by service cuts and the increased cost of living - organisations and businesses are working on solutions.

The Nevis Centre, Mark Richardson from High Life Highland and Archie MacDonald from Highland Soap Company . Fort William.
Organisations and businesses have their say on the behaviour and what is being done to tackle it and help young people. Image: High Life Highland/ Highland Soap Company

In recent months, Fort William and a fast food chain have hit the headlines for issues with anti-social behaviour.

Over the last year, the Highland town has experienced a rise in problems with young people – particularly in the evening and as the nights get darker.

Buildings have been vandalised and staff have been abused leaving them, and customers intimidated and frightened.

And understandably a lot of people are not lovin’ it.

It is the businesses towards the edge of the town that have been most impacted.

McDonalds at Fort William has put a ban in place.
McDonald’s at Fort William has put a ban in place. Image: Anthony MacMillan.

In an effort to protect their staff, customers and business, some such as McDonald’s, have banned under-18s after 6pm following repeated reports of bad behaviour from young people.

The Highland Cinema has also taken similar measures by stopping specific young people from using the premises.

Staff pushed and food thrown down toilets

The staff at The Nevis Centre in An Aird have also seen their fair share of vandalism.

Food has been thrown down toilets, things have been broken such as the bike locks outside the building and pool tables and walls have been written on.

At points staff have also been sworn at or even pushed.

They were keen to say however it was only a small number of young people visiting that were causing issues.

To help, a sign has been put up for under 18s who do not have a booking to be accompanied by an adult.

A spokeswoman from the business said: “We’ve certainly been open to working with young people.

The Nevis Centre in Fort William.
The Nevis Centre in Fort William has had to put up a sign. Image: Iain Ferguson.

“The manager here has met with a few of the other businesses throughout Fort William and they’ve talked about how to go forward and what we can offer that age group.

“We understand there’s not a lot to do within Fort William but also the parents need to understand how disrespectful some of these young ones can be.”

After the manager spoke to several of the individuals causing problems, he and staff organised an event to help provide more activities.

The more problematic youths did not attend, but ever since, the centre has had fewer issues.

The spokeswoman added: “It seems to have dissipated for us and I don’t know if that’s because of how the manager has dealt with it. It does seem McDonald’s has taken the hit lately.”

Fort William’s young people facing increasing challenges

To help address some of the issues, businesses are working with youth workers in the area from High Life Highland (HLH).

The charity helps offer opportunities for young people, spaces to be heard on different issues and also to gain awards and qualifications.

Over the last year, HLH in Fort William has provided more than 30 activities and 1,500 hours of support and learning per month.

But the continued strain on services and homes has only added to the pressures young people in communities like Fort William face.

Mark Richardson HLH's head of adult and youth services
Mark Richardson, HLH’s head of adult and youth services. Image: High Life Highland

Mark Richardson, HLH’s head of adult and youth services, said: “For a number of years, the challenges faced by young people in this area have been growing.

“The pandemic and cost of living crisis have both been key contributors to more young people and their families facing more problems, more often.

“Young people tell us that they can face various obstacles to their safety and wellbeing, which includes: mental health, relationships, education, peer and family pressures.

“These issues also include access to safe and warm spaces that are free of charge and youth-friendly or youth-specific.”

To help, over the years the organisation has employed several staff who walk about the town on Friday and Saturday evenings who chat and engage with young people.

Through this, they build relationships and help signpost different events, spaces and activities available.

Mark added: “These youth workers forge positive, professional relationships with young people to improve their lives now and their life chances in the future.”

Archie MacDonald and Emma Parton directors of the Highland Soap Company.
Archie MacDonald and Emma Parton, directors of The Highland Soap Company. Image: Highland Soap Company.

Could a BID help solve the issue?

While Fort William has drawn a bit of a spotlight due to reports of anti-social behaviour, it does not appear to be an overwhelming issue.

Archie MacDonald, director and co-owner of The Highland Soap Company with Emma Barton, said it is certainly not an “endemic problem”.

Managing a cafe and visitor centre and also a shop on the High Street, he said business had not been directly impacted.

However, for other businesses facing issues, Archie understands it can be quite intimidating.

He said: “I think businesses have to do what works for them. They are not charities and they’re not there to solve social problems.

“If they’re having delinquency issues at night… I think they’re within their right to restrict access to their building, especially if it frightens their staff.”

 The Highland Soap Company Visitor Centre in Fort William
The Highland Soap Company Visitor Centre in Fort William. Image: Highland Soap Company.

To help the support already in place, Archie believes a Business Improvement District (BID) could work.

With plans in the works for Fort William, he said: “Other towns that have BIDs and have problems with juvenile behaviour have used some of the BID money to have somebody on the beat. That is something we are planning to consider.”

Teams in Inverness put several people in place to be a point of call for businesses who have “delinquency issues” and also to build relationships with young people.

Since then, Archie said it has made a big difference.

He added having a social club for youth in the evenings could also help tackle the issue.

“The problem is the kids just don’t have anything to do in the evening,” he said. “I think it’s more that they’re just larking around but at somebody else’s expense.”