Opinion: Hot Issue - Should the lottery have given Karl Beer funds for his poetry project?

Karl Beer's £2,099 lottery grant, which he will use to run poetry workshops for young offenders to explore themes of drinking, drugs and crime, provoked outrage in some media last week.

YES - Mike O'Connor CBE, director, Millennium Commission

Karl Beer was awarded a grant of £2,099 for a project to encourage young people, including young offenders, to write poetry. Karl is not being paid for his time, and he is holding workshops in supervised youth clubs and at a Young Offenders' Unit because he passionately believes poetry is a powerful way to help disaffected young adults to express their feelings.

Sadly, his project has been the subject of a media feeding frenzy. TV, radio and papers in the UK, USA, India and Pakistan have run a story that he has been given lottery money to get drunk. This is completely untrue. No lottery money will be spent on alcohol.

Some of the poems written by young people during the workshops might be about alcohol. Alcohol use by young people is a serious issue which needs to be addressed openly. Karl is one of over 32,000 Millennium Award winners right across the UK who, through their community projects, are tackling important problems such as social exclusion and marginalisation.

Sadly, Karl has become the victim of cynical journalists whose interest in the truth comes second to the desire for an eye-catching headline.

YES - Susie Parsons, chief executive, Campaign for Learning

Anything that helps young offenders and other vulnerable young people to get hooked on learning is welcome. At least 60 per cent of prisoners in Britain are functionally illiterate and innumerate. Their employment and life prospects are bleak. In England at the end of 2000, 9 per cent of 16- to 18-year-olds were not in education, employment or training - that's 170,000 young people kicking around doing more or less nothing.

Learning has the potential to transform people's lives and poetry workshops are as good a way in to learning as any other. I hope that Karl Beer's project will introduce the young people involved to many different kinds of poetry, help them to explore and write about their own experiences and encourage them to move on to further learning opportunities. He should find out what's on offer from local colleges, modern apprenticeships and learndirect centres, and signpost young people towards learning that could change their lives.

If Mr Beer is able to engage even a few young people at risk in learning through his poetry workshops, then £2,099 is cheap at the price. The Millennium Commission should not be intimidated by the tabloid press.

YES - Martin Burrekoven-Kalve, communications director, National Neighbourhood Watch Association

Karl Beer has been portrayed as someone who has obtained a lottery grant of £2,500 to spend on getting drunk and writing poems about it. If this were true, then the award would seem difficult to support - but it's not the case. A grant was awarded to Mr Beer by the Millennium Commission so he could support education for young people including young offenders in the Neath and Swansea areas. Mr Beer is introducing poetry into the lives of disaffected young adults. It is his intention to enable young adults to examine their feelings and their experiences, and to find ways of expressing these through poetry. The grant (of £2,099, in fact) has been spent on hiring venues for classes, and on printing and postage.

Some of our most challenging and successful schemes are found among groups working with young adults in Wales. Allowing young adults to be themselves and to express themselves freely has been key to the success of this work, and this is what Mr Beer's project is all about.

£2,099 is a small price to pay for this outstanding youth education project.

I support the award of this grant to Karl Beer and I wish him well with his venture.

YES - Richard Kramer, head of policy, Turning Point

... with the important caveat that what we're talking about is a series of poetry workshops with vulnerable young people, including young offenders, rather than the drinking sessions it was originally claimed the money would go to.

Whatever your thoughts on what is and isn't a deserving cause for National Lottery or any other funding, it would seem foolish to fund work about "going out and getting completely wrecked", particularly given the estimated £20bn that alcohol costs the country each year and when there's a marked funding crisis within alcohol treatment services.

The workshops, on the other hand, could be a good way of informing young people openly and honestly about the effects of alcohol and particularly excessive drinking. From speaking to young people accessing our social care services, it seems that tackling alcohol through mainstream education is often perceived as 'lecturing'. Therefore, finding ways of engaging with young people, particularly at-risk groups and those outside the school system, is vital.

Having said that, a lot depends on how serious or otherwise Mr Beer's original claims to the press were.

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