Boys in the Hood
TEENAGER Danny Missin is a target. Wherever he goes, glaring eyes follow. Suspicion stalks him like a shadow.
The reason: like millions of British youngsters, he is hooked on hoodies.
"People don't talk to us – we just get dead eyes. Dads usher their kids away from us in the street and neighbours who used to say 'hi' to me just completely blank me," says Danny.
He and his mates feel they are blamed for anything and everything that goes wrong in the village of Scholes. Barely a night goes by without a tete-a-tete with the local bobby.
Shopping in the Co-op the other day, an elderly woman confronted the 17-year-old and tried to pull his hood down.
"I can honestly say I feel like lashing out, but that's what they want," he says.
"I didn't buy this hoody because I wanted to rob a granny, I bought it because my favourite basketball player was on it.
"Hoodies don't make people, people make hoodies."
Danny's black Michael Jordan hoody cost £50, bought with wages earned as a trainee hairdresser.
It's the same one he intends to wear when he starts coaching a basketball team at one of Cleckheaton's middle schools in September.
But none of this helps him when he's walking round the Foldings Estate, where he is treated in the same way as a teddy boy clad with drain pipes would have been in the Fifties, or a skinhead in bovver boots in the Seventies.
Eighteen-year-old Michael Burn, whose face is often obscured by a white Carlotti hoody, gets the same treatment.
"This is our generation and this is what we wear to fit in," he says. "Some people feel comfy in suits, some people in baggies, some in stripy jumpers and some in hoodies. It doesn't make me a thug."
Danny concurs: "People who like heavy metal wear make-up - I listen to hip-hop and wear a hoody. There is good and bad in every group."
The anti-hood agenda has been fuelled by the national press, who lauded the decision to ban hooded tops at the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent.
Prime Minister Tony Blair and his deputy John Prescott just about managed to jump on the bandwagon before it careered out of control, but not everyone is on board.
Amanda Allard, of the children's charity NCH, believes it is important not to confuse fashion with behaviour.
"People wear hooded tops to be cool, not to be intimidating," she says.
"If you demonise them then you feed on people's fears about teenagers."
For Michael, the answer is for adults to start working with youths, not against them.
Youth clubs organised in Scholes in the past have been ruined by an unruly element, the same few who wreak havoc across Foldings and the centre of the village every night.
Michael's solution would be for Kirklees to convert the old Co-op building into a young people's centre. It has stood empty for years, attracting far more vandalism than potential tenants, and its development would rid the village of its biggest eyesore.
He wants the council to give it a lick of paint. Maybe provide a pool table or a dart board.
If they had somewhere they could call their own, Michael says, teenagers would look after it and keep themselves out of trouble.
"We used to have football nets up at the park but all of a sudden last year the council took them down and we don't know why. There is a little basketball court but it's full of glass. What are we supposed to do? Nobody has come and asked us what we want. They won't give us a chance."
Michael's mum Christine, who works at the local chippie, is backing him all the way.
"Not all the kids around here are bad – they're always all right with me," says the 42-year-old. "The old Co-op would make a lovely youth club. We adults have money and something to do of an evening but these kids haven't got two bob to rub together so they just hang around.
"We need to give them a chance and stop stereotyping them. I used to live in Bradford and we had barbies and parties with the kids and they loved us.
"All they want is for the police and the residents to give them a bit of trust."