A People’s History of Woodcraft Folk

Understanding the present and imagining the future of youth work demands an appreciation of its past – hence a genuine welcome to this history of the Woodcraft Folk. A review of the book would be much appreciated.


The youth movement Woodcraft Folk has made a remarkable impact on British politics and education. Founded in 1925 on a wave of post-WWI utopianism and now a network of hundreds of local groups, it has empowered thousands of young people to shape the world around them. This book explores the history, values and evolution of this unique organisation in a chronological sweep of stories from hand-making tents, and rescuing children from advancing Nazi troops, to campaigning against climate change.

Offering an unmatched insight into the story of this little-known but influential organisation, the book features 200 pages of colour photographs, essays and stories, and is introduced by the veteran campaigner, Labour politician and long-standing Woodcraft Folk supporter Jeremy Corbyn MP.

With contributions from Jon Nott, Annebella Pollen, Martin Pover, Nicola Samson, Paul Bemrose, Doug Bourn, Kit Jones, Saskia Neibig, Zoë Waterman and Joel White

Available at Woodcraft Folk

From Education via Cabinet to Leisure – so much for youth work as informal education


The graffiti has been scribbled on the youth work wall for some time, F*** Informal Education.  Michael Gove , now a has-been, was fond of the slogan, failing in three years to go near a youth centre or project and true to his disposition moving youth work to the Cabinet Office. As Tony Jeffs observed,  “since 1917, youth work at a national level had unambiguously been viewed as an educational service – residing alongside schools, FE and the universities. Now, it has been unceremoniously transferred to a dustbin department which, apart from co-ordinating the work of inter-departmental committees, undertakes those tasks in which the major spending departments have no interest.” And now we learn that youth policy, if we can take this notion seriously anymore,  is to be rescued from the dustbin and dumped in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport [DCMS].  This shift is not guided by  the robust and rigorous evidence advocated ad nauseam, but the fact that the former youth minister, Rob Wilson, “is taking his previous brief, which is made up of youth policy, the National Citizen Service, social action, social enterprise and investment, the Big Society agenda and civil society sector support, with him to the DCMS.” Basically the bloke’s being shifted sideways at a junior level to become a parliamentary under-secretary of state. On being told by today’s Iron Lady that this was his fate, he is said to have exclaimed, “but what about all this youth and Big Society stuff?” To which she is alleged to have responded tartly, “Not that man, Cameron again, I’ve got bigger things on my Brexit plate than society, if indeed it exists, so take it all with you”.

Hence it has come to pass the remains of youth work are deposited in the 21st century version of Parks and Cemeteries, the forerunner of the local authority Leisure department. I allow only weary old souls of my generation will remember the fierce fight to fend off youth services being moved into Leisure, our desire to be understood as educators not instructors. As it was this battle was largely won and in Wigan, where I often worked, a fruitful relationship was forged between the Youth Service and Leisure, which under the influence of an innovative Director, was awash with a diversity of cultural and sporting opportunities. Indeed the Leisure Department housed the Youth Information Officer,  who came to all our staff meetings. Today people would rush to define our inter-agency creativity as entrepreneurial, but I digress. The point is that youth work and the youth service, both in its voluntary and state-funded guises, were respected as an integral part of the Authority’s educational provision.

This latest demotion of youth work’s significance continues a neo-liberal ideological fear of an improvisatory, process-led practice, that can never be completely controlled. Back to Tony Jeffs, writing a year or so ago, “Philosophically, the damage wrought by the uncoupling of youth work from the DfE is difficult to exaggerate. This is no minor administrative re-alignment for it speaks of a judgement made by civil servants and senior politicians that youth work has ceased to be an educational service.”

No such concerns seem to be entertained by Anna Smee of UK Youth, who welcomes the move.

“This will ensure continuity and enable some exciting initiatives that are in the pipeline to go ahead as planned,” she said.

“There are clear benefits in placing the youth portfolio in a department that has strong links with many of the sector’s key funders, including The Big Lottery Fund, The Arts Council and Sport England.

“We look forward to working with DCMS to continue to promote the value of informal learning for young people. It is vital that every young person, whatever their circumstances, is able to complete their own social development journey in addition to completing their formal education.”

Full story at Youth policy set for move to Department for Culture, Media and Sport

It would be good to argue this through more – via this blog, Facebook and at our national conference. I’m conscious of contradictions in my argument, not least that many workers within  the arenas of culture, media and sports might well see themselves as educators too, so……………


IDYW 7th National Conference, September 30 : Blurring the Boundaries? Re-Imagining Youth Work?

blurring boundaries

Another instance of lousy timing, given folk are probably looking to leave work behind them for a few weeks at least, but advance notice of our 7th IDYW conference.

Back in April we postponed our national conference as a number of other broad initiatives were on the go, notably by UK Youth, TAG and Choose Youth. We said at the time that we hoped our rearranged conference would keep the debate about the future alive and ongoing.  In this spirit we are holding our event on Friday, September 30 in Birmingham. Our provisional title focuses on two intertwined questions, ‘Blurring the Boundaries?’ and ‘Re-Imagining Youth Work? In particular we want to engage with the criticism that IDYW’s insistence on the primacy of the voluntary relationship and the distinctiveness of the youth work setting is in danger of being ‘a destructive force that places unnecessary constraints upon practice’ [Coburn and Gormally, 2016].

We are inviting a mix of national and local contributors, who, we hope, will reflect a diversity of opinion and initiative, together with illustrating the changing economy of youth work. More details to follow.

We hope you will put the date in your diary, knowing that this will be a rare opportunity both to argue the toss and meet up in a supportive, yet questioning atmosphere with committed workers from across the country.


This is lousy timing. In the midst of a contemporary quasi-Elizabethan melodrama, wherein the courtiers-cum-politicians plot and back-stab  in their pursuit of an illusory power, within which politics is reduced to personality, we’re asking you to consider these thoughts on the character and purpose of IDYW. Hardly earth-shattering, we know. However, if you can spare a moment from watching or indeed desiring to expose the post-Brexit spectacle of incompetence and hypocrisy, your responses would be much appreciated. Thanks in anticipation.



It’s well over seven years since In Defence of Youth Work [IDYW] saw the light of a gloomy day in Durham. Contrary to our expectations and of those, who dismissed us as romantics, we have emerged as a voice of some consequence. Through our seminars and conferences, our Story-Telling workshops and publications, supplemented by regular outpourings on our blog and Facebook page, we have sought to reveal the corrosive influence of an instrumental neo-liberal ideology upon an open-ended, process-led youth work. Indeed, at a superficial glance, with over 2,500 Facebook followers and in 2015 over 27,500 blog visits from across the globe, we seem to have been a success.

However we are not inclined to indulge in the self-congratulatory culture dominant nowadays, wherein we are invited to believe that everything is going swimmingly, even absolutely, awesomely well. Our existence is haunted by contradictions and concerns. On a practical level the IDYW show is kept on the road through the efforts of a small group of volunteers. Of course this is neither a surprise nor a slight on those unable to be more involved. These remain difficult times. Workers, paid or unpaid, have little time on their hands. Whether disillusioned and weary or optimistic and energetic, it’s a stressful place to be. In this forbidding climate we have failed to become the campaign group of our imagination. Unable to encourage our followers to meet even locally we have failed to forge the forces on the ground to fulfil this dream. Whilst we have done our best to support any flicker of resistance, symbolised by the 2011 Choose Youth lobby of Parliament and our willingness to be involved in a diversity of youth work gatherings, we’ve not lived up to our title.

With all this in mind we’ve been discussing within the IDYW Steering Group ‘who we are?’, ‘where we’re up to?’ and ‘where we might be going?’ The following marks our best thinking up to this point, to which we would welcome responses.

On reflection our most important contribution across our lifespan has been to provide a space, increasingly denied elsewhere, for a collective and thoughtful discussion about the state of youth work. We have sought to provide information, commentary, analysis and research to support this process. To do so is in the best tradition of a practice, which aspires to be reflective. Thus we propose that in the present period, given our resources, it is most fruitful to see IDYW, to view ourselves, as a forum, a meeting place of minds, whose raison d’etre is to question and challenge received assumptions.

In making this case we are not claiming to be neutral. Our desire is to defend and extend the emancipatory youth work practice expressed in the cornerstones outlined in our original Open Letter and the 2014 Statement of Purpose.

Our tentative feeling is that, if anything, we have been less sharp in recent times re developments in the youth sector than we should have been. We have held back for fear of being accused of undermining attempts to forge a refreshed consensus about the work. Meanwhile leading youth organisations don’t seem to give an inch in their continued allegiance both to the outcomes agenda and market forces. We will not hold our breath as we wait for for their disapproving response to the Cabinet Office’s Life Chances Fund, which introduces inappropriately payment-by-results into the complex and contradictory world of social welfare and social education. Hence we need to deal openly with the inevitable tensions created by being an outspoken and dissenting voice, not least by encouraging argument within our own ranks.

Finally, and very much linked to the previous point about our own relationships with each other, making plain that our primary function is to act as a forum of critical dialogue attends to our long-running anxiety about the democratic and accountable character of IDYW or rather the lack of structured democracy and accountability. Whilst we have always striven to be open, we have never established a form of membership, adopted a constitution, elected officers and the like. Clarifying our present character and purpose suggests that IDYW’s constituency is made up in reality of contributors and what we might call a readership. Obviously we hope, if we can end on a personal note, that you will be both contributor and reader, actively engaged, in the light of your own energy and resources. Whatever we deem ourselves to be, we need one another in a struggle to defend not only youth work, but a belief in a holistic education from cradle to grave, a commitment to a radical praxis and the common good. In this context IDYW still has a useful role to play.

Grassroots youth work : Policy, passion and resistance in practice

It gives us great pleasure to publicise the appearance of a new book by stalwart IDYW supporter, Tania de St Croix, Grassroots youth work : Policy, passion and resistance in practice. The launch of the publication will take place on Tuesday, July 12 at Kings College, London. Evidently loads of folk are intending to be there so no room for latecomers. Having been privileged to see early drafts of Tania’s research and insights into the neglected world of the paid and volunteer part-time youth worker I can vouch for its timely significance in reimagining together the future of an impassioned youth work practice, which holds true to an emancipatory politics.


The voices of grassroots youth workers are rarely heard in policy, research or public debate. This book paints a picture of passionate practitioners who build meaningful relationships with marginalised young people, at a time when their practice is threatened by spending cuts, target cultures and market imperatives.

Written by an experienced youth worker, this engaging book uses interviews, dialogue and research diary excerpts to bring youth work practice and theory to life. Offering perspectives not found elsewhere in the literature, it will interest researchers and practitioners in youth and community work, education, social work, and health and social care. Its rich, empirical research will resonate internationally.

Dr. Tania de St Croix has been a youth worker for over twenty years, and is a Lecturer in the Sociology of Youth and Childhood at King’s College London. She is active in Voice of Youth, a youth workers’ co-operative, and In Defence of Youth Work, a campaign for critical, democratic and emancipatory youth work practice.

“Essential reading for youth workers and other creative and critical thinkers who are looking for the cracks where life can still break up and break through the grids of control.” Janet Batsleer, Manchester Metropolitan University

“An in-depth look at the devastating impacts of neoliberal reform policies on youth services and youth work that illuminates the dedication and passion of youth workers against the backdrop of a dehumanizing work environment.” Dana Fusco, York College USA

And Tania herself adds, “academic books rarely make money, but if there is any profit I will pass it on to Voice of Youth and/or In Defence of Youth Work”. If you sign up to the newsletter of Policy Press you can get a 35% discount and you will find it an absorbing and accessible read – not always the case in terms of academic literature.

Youth Social Action : A Question of Politics

A few of us are thinking about submitting a possible paper to this conference with the working title, ‘Taking the Politics out of Social Action’, drawing on our own histories and a different interpretation of what Social Action might mean –  Their Social Action and Ours – social change or social control? Your thoughts welcomed.


Voluntary Sector Studies Network – VSSN – Day Seminar, Birmingham, 22 November 2016

Youth social action: What do we know about young people’s participation?

The next VSSN Day Seminar will take place at the University of Birmingham on Tuesday 22 November: 10.30am – 4.00pm.
Please put the date in your diary now!
And consider submitting a paper….

The next VSSN day seminar is hosted by the Third Sector Research Centre at the University of Birmingham in association with the #iwill campaign. The seminar will explore the broad theme of youth social action, which includes activities such as volunteering, fundraising, campaigning, political participation, democratic engagement and activism that young people do to help others and the environment. The landscape of provision for young people in the UK has changed in recent decades, particularly at a local authority level for out-of-school services. On a national level, the last 15 years have seen various social action initiatives promoted by Labour, Coalition and Conservative governments, including the introduction of Citizenship to the National Curriculum; the introduction of the government-backed National Citizen Service, and recently-announced plans to inject further funding; and cross-party support for the #iwill campaign. The #iwill campaign is a cross-sector, collective impact campaign aiming to increase the involvement of 10-20 year olds in the UK in social action by 2020. It is coordinated by the charity Step Up To Serve.

A recent survey of participation in youth social action shows that in 2015 42% of young people participated in social action at least every few months, or did a one-off activity lasting more than a day, and recognised the benefits it had for themselves and for the community or cause they were helping. Yet, similar to some of the patterns we see in adults’ participation, there are socio-demographic differences in participation. Significantly, those from less affluent backgrounds (C2DE) are participating less than those from most affluent backgrounds (ABC1) – 45% compared to 39% respectively. The same study found that the majority (68%) of young people who weren’t involved could think of at least one factor that would motivate them to take part, namely, ivolvement with friends or family, or if it was close to where they live.

This broad context raises several questions, including for example:
· What barriers do young people face to participating in youth social action? What are the costs of participation for young people (financial and otherwise)?
· What difference does taking part in youth social action make to young people’s lives, and/or to society?
· Are government programmes and/or wider societal factors changing how young people can participate?
· What types of participation are being encouraged within youth social action initiatives? Are some forms of participation seen as more legitimate than others?
· How does social action relate to the formation of identities amongst young people?
· In a wider political context, to what extent is youth social action being constructed around the idea of a responsible citizen?
· How do we research young people’s participation? How are young people getting involved in the research process?

Presenters and delegates are invited to consider how their research and experience relates to youth social action, and in particular to the questions listed above. The theme ‘youth social action’ is deliberately broad to encompass work on volunteering, campaigning, citizenship and fundraising, as well as activism and participation of young people in civil society more widely.

Submitting an abstract
We welcome presentations from researchers, academics, doctoral students and practitioners in voluntary organisations who are doing research that can shine a light on the issues raised in this call. We will be pleased to consider papers that provide empirical, theoretical, methodological, practice or policy insights associated with our theme. Papers are usually based on completed or ongoing research (qualitative or quantitative) or a review of the evidence or literature in an area of interest to voluntary sector researchers.

If you would like to propose a paper for the day, please submit an abstract of around 250 words and a brief biography by email to Emma Taylor at e.taylor.2@bham.ac.uk no later than 3 August 2016. Your abstract should contain a question, problem or dilemma arising from practice, theory or research findings, the argument you intend to make, and how this contributes to the theme for the day. PLEASE DO NOT HIT THE ‘REPLY’ BUTTON to this message or you will be replying to everyone on this VSSN list. Please note that, if selected, your abstract will be posted on VSSN website and you will need to book and pay to attend the Seminar.

For any other queries, or if you wish to discuss a proposed paper’s suitability, please email e.taylor.2@bham.ac.uk.

Attending the event
VSSN aims to promote an understanding of the UK voluntary sector through research. The event is aimed at researchers, academics, doctoral students and practitioners in voluntary organisations or foundations interested in the UK voluntary sector. We also welcome policy makers engaged in the voluntary sector. We are also keen to meet and receive contributions from, colleagues in other countries who are involved in research on civil society organisations. The working language is English.
Booking will open once the programme is finalised. We look forward to welcoming you to Birmingham on 22 November.

After the Referendum : Notes from Manchester via Janet Batsleer

I can but urge you to read this insightful and challenging piece from Janet.


After the Referendum  Notes from Manchester,UK

Janet Batsleer

July 2nd 2016

I woke up on Friday morning to Brexit and, as soon as I heard the news, I felt very afraid.  The sense of loss and shock was enormous. Later I recognised this was something like the feelings I had in the 1980’s when the miners were defeated.   Once I started to make sense of what had happened – I had said to my son that there might be a big anti-establishment revolt from the North – I could leave the house. But the feelings of fear persisted as the only outright winner seemed to be Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP, the far right anti-immigrant party.  A wave of anti-immigrant feeling had been unleashed in the campaign: the genie of British racism now out of the bottle, some-one said.  But also, in some ways, a continuity from last summer’s vote for Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.  The cat out of the bag about the class contempt that had been poured in plenty on some of the poorest parts of the country. Now people were kicking back, or just kicking.  Manchester itself, almost alone in the North West, voted REMAIN.  (I can’t claim to understand BREXIT from the point of view of the Conservative voting parts of the country but that seems to be a kind of taken for granted story that no-one can be troubled to tell.)

Oddly ,on the day of the Referendum, I had been in Brussels with Andreas and Anais and Patricia at the European Research Centre. It was OK; it was great to be with colleagues and feel European!  It was strange and worrying too. Maybe it gave me reasons, if I didn’t have them already, to think that change badly  needs to happen in the EU.

My work – including the Partispace project – is listening  and connecting.

Friday afternoon I went out to an event organised by young people at the Art Gallery. I found it hard to concentrate that day.  It was a fine and interesting event that I have written field notes about and one aspect was an intergenerational event.  At the end of the first section a man (maybe my age in fact but I like to think that he was much older) used the open mic session to read a Victory poem printed out on the back of a large voting paper inscribed LEAVE. It was about the country being free at last. First we were colonised by the Romans; then the Normans took out our King’s eye;; then the Europeans came…..but we’ve finally got rid of the sods!)  I was so angry I couldn’t stay.

 On Sunday I was at the North West Youth Council, Youthforia, It had been organised by the Manchester Youth Council and Alexandre and I were both there.  The team from Manchester Youth Council is brilliantly odd and diverse: a young person who looks like a boy with long hair but is called Ashley; two young men,Matthew and Sam (one tall and serious, one small and bouncy) from the Nigerian community now strong in North Manchester; a boy doing politics A level from a leafy suburb and his friend who, when I asked him where he was from (meaning, what part of Manchester?) answered Afghanistan; an enormously competent young woman from the Reclaim project who seemed to be organising the whole lot. After a few minutes in , of welcomes and ‘warm ups’, they announced that they still intended to bid for Manchester to be European City of Youth: because we are Manchester and we are differently diverse!

During one of the breaks I sat down with a young man, Jack, from Wigan, one of the Boroughs where a significant majority  had supported the Leave campaign.  He was a lovely young man and he said his family had been for Leave and that he would have voted Leave if he could have: he is 17 and is planning to do a degree in Cybersecurity at a local University.  I asked him why. He explained that people in Wigan felt the EU had done nothing for them; ‘We don’t have a University in Wigan’ he said. The big firm was an American one, and the small businesses were hampered by EU regulation. ‘Was immigration a big issue in the Leave vote?’  For about 50% of the people, yes. I’m very much for Jeremy Corbyn as well, he said. I told him that when I had arrived at the event I had met a youth worker close to tears because three Czech young people who were part of his project had arrived at the project on Friday to ask ‘Do we have to go home today?’  ‘That’s bad’ Jack said looking really sick.

There was an escalation in racialized and xenophobic abuse and assault over the weekend. It seems to be calming a little now.  There were also various attempts to get the vote declared invalid by middle class educated people who only support democracy when it goes the right way!

The worker for Wigan Youth Council is a man from Wigan called Ahmed who has been a Youth Worker with the Authority for 20 years. He set up the first anti-racist project in Wigan called Rafiki and more recently Kamosi, which works with Eastern European communities. Under New Labour, his work became framed as part of the Anti-Social Behaviour project and then the work moved into the Youth Offending Team. More contempt for working class estates. Now he is turning back to the anti-racist framing of the work. Now is the moment. Because of DevoManc, now is also the moment for Manchester and Wigan working-class anti-racist projects to reconnect….’it’s a very insular place’ he said.  Islands tend to be it seems. But so are cities; too easily cut off by their glamorous centres  from the pain of being poor and rubbished.

The following day I was in North Manchester where, it was suspected, many people voted LEAVE. It would fit with the demographic and the difficulty of knowing whether the flags were for the Referendum or the Football. I drank tea with the youth workers who told me about the Bulgarian boy who comes to the club and is a leading table tennis player.  His fears that he won’t be able to play for the UK now. That he will have to leave. And about the people who have been coming in saying ‘They’ll all have to go now won’t they.’  In turn I hear the youth worker ( a man of 28, one of my former students) flip the contempt: ‘The immigrants are the ones with good values, good attitudes: they work hard, they have ambition. The people on the estate: it’s just like Shameless. Drinking Skol  in the street in the middle of the day…..hardly any clothes on…..playing hoola-hoop while their kids are at school…..they are parents for goodness sake….)

Wednesday I am back in Hulme and working on the Community Learning Festival we are organising for the first week of the school holidays when I am co-ordinating a day on democracy and politics.  The neighbourhood we are linking with is the historic centre of  Manchester multi-culture and the local community activists I am working with on this project are so glad we are doing this as we all see the tension and chaos escalating. We are hearing stories every day of attacks on minority people on public transport in the City.  The anger that has been palpable for weeks seems to be taking a new and nastier turn. We are all happy we are doing this Festival: a place where people can come together. We will invite the people from Europia, the project working to support East European migrants who are facing hate crime, to be involved.

And I am writing a paper on ‘agonistic democracy’ for ECER: is this what it feels like?  I suppose so.

I believe that a small but not at all insignificant element in the situation we are in has been the abandonment of  community education, adult education and open youth work, in favour of schemes which target and shame people alongside the offer of meagre and insufficient resources in projects.  

I also think the reduction of people’s lives to being an economic cipher; the denial of a cultural, political life, a life of generous imagination and political memory, as well as the denial of justice and equality  …. is a further dimension. Projects which link Trade Union education with cultural resources and resources of popular memory  – such as our colleague Geoff Bright’s Ghost Labs conducted in former mining communities – are essential as are many comings together of people who have been denied justice and recognition. Projects which cross national boundaries to do this need to be part of our future as well as our past and they need to include people from all areas not just the ones where people have been to University.

We are all too familiar with the neo-liberal way.  We still need to come together to imagine,  propose and work otherwise; despite the false binaries and above all against the racism and  away from the anti-working class contempt, both so powerfully emergent now.

Note – ECER is the European Conference for Educational Research