Spare Rib, Women and Innovative Youth Work


The appearance of Spare Rib in the Briarcroft Training centre of the Wigan Youth Service back in 1978 was symbolic. Whether organised on the shelves or strewn amidst the cushions in our ‘trendy’ groupwork room it reflected a major shift in the youth work outlook of that northern Metropolitan Borough.  Even getting the agreement of the education bureaucracy to subscribe to this dangerous magazine was greeted with dismissive opposition. However  the sheer energy and passion brought into the Service by women involved in the Women’s Movement, the force of their arguments, won over key men in the Education Department hierarchy. ‘Boys Rule not OK!’ events were organised. A Youth Service Women’s Group, bringing together part and full-time workers, secured support and funding. The very first full-time Girls’ Worker was appointed. Girls’ Nights flourished. Male workers and young men were challenged. The local CYSA branch was to be transformed, playing its part in the creation of CYWU with its radical constitution, the Women’s Caucus to the fore. It was a time, dare we use words exhausted by their relentless and inappropriate invocation nowadays, of creativity and innovation. This Wigan experience was replicated in Youth Services across the country.

Hence, in reminding us of this history, of a challenging youth work practice that had to make its case against the odds, it’s brilliant to see that all 239 editions of the landmark feminist magazine, Spare Rib are to be published online for the first time.

Spare Rib enters the digital age

Few titles sum up an era and a movement like Spare Rib. With its commitment to challenging the status quo, Spare Rib battled oppression and gave a voice to the struggles, discussions and debates of diverse groups of women over the 21 years it was in print (1972-1993)

Noam Chomsky on the Perils of Market-Driven Education

In posting this interview with Noam Chomsky as a possible weekend read I’m underlining my steadfast belief that the defence of youth work is rooted deeply in the wider struggle to renew  critical and democratic forms of education. It’s one of the reasons I remain anxious about the continued slide to seeing youth work as the preventative arm of social work rather than an informal wing of life-long education.


Ta to

Noam Chomsky on the Perils of Market-Driven Education

An educated public is surely a prerequisite for a functioning democracy — where “educated” means not just informed but enabled to inquire freely and productively, the primary end of education.

It is worth remembering the early years of the industrial revolution. The working-class culture of the time was alive and flourishing. There’s a great book about the topic by Jonathan Rose, called The Intellectual Life of the British Working Class. It’s a monumental study of the reading habits of the working class of the day. He contrasts “the passionate pursuit of knowledge by proletarian autodidacts” with the “pervasive philistinism of the British aristocracy.” Pretty much the same was true in the new working-class towns in the United States, like eastern Massachusetts, where an Irish blacksmith might hire a young boy to read the classics to him while he was working. Factory girls were reading the best contemporary literature of the day, what we study as classics. They condemned the industrial system for depriving them of their freedom and culture. This went on for a long time.

What do we mean by voluntary? Jon Ord propels the debate

If you’ve followed any of the 2016 post-conference posts on this site you will know that we scratched the surface of the continuing debate about the significance or otherwise of the voluntary relationship in defining what we mean by youth work. As things stand the very first of IDYW’s cornerstones of practice reads:

  • the primacy of the voluntary relationship, from which the young person can withdraw without compulsion or sanction.

Yet this interpretation is increasingly contested, so much so that we intend to organise a series of seminars this winter to explore further, given the present climate, the vexed question of ‘what we mean by voluntary’? In the run up to these gatherings we will post differing responses to the question. Hence we are pleased to hear from Jon Ord, who writes:


At the recent IDYW conference, in the debate on Voluntary Participation, Bernard Davies made reference to a chapter in my latest book, which looks in some detail at the concept. Afterwards someone did ask me: ‘what book’? So I thought it might be a good idea to share a little bit from it, which may go some way to publicise it…

The following is adapted from chapter 10, ‘On Voluntary Participation and Choice’:

‘Voluntary participation is perhaps one of the most controversial issues in contemporary youth work. Workers are increasingly finding themselves being asked to work in situations where the young people have not accessed the provision voluntarily. However despite the ease with which some youth workers are embracing these new environments we need to have a critical understanding of the concept of voluntary participation. For example: there is actually no opposite to voluntary participation. One cannot participate ‘involuntarily’. Neither is this mere semantics. Participation is an intentional act. One can be physically present but not actually participate. What this shows is that there are two important and distinctly different aspects to voluntary participation – attendance and participation…Ultimately it is the quality of the relationship which forms out of the engagement, the degree of choice at the disposal of the participants, and the participative practices of the workers, not simply whether the project was based on the participants being able to choose to attend, that defines the potential of youth work practice. Ultimately it is the ability to ‘enable young people to engage’ which is important. Choosing to attend is one of the factors which would assist this engagement but it is not the only one and in itself it is no guarantee. I would argue therefore it is possible to do youth work in settings where young people have not chosen to attend but of course success is not guaranteed. Youth work practice should be underpinned by a critical awareness of ‘power and authority’ whatever the context and such issues are of particular importance in settings where young people cannot leave of their own volition’. In such settings of course the possibilities for genuine participation may well be severely hampered and this should not be glossed over…

The above provides a brief insight into some of the arguments in the debate about voluntary participation but more can be found in chapter 10 of the 2nd edition of Youth Work Process Product and Practice. A flyer is attached which provides you with a 20% discount on your order should you wish to explore this further.

It is good stuff, so Jon, we forgive you for this flagrant act of publicity!

ord_process, product and practice authorflyer-iii

The Ethics of Banning : IDYW Regional Seminars, London and Liverpool, November 18

Since our emergence we have sought to encourage the development of IDYW meetings at a local and regional level. By and large this has not come to pass. Thus we are more than pleased to publicise this joint initiative taken by Colin Brent and Tracy Ramsey Lhu. Please support if at all possible. And why not think about taking a similar step in your locality or region?


Ta to

The Ethics of Banning
How do we decide who can and can’t access youth work

Dual open seminars to discuss issues at the core of youth work
on the ground

Friday 18th November 2016, 11am-2pm

UNISON Centre,
130 Euston Road,
Contact Colin – 07988085112
Liverpool Hope University
Hope Park Campus,
Taggart Avenue,
L16 9JD
Contact Tracy – 0151 2913461

Thanks to UNISON and Liverpool Hope University for their support.

banning-flyer Please print out and circulate.

If Young people exist in community – should youth workers develop positive community approaches?

Given yesterday’s notice of the Federation of Detached Youth Work conference and its theme of ‘community’, James Ballantyne, who is going to be one of the contributors, offers some advance thoughts, adding that you deserve a medal if you make it to the end of his piece. Obviously I’ve already put in for my reward.

Detached Youthwork - Learning from the Street

In  a few weeks time im delivering a workshop at the Federation of Detached youthwork conference, the title of which I am yet to finalise, but in readiness of the conference and its theme, i have asked around a few places to get a few definitions of ‘Youth work’ as well as gather some from the resources i have to hand on my bookshelf, or recent articles.

One of the themes of the Conference is – ‘Is community back on the Agenda?’ for detached youthwork, with the brief that aspects of partnership and community work seem to be more common place in detached youthwork at present, with the reason being that it might be other agencies, such as the police, that are in effect funding it, and so there has to be a community, or at least a community agency partnership focus to the work. The question i want to ask is

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Is Community back on the Agenda? FDYW Conference, November 11/12

There’s still time to book a place at the Federation Detached Youth Work 2016 conference in Leeds – great venue and a welcome opportunity to explore the state of street work in a social and community context.


The State of Education: Youth Work breakout group, October 29


“If education should really mean anything at all, it must insist upon the free growth and development of the innate forces and tendencies of the child. In this way alone can we hope for the free individual and eventually also for a free community which shall make interference and coercion of human growth impossible.”
Emma Goldman, 1906

Message from Tania de St Croix

The ‘State of Education’ collective are inviting all educators, students, youth workers and anyone else interested to a workshop in London on 29th October 2pm-4pm: ‘The state of education in Britain today – how should we respond in light of current neo-liberal reforms and racist policies (such as Prevent)?’ as part of the Anarchist Bookfair.

Everyone involved in, or interested in, any form of education is welcome to come along and it will be a great opportunity for those of us involved in youth work to discuss the important challenges we share with other educators, students, etc, and think about what we can do collectively. There will be some discussion in one group, followed by breakout groups – I am facilitating a group for youth, play and community workers (kind of loosely with my IDYW hat on), so I hope some folk are able to come along!  Feel free to share the information with any other relevant groups or networks you can think of. Thanks!

More information at State of Education. The venue is Park View School
West Green Road, London, N15 3QR