Disjointed and Demoralised: Fighting Back

Charlie Carr’s speech to the Bradford IN DEFENCE event raises a range of vital questions for all of us.

Hello everybody,

My name is Charlie Carr. I am a full time detached youth worker within Targeted Youth Support, a member of CYWU and I sit on the newly formed national steering group for the in defence of youth work campaign.

This is the third time I will have spoken either at a union event or on behalf of the union and it isn’t getting any less scary!!

It was very nice to be asked to have a little input in today’s session which will just involve a brief outline of my experience with CYWU and a little bit about the in defence of campaign.

I studied at St Martins and although I was aware that changes were occurring, to witness these first hand was something quite different. The openness and informality of the work that I learned about and had become passionate about through my studies didn’t run parallel with some of the things that were happening on the ground. For example, whilst running a girls group I started to become affected by the pressures to meet targets set by a different agenda. I realised that the spontaneity and natural flow of our sessions was hindered by my conscious and distracting efforts to find an opportunity for accreditation.

Also, I was proud to be part of a profession whose relationships with young people were based on honesty and trust but very soon became disappointed that this was not reflected throughout other aspects of the work. I mean this in the way that workers have felt under pressure to manipulate various bits of paperwork and recordings which are not fully relevant to young people’s experience. For example, I hardly think canoeing can be squeezed in to the box of ‘economic well-being’ yet a colleague once claimed as much in their endeavour to tick boxes, however inappropriately! In this respect, it felt like the values of honesty and trust were not in line with some of the practise that was happening.

Thus, I had emerged from University as an idealistic and optimistic young youth worker, into an environment of disjointed values and demoralised workers that these pressures as well as others have the potential to create.

The overarching feeling this brought was confusion.

  • Confusion about why youth work is under such massive threat from national and local government when it is so valuable to young people’s personal and social development.
  • Confusion about why there are so many newly qualified and also practised youth workers struggling to find substantial posts in youth work when it is so valuable to unlocking young people’s potential.
  • And confusion as to why the voluntary and reciprocal relationships between youth workers and young people are being put under immense strains in various ways when it is so valuable in its uniqueness and affirming nature.

As I gain more experience though, and listen to the voices of others I have realised that feeling confused is actually ok…I think!!

To put it a little more eloquently, ‘if you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention.’

On first joining the CYWU I was actually quite overwhelmed and even a little bit intimidated by the sheer amount of experience and knowledge that seemed to be in one place at one time. My first experience of being amongst other Unionists was at the national conference in Eastbourne nearly three years ago. This played a massive part in my still ongoing politicisation as I was able to start locating what were quite abstract issues into reality.

For example, I began to make links between the threat to the core values of youth work and how this was manifesting itself in cuts to youth work provision across the country. Most importantly, this was able to take place in a safe and supportive network of youth workers.

Since this conference, I have attended another national conference, student conference which is a vital space in which to be heard, a march for jobs rally in Birmingham with seven thousand other Unionists, and have most recently been invited to Cuba for the annual Young Unionists Brigade.

As some of you may be aware, CYWU, as well as Unison, are in a position of solidarity to the In Defence of Campaign. CYWU are actually putting forward a motion at their next conference that expresses their support. Likewise, the In defence of campaign is encouraging members to also be aware of local level attacks that the Union are fighting that actually embody what it is we are defending as a campaign.

In this current climate, I feel the link between CYWU and IDOYW are inextricable. They are different and they are the same but the core principle of each is the protection of something very precious. So part of my role on the steering group is to try to represent the unions position on various debates and try to liaise between the two – and as someone who is still learning so much this sometimes seems quite a degree of responsibility! However, I recognise the importance in the dialogue that IDOYW creates the space for. It is, of course, the thing that has the potential to give youth work its power but that is only realised in the strength of the collective yet the individual, the agreeing yet disagreeing and the political yet accessible voice of a body youth workers.

I was recently put in a precarious situation in the workplace and although it really wasn’t as bad I felt at the time, what was massively comforting as I worried and got all self critical was remembering that I am part of something. The CYWU would protect my role on a practical level if needed and The IDOYW campaign offers a critical space for reflection with its emphasis on defending youth work values.

I suppose what I am really saying is that it is OK not to have all the answers but it is so important to ask the questions. So I hope everyone gets a lot out of today and uses the opportunity to explore some of the contradictions we face as a profession.

And remember, ‘one who asks a question is a fool for five minutes, one who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.’

And as the great philosopher, Mr T once said, ‘I Pity the Fool!’

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