In the ongoing debates about youth work a recurring theme is that somehow we don’t know what we are up to; that we can’t explain what youth work is. This sweeping historical account  by Bernard Davies gives the lie to this weary cliché.  In responding to a European debate about the character of youth work, he opens by saying:

One question, posed a number of times at the Blankenberge Seminar, seemed to have considerable resonance for many of the participants: ‘Why can’t youth workers define what they do more clearly – and more credibly?’ For me however, I realised that this had not been a particular concern in preparing my own contribution. In fact, my paper was, and still is, underpinned by a quite contrary premise: that over the past century and a half in England – and indeed, it could be argued, over the UK generally – core features of a way of working with young people have been formulated and refined which, as an overall configuration, provide a well delineated if as always ‘unfinished’ definition of a distinctive practice which we now call ‘youth work’.

At a moment when Fiona Blacke is able to suggest without embarrassment that ‘the question is not what type of youth work will there be, but will there be any at all,’ we need to retort that of course it bloody matters what type of youth work we are talking about! Bernard’s piece underlines that our response is rooted deeply in the history of a voluntary and open engagement with young people.

Don’t know much about history, pour yourself a drink and make some time to read.


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