Youth & Policy – Looking to the Past

The 7th bi-annual Youth and Policy History of Youth and Community Work conference took place in mid-October and as ever was pertinent and stimulating. Held at a new venue, the Northern College of trade union fame, albeit now more corporate in appearance, the shift taxed the stamina and patience of the indefatigable Tony Jeffs to the hilt. Nevertheless the event rose above the minor niggles, placing before us a  wonderfully eclectic menu of offerings into which to dip. To give you a flavour here are some of the sessions I attended.

  • Gillian Darley talking about pioneering efforts to create communities, partly through an emphasis on collective design and planning in ‘Villages of Vision: A Study of Strange Utopias’.
  • Stuart Waiton claiming not to be a Daily Mail reader as he argued that the recent rioter were not modern day rebels but post-modern narcissists, lacking external points of authority.

  • Dan Conrad from the USA waxing lyrical about the life of the renowned female aviator, Amelia Earhardt and her little-documented parallel existence as a committed social worker.

A final symposium reflecting on a century of work with girls and young women symbolised by the centenary of the National Organisation of Girls’ Clubs [1911 – 2011], featuring Janet Batsleer, Helen Jones, Joyce Walker and Graham Griffiths, within which challenging issues were raised around the hidden contribution of lesbian feminists, the debilitating impact upon young women’s participation of the arrival of paid professionals and the continued necessity of women organising for themselves.

An emotional end to the proceedings saw those present under the baton of Ruth Gilchrist launching into a spirited rendition of the Girls’ Clubs’ Anthem sung to the tune of “We plough the fields and scatter”. It says a great deal that its message is hardly out of date, although some of us were out of tune!

We shirk no honest labour, We do our fitting share; But fuller life we call for, More light, more room, more air; More leisure and more knowledge, More beauty and more health, And more of noble pleasure, And a better common wealth.

Amidst all of this Bernard Davies and I  managed a double act [without song!] tracing the Neo-Liberal Assault on the Albemarle Settlement. The great frustration of the event is that there are so many enticing workshops that lie out of reach -25 in total – ranging from Scouting in a Divided Society – a case history in Belfast [Tom Wylie ] to Distance education for youth workers in the USA [Elaine Johannes] by way of Pulses of Welfare : Changing community work practice [Ian Martin and Mae Shaw] to Youth work in Finland [Juha Nieminem]…and much more besides. In some cases the content of the workshops is reworked into a chapter for the series, Essays in the history of youth and community work. Indeed the compilation from the 2009 conference is now available and we will post an outline of its contents in the next few days. All I can say is that if you can, try to make the next conference in 2013. It’s a proper good ‘do’. We’ll leave the last word to the final verse of the Girls’  Clubs’ Hymn.

Not only for the present, Not for ourselves alone; We knit ourselves in union to make new life our own; But for the coming woman and for the girls unborn; And for the whole of labour and its resurrection morn.

Thanks to Jean Spence for her great photos – many more on the Youth & Policy facebook site.

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