Learning from Each Other : Youth Workers and Activists

On Monday we received the notes of the IDYW/Free Radicals Workshop held at the School of Ideas in Islington.  The attached mail was optimistic.
Looks like we will be doing something else there in a month or so.  The School is a great place – a warmer welcome than the Bank and has the support of the local residents and has a different vibe. My first thought as I walked in…”If only every school looked like this…!”
Sadly within hours the School had been evicted illegally in parallel with the eviction of the Occupy Camp outside St Paul’s.  These expressions of an authoritarian, anxiety-ridden State will not silence criticism.
For the record the engagement between youth workers and activists – sometimes one and the same person?  – threw up the following:
    1. What can youth workers learn from activists about being brave and strong willed? (on keeping to our principles and acting on them )

Things we discussed:

  • Don’t just discuss what’s easy to talk about
  • Don’t have rules? Self-imposed, or otherwise
  • Do it yourself – learn about to do the whole of something (e.g. photography)
  • Don’t spend time worrying about what they should do – just do it!
  • Don’t allow  power to overcome us
    • Don’t allow fear to hold you back
    • Be willing to break the rules
  • Don’t compromise so easily
  • Be creative – use different tactics
  • What actions can youth workers legitimately share with young people and what actions can young people take themselves?


  • Make activism accessible to young people?
  • Get young people involved in activism without being coercive or pushing your own agenda?

Things we discussed:

  • Go to people – meet them where they are at. In youth work this is called detached. We discussed that you could go to meet people where they are – schools, estates, youth clubs –  and engage in conversation around issues that are important to the young people then potentially link their issues to larger and global issues.
  • Use questions to probe, and extract more of their thoughts and to challenge what they ‘accept’ about inequalities that exist.
  • Use GAMES and comfortable spaces to introduce young people to activism and make spaces accessible and not intimidating.
  • Use visuals and posters to decorate activist spaces that might ‘speak’ more directly to young people or that might spark discussion.
  • People in general don’t know how they can get involved, but might care about something. Letting them know simple ways to start getting active, and let people know what the benefits are for them on an individual basis as well as groups benefits.
  • Think about how people are welcomed and introduced/ inducted into groups. Making sure groups really are GROUPS, that voices have a chance to be heard but also empowered and acted upon. We had a discussion about young people being heard tokenistically but that actually they would want to get more involved if they saw their opinions and suggestions being taken on board and acted on, with their participation of course!
  • How we engage with young people, so not just relying on them being able to get to meetings, but holding meetings in ‘their spaces’ or using social media….
  • Does the fact that activist causes usually have their own agendas  go against ethics and principles of working with young people on their issues, ideas and needs??
  • Activism can often fall into trap of being about individual egos and become easily and quickly (inevitably) exclusive?
  • Until people have ‘nothing to lose’ they won’t get involved?? We discussed hegemony and young people being too interested in their play stations and x-boxes to want to ‘lose’ them and the money or potential for income that would help them buy new games!


  • How do we engage with young people to lead on projects?
  • Who can “afford” to get into activism? Can young people?
  • At what point would activism jeopardise youth work, if it still wants to engage with the system? Should we engage with the system anyway?
  • How do you operate when you are reliant on a host org or funding ?


  • “Gonna find some games so we can engage young people at the School”
  • “Take more spaces back”
  • Explore opening dialogue between older activists and young people
  • “Not gonna get distracted by the blocks – just act!”
  • “Be willing to break the rules”
  • Want to explore more around youth leadership
  • We need to play more! Allow kids to be kids!
  • “Talk about power”
  • Would like to explore how we can support the School to engage young people


  1. FEEDBACK ON THE WORKSHOP (paraphrased)
  • Liked using the Open Space Technology. New to me, never done it before (x4)
  • “Important to have space to share thoughts and feel empowered”
  • Good to learn from others
  • “Found some solidarity from sharing experience”
  • “Not done youth work so want to implement ideas here”
  • Gathered intellectual resource: gained knowledge that helps me access young people energy
  • “Helped me understand my own experience”
Thanks to Susanna and Tania for pulling this together. Despite the setback of the School being forcibly closed, we look forward to continuing these conversations.

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