'A reet rum do'! Taking Youth Policy Seriously?

By all accounts last week’s Y & P’s ‘Taking Youth Policy Seriously’ conference was ‘a reet rum do’ – challenging contributions, unexpected praise, decent debate and more than a whiff of self-serving character assassination. For an eye witness account I would recommend Jon Jolly’s  reflections, which begin, “Yesterday I spent a fun and thought-provoking day at YMCA George Williams College for the Youth & Policy ‘Thinking Seriously About Youth Work and Policy’ Conference!” How often do you hear that said in today’s world of slick, stage managed, corporate exercises in how to deliver what’s already been decided?

Other feedback from folk present included:

– The contribution of Gareth Symonds from Surrey posed the question of whether there is still space within local authorities to defend open youth work free from imposed targets. Whilst supportive of the IDYW definition of youth work, he cautioned against ‘agitational’ practice, which seemed contradictory to some in the audience. It would be good to hear more from the Surrey experience. Perhaps there are committee documents we might share?

– Ian Mearns, the Labour MP, restored some belief in the possibility of independent-minded parliamentary representatives, criticising the target culture.

– Paul Oginsky, defying the caricature I’ve painted on the site, was insightful and thoughtful. Within the National Citizen’s Service [NCS] workshop he proved willing to listen and be criticised. Nevertheless the jury remains out on NCS. Why is this familiar mix of youth work approaches – the residential, challenging outdoor activities, community projects and so on – being dressed up and sold as innovative, whilst year round open access to youth provision is being decimated?

The dash of spice to proceedings was provided by Fiona Blacke, Chief Executive of the National Youth Agency, who railed against the incompetence of previous management at the organisation, causing Bernard Davies to leap to the previous CEO, Tom Wylie’s defence. At the height of the fracas Jon Jolly tweeted something like, “I really can’t believe she said that!” To add insult to injury she suggested that older men blocking progress needed to get out of the way of a new generation of young entrepreneurial workers. Thus in one ageist swoop she wrote off the continued commitment of those long in the tooth , whilst irritating immensely the fresh blood at the forefront of both Y & P itself and the IDYW Campaign.

As it is we are saved unnecessary speculation about the contents of her input. I am reliably informed that her latest blog post, ‘New Times Need New Thinking’ is a toned down version of what she said. Having read it, I can but welcome an unusual offering from the contemporary leadership of the work at a national level, one that reveals their purpose and intent.  A riposte is already  shaping up in my ageing brain. We can but echo Fiona’s plea for open dialogue. We will endeavour as ever to play our critical part.


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