Towards a Choose Youth Manifesto? Bernard Davies ponders the process.

Early in the month we posted the draft Choose Youth manifesto, asking for comments.

Following debate at last week’s IDYW Steering Group Bernard Davies has produced the following reflection on the question of the proposed Choose Youth Manifesto and its relationship to the IDYW desire to encourage an open discussion about the issues we face. We hope as ever that this will prompt further responses from our supporters, followers and critics.

A Manifesto for Youth Work?

Why a manifesto?

As a document in its own right, there is much in ‘A vision for a new youth service’, the draft manifesto which is up for discussion at the Choose Youth AGM on 6th February, which I personally would wish to support. This includes its view of youth work as an educational practice which ‘inspires, educates, empowers, takes the side of young people and amplifies their voice’; which they ‘freely choose’; and which develops their learning from and through their relationships with youth workers.

However, though I do have some specific reservations about the draft, my main ones are more fundamental. A – perhaps the – purpose of any manifesto is surely to attract signatories who wish, and feel able publicly, to endorse its key messages and propositions. Getting to this point of agreement often – usually – requires a sustained and carefully negotiated process. This can not only be time-consuming. Worst-case scenario – it can also be counter-productive by highlighting serious, even indeed unbridgeable, differences which end up overriding areas of consensus. At this moment in youth work’s history, with debates running very deep on its very meaning, who should provide it, how, and how it should be funded, this seems to me to be a very real danger.

The risk here may have been somewhat lowered by the proposal to seek endorsement at the Choose Youth AGM of only the more general and perhaps less contentious sections of the draft manifesto. These however seem to me to be so general, and indeed at points rhetorical, that as a manifesto it could end up being worth very little. Moreover, the fact that hanging in the background is, for example, the much more divisive proposal for a licence to practice – or indeed for a National Youth Service Advisory Board with the role and powers suggested – is likely still to lever organisations apart rather than bring them together.

Whatever happened to the ‘Future of Youth Work’ conference?

All of which brings me back to my earlier point: that agreed manifestos usually come out of a considered, sustained and open sharing of views amongst ‘partners’ who, through that experience, have come to understand and so trust each other rather better. That is, through something like the conference proposed to Choose Youth some months ago by IDYW, aimed at bringing together key organisations and groups committed to youth work. Indeed, despite our sometimes sharp criticism of some of their practices, significant support has already been given to this idea by NYA and NCVYS, and also by UNISON.

When IDYW first suggested such a conference I had my doubts about what it might produce. However over time I’ve become increasingly supportive of it. In part this is because it embodies IDYW’s search for open, critical – and self-critical – debate about a practice, youth work, which itself has long been contested. More importantly in the present context, an event framed in this way could provide an arena for some honest conversations across the youth work field on how organisations are now defining youth work, the possibilities for and barriers to its current and future practice, aspirations for and constraints on encouraging this, and how all this relates to current policy-driven notions of ‘targeted’ ‘work with young people’.

What the youth work field seems to me not to be ready for at the moment is a rapid move, with limited collective preparation, into an event specifically designed to achieve some form of tying-of-ends consensus. Instead, by applying what we as youth workers know about the importance of process, shouldn’t we first, as preparation, be looking for an opportunity for exchange, dialogue, debate and clarification of positions, out of which might – might – emerge the widely ‘owned’, underpinning agreements essential for any authentically endorsed youth work manifesto?

Such as, perhaps, an open and pluralist ‘Future of Youth Work conference?

Bernard Davies December 2012


  1. Bernard,as usual, offers wise counsel. There are three main reasons why we should adopt a more cautious approach to agreeing a detailed manifesto. First, the position for young people is both depressing but still developing . it is increasingly marked by inequality and poverty and for many their longterm prospects are diminishing especially in those communities from which capital fled in earlier recessions. While urgent action is needed ,we have to get the response right. .
    Secondly, the environment for public services is also changing with the Tory-led coalition tearing apart the fabric of local government, indeed of the whole post-war welfare society. (The Beveridge report which shaped the welfare state is 70 years old this month and was published in national circumstances even more dire than the present,not only with debt but with a world war raging ). We need similar clear but hopeful heads to position youth work for the future and to determine ,beyond the easy rhetoric, exactly what opportunities it will offer to which young people and how these can best be organised,staffed and funded for the next decade. .
    Third ,we have a precedent which should be considered . In 1996 the UK youth work alliance created a manifesto -‘Agenda for a Generation’. Not only did this document keep the whole sector on board, it did so across the UK . Of course, that was a more optimistic time but arguably more importantly, the principal authors were (largely) trusted and had clarity about the nature of youthwork.;they were thus able to argue its case with conviction. It is not evident that the other current national voices have these attributes; nor do they show the kind of frank, mature and self-critical approach evident in Tony Taylor’s thoughtful analysis of the recent IDYW seminar. .The IDYW needs to bring all these strengths to the table. .

  2. I cannot speak for all IDYW supporters, or Choose Youth coalition partners, but my experience as a CYW section of Unite member and, until recently, National Committee member has given me a feeling of ownership and involvement in Choose Youth – although I have not been a member of the steering group.

    From attending the first event in the West Midlands, supporting the organisation of the event in the South West where I am based and carrying the banner in March 2011 on the streets of London, I feel that Choose Youth represents me and my concerns about services for young people. It is my understanding that the ‘draft’ manifesto is the 4th draft – worked on by the coalition partners to get to the point is is. Choose Youth has certainly been supported in it’s work at CYW section conference for the last few years.

    Perhaps I am naive – but I expect the partners have already done the hard work of negotiating on the wording and the message and this is a collective agreement now being put forward for endorsement of the wider membership of those partners.

    I also believe a group was working on the conference, but were unable to complete the task – at a time of increasing cuts, pressures and struggle we must thank them for the efforts and look to the wider network to take up the task if possible. The youth workers I know are mostly, and sadly, too tired to engage in these crucial and critical debates as the fear of redundancy and the desire to continue supporting young people despite the challenges of the workplace sap our energies. I look to those who, in the case of the union, have been elected to represent my views. I do not however consider this to be a ‘closed’ process – there are numerous ways for me as an individual to influence the direction of discussions should I so choose. I do not feel I could say the same of the NYA for example.

    I agree a conference would be an excellent space to come together and discuss and debate. In an ideal world my employer would release me to take part in such an important event for my profession. The reality for me is that I have to rely on others to represent my views as I hope I represented the views of others when I was a committee member.

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