A Brief History of Our Campaign thus far!

The following potted history of our Campaign was put together as a handout for our cafe session at the recent European Open Youth Work conference. However, as we know that a number of lecturers and trainers use the Campaign’s material as a catalyst to debate about the shifting situation in youth work, it has been suggested that the brief history might be of some passing use. The original, which fits neatly onto two sides, is attached at the bottom of this post.


February 2009 An Open Letter, In Defence of Youth Work, which criticised sharply the New Labour government’s policy of imposing prescribed outcomes on the ‘volatile and voluntary’ character of young person-centred practice, was circulated.

March 2009 At a Youth & Policy conference the intent and content of the Letter was welcomed at a specially organised fringe meeting. It was agreed to seek more signatories, to set up a web site and start the In Defence of Youth Work [IDYW] campaign in earnest. Within weeks a cross-section of the youth work world from voluntary and paid workers to leading academics endorsed the campaign’s definition of democratic and emancipatory practice.

April to October 2009 As we sought to catalyse both debate and activity over thirty, often passionate, meetings were held across the length and breadth of the country in cafés, community centres and universities. Alliances were forged with the youth work trade unions and autonomous organisations such as the Social Work Action Network [SWAN], the National Coalition for Independent Action [NCIA], the Federation of Detached Youth Work and FeministWebs.

November 2009 Our first open national steering group meeting took place. It grappled with the dilemmas raised by both the continuing shift to targeted work and surveillance, alongside the increasing cuts to local authority youth services. There was uncertainty about how we should organise together. It was agreed that we should organise a first national conference to tangle with the issues.

February 2010 Almost 150 students, workers and lecturers were involved in the first conference. Opposed by the unions the idea that IDYW might be the embryo of a professional association fell on stony ground. It was agreed that we should continue to be a loose network of supporters organised around a new What We Stand For statement with an emphasis on developing local and regional groups. A project, The View from the Grass Roots, was set in motion, its aim being to bring together stories illustrating the qualitative impact of youth work on young people’s lives.

March to September 2010 The election of a Coalition government bent on marketising services for young people marked a shift in the landscape. We continued to organise around such themes as youth work and radical education, but found ourselves increasingly in the middle of opposition to the overall assault on public services.

October/November 2010 Our second national conference focused on ‘Strategies for Resistance’ with both CYWU/UNITE and UNISON speaking from the platform. In parallel we experimented with a participatory workshop to move forward the Grass Roots project. This proved to be a significant success.

December 2010 to October 2011 We supported the Choose Youth Alliance, encouraging involvement in all its activities, culminating in a Lobby of Parliament, whilst seeking to be close to the independent activity of young people themselves. We offered evidence to a Parliamentary Inquiry into services for young people and led a plenary at the national SWAN conference. Behind-the-scenes we were bringing to fruition months of work in editing stories for publication and creating a young person-led video.

October 2011 Our third national conference saw the appearance of ‘This is Youth Work: Stories from Practice’, a beautifully illustrated book, supported generously by UNISON and UNITE, launched officially at an event in the Houses of Parliament.

November 2011 to May 2012 We stepped up our criticism of the government’s supposed ‘Positive for Youth’ agenda, alongside our growing concern at the incorporation of leading national youth organisations into a commissioning strategy aimed at undermining the very notion of public services. Thus we sought to build links with wider developments such as the Occupy movement and the Unite the Generations initiative. Crucially we embarked on a series of workshops using our Book as the basis for an exploration of the constraints upon democratic practice. We continued to contribute to European debate and in particular to the embryo Open Youth work network.

June to October 2012 Following a series of ‘Drive to the Market’ seminars planned with the NCIA we strengthened our analysis re the commodification of youth work and of young people themselves. Thus we pursued our research into the significance of the National Citizens Service programme and the insidious influence of Outcomes frameworks. Contributing to the debate around an Institute of Youth Work we stressed the distinctiveness of the freely chosen youth work setting and worried about the blurring of boundaries between all forms of work with young people.

November to December 2012 As ever we found ourselves struggling on many fronts. In the North-East of England we were part of an inaugural regional SWAN conference just as our supporters were in the forefront of yet another fight against wholesale cuts in Newcastle, the major city in the area. We spoke from the platform at a conference on the Future of Youth Work and Social Rights, sponsored partly through the Council of Europe. As the year closed we held two events asking ourselves ‘ where are we up to? and ‘where are we going?’

Looking Forward in 2013 As a result of these reflective and self-critical meetings we resolved that our priority was to keep a firm grip on our definition of youth work, whilst reaching out to both individual workers and organisations finding themselves deeply immersed in a targeted and prescribed culture. Thus we reaffirmed our desire to see an open and pluralist youth work conference, bringing together the diversity of voices in the ‘youth sector’. We decided to utilise our Book in a second wave of workshops aimed at practitioners in targeted settings, which start from ‘where they’re at’. In this context we are about to undertake a piece of work with a major voluntary organisation in Ireland. And in our commitment to widening the debate and our horizons we are taking part in the inaugural Professional Open Youth Work conference in Europe.

We remain convinced that an independent, critical voice in defence of democratic and emancipatory youth work is a necessity in the struggle against the imposition of neo-liberal defined social conformity.

For more information about the Campaign, see our web site at http://www.indefenceofyouthwork.org.uk/wordpress/

and Facebook at In Defence of Youth Work

To contact the Campaign, write to Tony Taylor, the Coordinator at mailto:tonymtaylor@gmail.com

 A Brief History of the IDYW Campaign

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