Are we ready for a Youth Work Manifesto? Opinions differ.

This might well be a significant week for youth work. Earlier in the day we posted about Tuesday’s Institute of Youth Work Development Day. Wednesday, February 6 sees the Choose Youth AGM, at which we will be invited to sign up to a Manifesto. We have circulated the latest draft of the Manifesto and expressed our reservations.

In the end we have submitted the following to the AGM.

In the end, despite some of the latest alterations to the text, at this juncture we believe it is premature to propose agreeing a collective statement at the AGM. We are of the opinion that we have yet to engage seriously and honestly with the dilemmas and divisions besetting the ‘youth’ sector. In this context we wish to argue afresh for an open and pluralist conference as a prerequisite for the adoption of a collective position, which has a chance of holding firm in the face of the enormous pressures on our work.

As we are conscious of the work already done on the manifesto we do not wish to stand in the way of progress if we are in a minority. Thus we are asking that the following proposal be formally put to the AGM on February 6, 2013.

This AGM agrees to prioritise the organisation before the end of April of a conference open to the width of youth organisations across the country. At its heart would be a willingness to debate the deeply difficult issues facing youth work – for example the very definition of youth work itself in the wake of the massive shift to targeted programmes and the clash between the defence of public services and the shift to commissioning and social enterprise. In order to progress this proposal a working group reflecting the diversity of differing perspectives should be nominated from the AGM.

Our proposal is premised on the following:

– Given the resources available across the Choose Youth partners we believe it should be possible to run such a conference at a low cost to encourage the widest possible attendance.
– Given the skills and experience to be found across the Choose Youth partners we believe the alliance is very capable of agreeing swiftly a format for the conference as well as identifying key contributors/facilitators to catalyse the debate.
– The overriding priority is to listen attentively to one another in a critical effort to explore whether or not there is common ground.

We look forward to a positive and challenging meeting.

Understandably not everyone agrees with this reading of the situation. Indeed Richard Harris questions our stance.

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 its 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.

We believe Richard will be attending the AGM so it will be important to engage with him and others, such as the influential Chair of Choose Youth, Doug Nicholls, who believe  this is no time for prevarication; that it is vital to adopt the Manifesto as of now.

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