It was a misty, moisty morning In Leeds as we turned up for the fourth national conference of our Campaign. In truth it was foggily freezing. Indeed the whereabouts of the two mini-buses from Birmingham was shrouded in Pennine mystery. Those of us born in Lancashire feared that they might be stranded in Oldham, without doubt the coldest place in the world! Thankfully they made it an hour or so late. Early or belated all our spirits rose on entering the Burley Lodge Centre. The place just felt right – unpretentious and friendly. And this was symbolised by the presence of the unflappable Jim, the welcoming worker on duty.
Expecting around forty folk it became quickly apparent we were on our way to doubling this estimate. As the numbers grew Jim spirited the necessary chairs from loft and cellar as well as puttin’ kettle on. Being crammed into the main room together generated a sense of solidarity before a formal word was spoken. Defying convention and the apparent chaos we managed to almost start on time – a remarkable feat!
Fittingly, given it was International Women’s Day, our opening session led by Amelia Lee of FeministWebs with Janet Batsleer in support, focused on what we had described as perhaps a renaissance in feminist youth work. Amelia, in an impassioned and thought-provoking presentation, preferred to speak in terms of a possible resurgence. As to whether this was the case her verdict was that the jury remained out. As was to be the norm throughout the day her contribution led to animated questioning and conversation.
In the following session Janet Batsleer and Nic Gratton explored respectively the dilemmas posed by the shifting character of our work for the training agencies and for the very make-up of youth services themselves. For Janet this was summed up by the tension between a continuing commitment to the principles of informal education with young people and the demand from employers/managers for target-oriented practitioners. For Nic this posed a question of whether the profession is at risk or whether opportunities for innovation are opening up? Building on her West Midlands research she underlined the potential of renewed regional and local networks.
To add to our growing feeling that things were going well most people had heeded our advice and brought their own ‘snap’. Just to make sure Sue Atkins appeared at the kitchen window with additional delicacies. The outcome of this collective discipline was that lunch really did take up only the allotted half an hour.
Speaking of outcomes took us to the next session.Tony Taylor led off with a scathing critique of outcomes-led management in general and the Young Foundation’s Framework in particular, arguing that it distorted the building of relationships and the unfolding of the youth work process. Continuing the theme Ian McGimpsey reflected on the notion of ‘well-being’ as a supposedly measurable outcome that is used as a rationale for social investment in a climate of reduced state spending. In this way organisations are drawn into a condition of dependency and even debt.
The final session of the IDYW conference had as its title ‘Accommodating to and resisting the targeting culture’. Small groups used as a prompt for discussion definitions of some possible responses to the current attacks on youth work – developed from a National Coalition for Independent Action enquiry report into local activism and dissent. (Here we Stand – summary available at http://www.independentaction.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/NCIA-Here-We-Stand-Inquiry-into-Local-Activism-and-Dissent-summary-march-2013.pdf). Groups were tasked to ask themselves the questions: “Am I resisting, and if so how?” and “What ‘resistance’ messages should IDYW take away?
[In our next post we will explain this process further and draw together the messages.]
Indeed we will be putting up further detail of the specific contributions where possible – watch out for Nic Gratton’s presentation on Prez
The day itself ended on a resounding collective call to be creative and subversive in our continuing resistance to youth work as a distinctive practice. And as we left the fog had fled and we were clearer in mind and much warmer in body. Thanks to everyone for an inspiring day. Your comments as ever would be much appreciated.