Inspiring a generation of youth workers : Yesterday Stuart Hall, Today Russell Brand?

Just the other week a discussion kicked off at a steering group meeting about which figures had influenced us as a younger generation of youth workers – a few of us are long in the tooth. This was impelled in particular as a new film about Stuart Hall, the charismatic Director of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies and thence Professor of Sociology at the Open University through the  70’s, 80’s and 90’s, was just being premiered.

Stuart Hall was kind of a rock star for us,” writes director John Akomfrah in a statement accompanying his latest essay film. “For many of my generation in the 70s… he was one of the few people of colour we saw on television who wasn’t crooning, dancing or running. His very iconic presence on this most public of platforms suggested all manner of ‘impossible possibilities’.”

In the same vein Sue Atkins of our steering group and a stalwart of youth work in Sheffield commented on Facebook:

Encounters with Stuart have punctuated my life – from 1958 on the CND march – through 59/60 at the Partisan in Soho – ( he was apparently one of the initiators and New Left Review had an office upstairs) through to 66 when he delivered a lecture at the end of my one year course at National College – which made me think why did I bother with the rest of the course THIS man has put it all into context and it was all I needed – to 67/68 the work I did for the National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants – to ’78 when he came to the Hub in Sheffield for a conference we had organised ( probably the first genuine inter-disciplinary piece of youth work ) when he talked about, among other things,  the context of black young people and the police – winning the battles was not the same as winning the war – and the blade of racism slicing through society – young people at the cutting edge – then all the work he did with the BBC and Open University creating the MOST challenging and accessible programmes on video and schools TV and of course his writings and editing – the list is endless. ONE thing that I realised whilst watching the film – we didnt have a TV till after the start of BBC2 ( April 1964) – when a friend of mine was delivering NEW 625 sets for Granada Rentals and collecting up the old sets – and one fell off the back of his van outside our back door – was that some of the early stuff I had never seen.

Funnily enough, as we laboured in our discussion to locate today’s Stuart Halls, Sue herself interjected to say that her young workers at the Youth Association South Yorkshire would probably identify Russel Brand as an icon. Personally I was perplexed. And then within days Russel meets Jeremy Paxman in a major cultural clash, headlined by Paul Mason as Worlds collide as Russell Brand predicts a revolution.

Time for me to take stock. Once again it’s necessary to propose the impossible. What do you reckon?


  1. I have no were near the experience you have – and i apologise but I am not aware of Stuart Hall (tho I will look him up and become aware). I have experience in inner cities (Up North), rural areas, educational support (schools), young offenders and outdoor education. I am commenting on the idea of Russell Brand as an “icon”… not too sure – never really liked his performances and would often turn off whatever he appeared on but I did watch the interview and there is very little I disagree with him on. After reading “Pedagogy of the oppressed” for the 7th time (it took me a while to get my head around phrases like de-conscien…….. whatever it was) but my understanding was that it wasn’t enough to support people to engage in their communities but that it was (and I agree with this) to aim to engage with people and communities in a bid to enable them to see and understand their oppression and who (or what system) that opression represents, how it works and what can be done about it.

    For a number of years now the youth service I have worked for has been engaging young people in “participation”, “Youth parliaments” and other consultations – I was helping deliver one of these days – Lots of enthusiastic young people, local councillors, newspapers were there and it was a very positive “day out”.. My head of service sat next to me at one point and we were chatting, he said how much of a good day it was and I responded by stating that it was but did he really think any of this would make any difference?? My boss said these words….. “may be not right now but I guess the hope is that eventually young people will have a genuine voice and in 10 years time they will have more of a genuine say in what happens and what goes on”… That was 10 years ago…. we are one of the last youth services in the country and I am certain that 10 yrs ago the results of that consultation was not “lets close down services”…. Russel Brand is right – those at the top serve those at the top…. Consultations are an appeasing tactic, the vote is worthless (though I still vote and encourage young people to when they can….) – Russel Brand is quite right about what government should not be about …. I like him do not know all the answers but I do know that things have not changed, that our system is collapsing (and getting worse) and that some form of revolt is needed… things must change….

    • Your thoughts much appreciated and indeed they reflect a sense of the contradictions and uncertainties around ‘participation’ and democracy that haunt us all, as youth workers and citizens. I suspect we need to organise one of our future Critically Engaging seminars around the notions of democracy and participation. Watch this space.

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