Looking Ahead to the April Conference and Beyond – February Steering Group Notes

steering group

In Defence of Youth Work Steering Group, February 4 at Leamington

As a welcome change six members of the steering group met in Leamington free from the oft useful, but often frustrating assistance of Skype. Five years after our emergence as a campaign our dialogue was dominated by the questions of ‘where are we up to?’ and ‘where might we be going?

The following represent the main strands within and action points flowing out of our debate:

  1. We discussed at length the shifting landscape of youth work, of work with young people, the continuities and the changes over the last 5 years. Against this background particularly the apparently inexorable shift to imposed, targeted work we concluded that our Campaign is as relevant as ever; that our critical voice is significant ; and that we are an important source of support for at least some workers and students.

  1. Nevertheless circumstances never stand still. Thus we agreed that we need a fresh draft statement of purpose to be circulated for discussion prior to the national conference on April 10. Within this we will try to find a formulation, which reasserts our commitment to the definition of youth work as a distinctive practice based on the voluntary relationship, whilst reaching out to youth workers operating in more regulated settings, recognising their constraints. Increasingly we seem to be talking about being ‘democratic educators’. Tony Taylor and Bernard Davies to work together on a draft.

  2. Our national conference is to held in Leeds at the University on Thursday, April 10. Diane Law and Sue Atkins to chase up the practicalities. The content will flow out of the new statement, involving supporters asking what sense it makes for their working situations, asking ourselves what have we in common and what are the constraints? We need a flyer as soon as possible. Tony Taylor to action.

  3. Directly after our conference on Friday, April 11 we are offering a workshop to the SWAN conference in Durham, provisional title, ‘Troublesome Youth? Troubled Services?’ Anne Marron to liaise with the SWAN organising group.

  4. Stories Workshops – events are in the pipeline in Blackpool and Coventry. However looking ahead we need to weigh up how many workshops we can support across the next year. As things stand our facilitators are Bernard Davies,, Tania de St Croix, Paula Connaughton, Pauline Grace, Susanna Hunter-Darch and Colin Brent. What commitment can they make in the coming period? In addition we need to make a fresh approach to would-be hosts, especially in the training agencies. Paul Hogan in Liverpool is using the Stories approach in an evaluation of his project and the transition experienced by young workers.

  5. Stories Book Two – work continues on this ambitious project and the monitoring group will be meeting next in April.

  6. The possible European conference September 2014, which is a response to significant interest from across the continent, continues to be on the agenda, dependent on a bid to the revised ERASMUS funding pot.

  7. Critically Engaging Seminars – agreed that these continue to be important in providing a much needed space for criticism and dissent. Looking to two events in the Spring/Summer and two in the winter. Suggestions for themes and speakers welcomed. At this moment an exploration of the relationship between the voluntary and so-called statutory sectors and the changing character of each seems a priority with mid-June favoured.

  8. It was noted that the revamped web site, together with an expanding number of FaceBook followers, augured well for the coming year. We will endeavour to get back to a regular monthly mailing.

  9. Finance – obviously we continue to exist on a shoe string. Agreed that we need to consider asking for donations, to consider raising our fees for events.

Next meeting in early March – date to be decided. Thanks to Bernard and Sally Davies for hosting the meeting in Leamington and providing the sustaining soup!


  1. it’s fantastic to see that you guys are still moving forward with the indefence campaign. That said i’m worried talking to grass roots youth workers that many see in defence as too academic, too out of touch with the current on the ground realties of youth work and to focused on defence rather than the question of the future of youth work based. Or worse yet that many support works in particular are not even aware of in defence even as there service falls apart.
    will your new statement address these concerns?

  2. Matt – Certainly we will be trying to reflect critically on where we are up to and where we might be going. Indeed the working title for the conference is ‘The Future of Youth Work ? The Future of the Campaign?’. Whether this will satisfy your grass roots youth workers is another matter. What would be helpful is if they said in what ways we are out of touch. A Campaign is not an abstraction it is composed of people and in truth its most active people. Almost all of the steering group are in fact grass roots workers, lecturers or indeed volunteers themselves. How are they out of touch? Bernard Davies, who is allegedly retired is at the head of our Story-Telling Workshops, which are rooted in the contradictions of practice. Bernard has engaged directly with hundreds of workers this year as have all the facilitators.

    That perhaps leaves me as a prime candidate for being out of touch, but I do my best to keep a finger on the pulse, especially now through the Facebook page. Lots of other people now post there with up-to-date news and opinion. As for being too academic I’ve trawled back through a year of posts and I don’t think it’s overladen with heavy stuff, but I might be mistaken. And isn’t there a faint dilemma in this charge, especially for the paid qualified professionals, who one the one hand claim they are members of a special profession, point to their degrees, demand that they become a closed shop of licensed practitioners, but then claim that, for example, sociological reflections on youth or education are too difficult, too academic etc. I’m perhaps being a bit ‘mard’ as we we would say in Wigan, but the accusation that folk are put off the Campaign because it’s too academic sounds sloppy and suggests they have put little time into finding out what we are up to.

    Nonetheless we do of course have to weigh up our mistakes. At the heart of the fresh statement will be a desire both to continue defending youth work as a distinctive site of practice, whilst reaching out to all the workers, who find themselves in imposed, prescribed settings. I do recognise that we might well be coming across as precious in arguing for open access, the voluntary relationship etc when on the ground so much is shifting. We hope the statement will address this dilemma honestly and will address the here and now and the future.

    Thanks for the encouragement and the shot across the bows!

  3. Unfortunately it’s difficult to articulate and be fair to others views when you are generalising and talking about feelings and views you’ve only begun to unpick with people, which is all I could do! That said I think there is something to be said for the fact that many workers have put too little time in to discovering who and what in-defence is and what you do.

    Also I think many people may only take the time and look at in-defence once, or get a feeling from someone who has, this was the general feeling I had coming back after your Birmingham meeting last year, that many left conflicted and passed that on to colleagues.

    Talking to people after that, I think people felt there had be too much of a focus on the idea of ethics versus politics, and the idea of the IYW rather than the messy contradictions of ethics in practice. Again is is generalising feedback, and from a purely design of the day POV I can see why the day ran the way it did, and also how it was useful, I can also understand some of the feedback and felt some frustration myself.

    That said I don’t think that was directly down to you as a group through your stated goals, but more the how the day started to morph around implicit conclusions and understanding that existed within the group (of all people in attendance not in defence) the group all came to as a whole these choice as a whole.

    I was also both heartened and disappointed to see Bernard had already done a story telling workshop in Staffordshire, heartened because I think they are very worth while and disappointed because I had no idea it was happening, and was left wondering did my service send anyone (i’m sure we’d have been invited but I was shocked to discover the workshops existence via youtube after rather than an email before) again it had me asking colleagues if they knew about this, had they heard, and to be met with mostly disinterest.

    I also think unfortunately you don’t always have much say over the first impression you make, I think sometimes in-defence as a name implies to some that you were going to as a group swoop in a save youth services. Now I don’t for one second think this is a fair assessment or right to measure you by these standards but it sometimes leaves people asking me well what are they doing in a very critical way. To which I give my best answer and point them in the direction of your site.

    I also don’t think there anything wrong in arguing for open access, I firmly believe that open access and voluntary participation is not only key to informal education having it best outcomes, but also that we need to remember as a field why we do what we do what values are core to being a youth worker, and what our approach offers that other don’t. I think we also need to provide workers now becoming targeted workers support on how to implement as best they can the key ideas of informal education in a very different environment, one which is far more formal. Hopefully this will help practitioners avoid an accidental slide toward becoming a measure for social control

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