Guest Blog by Lisa Robinson : Youth and Community Work in the Army

We are pleased to post this informative and revealing guest blog by Lisa Robinson. As more and more workers find themselves in differing sites of practice we’d welcome more stories of your experiences in the field. So thanks again to Lisa. And as you will see she is happy to continue a dialogue about ‘what she’s up to’.

ARMY WELFARE SERVICE

I am a Community Development Worker for the Army Welfare Service, who work alongside (and are paid for by) the Ministry of Defence..

The Army Welfare Service, “Provides a confidential non-discriminatory support service that responds to the needs of our service community” (as per the promotional leaflet).

AWS facilitates two primary services – Personal Support (PS) which offers first-line welfare delivered by military and civilian welfare workers, and is akin to social work, and Community Support (CS) which “aims to provide learning opportunities, programmes, activities and experiences for military personnel and their families. These will be social, recreational, educational and responsive to local needs. They will be locally accessible, affordable and of good quality” (as per the  promotional leaflet).

So my role within that is to facilitate broad-based Play, Youth and Community Development Work for service families. I do this in a couple of ways-the first is through direct provision, so I plan, manage, resource and deliver youth clubs, special interest groups, adult activity sessions and so on. The second is through supporting the community to run its own provision-for example, by working with military spouse groups, or supporting community members to set up a programme of activity to meet need. The third is by engaging with partner agencies who can enrich our provision, or by signposting to specialist organisations who can offer additional support.

My role is based within a single regiment, so the main focus of my work is families from that regiment. I work behind the wire (i.e. in a fenced army camp), so there is something of a feeling of “us and them” about the wider community, which is challenging. Over half of the regiment’s families live off-site in civilian estates, which has logistical implications for how we deliver services to them. We also have a remit to work with local Army Reserve units, although in practice they are usually very much a part of their local community already so their needs are different.

We have no budget (I thought we were hard-up in the voluntary sector until I took up this post a few years back!), no resources, no staff (we rely on volunteers to support our delivery programme, and they are rarer than unicorn poo and even more valuable). There is no formal shaping of our work on the ground so we work almost like individual project managers in each locality, delivering dynamically needs-based work. There is an upside to this, because we can shape provision entirely around local need, and deliver what we’re best at where resources allow. The disadvantage is that it often feels like we are working remotely (it can be quite an isolated and isolating role) and without a common purpose/direction.

Working in a single unit environment can make CDWs easy targets for inappropriate unit interference: the military model is micro-management, the military management model is micro-management, which is at odds with the way we work as professionals and can create a fractious relationship with military stakeholders.

I have colleagues who work in garrison communities, which are obviously much larger. Usually these are multi-regimental, and my colleagues tend to have less to do with the military side of things in these locations. Also, their families accommodation is not behind the wire, so they invariably work with both military and civilian families, which is much more inclusive and has obvious benefits, particularly in the current climate and in the absence of other universal services. Most of our communities are quite transient, and especially so in garrison environments, when the sheer volume of people sees movement in and out on a grand scale.

My forte is Youth Work, and the need for it on an isolated camp of 80 families in rural Northumberland is demonstrably high. Therefore, I have the freedom to deliver this to the best of my abilities within the aforementioned parameters. This is one of the key (only?!) advantages of the role-there is a great deal of autonomy and provided you have a lot of self-motivation it can be rewarding, like many YCD roles.

The role is very much what you make it-I work hard to maintain links with local partners, as much for my professional sanity as anything else-and continue to engage with the wider sector as well in order to keep things fresh and keep my practice relevant and my mind critical. I sometimes feel a little de-skilled here, but I am mindful of the fact that I am far more fortunate than many of my colleagues at the moment. The job offers me flexibility, the opportunity to pursue my own professional interests,  JNC Terms & Conditionss, stability and the chance to build relationships to last.

I am sure I have raised more questions than I have answered, even in such a lengthy tome, so please drop me a line if you would like me to elaborate or clarify anything.

Lisa Robinson at AWS-4X-Catterick-CDW1@mod.uk

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