Most people will be aware that the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services [NCVYS] is merging with AMBITION and will be closing its doors on April 1, 2016.
Susanne Rauprich, the NCVYS chief executive has explained with passion: “The process we have undertaken with Ambition was never just about the future of NCVYS but about the future of the youth sector in its widest sense. I hope what we have started here can be a platform for wider consolidation and collaboration, and for the support of all youth organisations in achieving a more united and resilient sector. This is not a time to focus on our individual organisations, but to look wide and wider still.”
These are fine words, but we are not entirely convinced. To say this is not being bloody-minded, a sniping legacy of our differences with NCVYS in recent years. The organisation has a rich history, established as the the Standing Conference for Voluntary Youth Groups in 1936. The 11 organisations which contributed to its foundation were The National Association of Boys’ Clubs; Boys’ Brigade; YMCA; YWCA; The Girls’ Guildry; Church Lads’ Brigade (now known as the Church Lads’ and Church Girls’ Brigade); The Girls’ Friendly Society (now known as GFS Platform); Boy Scouts Association; Girl Guides Association; The National Council of Girls’ Clubs; and the Girls Life Brigade. As Bernard Davies notes in his History of the Youth Service its emergence was a collective, concerned response to the possibility of State intervention into the world of youth work as war loomed. In 1972 the Standing Conference became the NCVYS aspiring to be the organised, independent and, indeed, critical mouthpiece of the leading national voluntary youth organisations with local Council for Voluntary Youth Services providing its base.
As NCVYS merges with AMBITION, which, ironically, is the latest incarnation of the National Association of Boys’ Clubs, a founder member of the original Standing Conference and an organisation with an inward-looking history, we wonder what is going to happen to the proud declaration that NCVYS is/was ‘the independent voice of the voluntary youth sector’. Is becoming bigger better? Will it lead to a strengthening or weakening of the voluntary sector’s autonomy and capacity to challenge government policy? How does this square with the fact the AMBITION houses nowadays the Confederation of Heads of Young People’s Services (CHYPS), the organisation for leaders of local authority young people’s services?
We’re sad to see the NCVYS disappear. Of course we understand that in the present climate it is increasingly difficult for organisations to survive. Hence the merger is perfectly understandable, but it seems as much pragmatic as principled. For our part we think that a strong youth sector is best served by a plurality of voices, that debates and negotiates what is meant by collaboration and unity. Whatever we look forward to being involved with AMBITION in the struggle to defend both statutory and voluntary youth work in the face of a callous and cynical government.