The dates for the IDYW seminars on the question of state-funded youth work/National Citizen Service plus our steering group meeting were in the diary long before Teresa May’s opportunist blunder in calling a General Election. Little did she know, but her snap decision and its fallout influenced significantly the nature of the discussions at all our gatherings. In essence, an important and far-reaching question was posed for our consideration.
Despite losing, does the unexpected support for a Corbyn-led Labour Party, riding on an explicit social-democratic manifesto, signal a promising break from the suffocating grip of neoliberal ideas upon society at large and youth work in particular?
In wondering thus, we are minded that the Open Letter, which launched IDYW, first drafted in late 2008, exuded what might be seen as a naive optimism.
Capitalism is revealed yet again as a system of crisis: ‘all that is solid melts into air’. Society is shocked into waking from ‘the deep slumber of decided opinion’. The arrogant confidence of those embracing the so-called ‘new managerialism’, which has so afflicted Youth Work, is severely dented. Against this tumultuous background, alternatives across the board are being sought. We believe this is a moment to be seized. Our contention is that we need to reaffirm our belief in an emancipatory and democratic Youth Work.
In 2017, suitably sobered, our meetings displayed a cautious optimism towards the turn of events, declaring no more than this is a moment not to be missed. In this spirit, we are in the midst of preparing a discussion paper for your perusal and criticism, which will also be the basis for a range of IDYW gatherings in the late Summer/early Autumn, which will hopefully include young people as well as ourselves.
Contrary to the stereotype of IDYW as a haven of nostalgia for a post-Albemarle Golden Age, still peddled recently at a national conference, the paper will seek to reimagine the possibility of state-funded, open-access, pluralist youth provision, which learns from both past and present, good and bad practice, not least in terms of hierarchical and horizontal management approaches; which engages with the often disjointed relationship between the so-called statutory and voluntary sectors; which weighs up recent developments, such as the emergence of social enterprise initiatives and the spectre of the National Citizen Service; which revisits the issue of what sort of training and development might inform the renaissance of youth work as a distinctive educational setting; and which explores tentatively what local and national structures might be congruent with our vision.
Looking down the road we hope that our discussions will lead to the creation of a policy statement aimed without apology at those political parties seeking to break from austerity and neoliberalism.
Watch this space and muck in as the argument flowers.