Everyone loves a good series, right? Well, now you have a chance to play a part in one. Sadly, this won’t mean starring next to Idris Elba, but it will hopefully give you the opportunity to showcase your wonderful talents (as youth workers), whilst also exploring some of the challenges, both in practice and policy, that we face so often in our profession/calling/whatever you want to call it.
The steering group of In Defence of Youth Work has repeatedly been told, as have I as a Senior Youth Worker, that open access, voluntary engagement youth work, that starts where young people are at, is dead, that we need to broaden our definition of what youth work is so as not to exclude all of those youth workers now employed in Youth Justice or Social Work roles. I have sat in meetings with funders, who have never visited my vibrant youth centre, who have told me that Local Authority youth work is a thing of the past. And looking at the figures, it is hard to argue. Hundreds of youth centres closed, thousands of jobs lost – it’s amazing there are any of us left at all.
But we are still here. When I started to plot my local youth centres for IDYW’s mapping exercise, I realised that there were six open access youth centres within twenty minutes’ walk of my house. These were a mix of Local Authority, Church-run, Community-based and reformed Boys’ Clubs. After all the cuts, surely this is a wonderful illustration of the Big Society stepping in, right? Actually, all of these centres have been around for years, now stretched to the limit of their reserves, working with minimum levels of staff, but still there, hanging on despite the ever-beckoning cliff edge.
The other thing we hear is that young people no longer need youth centres – they are all on Instagram or playing Fortnite. Apparently, the only time young people come together in person is to stab each other. Though where I work, both the numbers of young people attending and the amount they come have quadrupled in the past five years (whilst staffing levels have halved and equipment budgets are a thing of the past). It’s as if no one has told them that human contact, with no guarantee and no reward, in old fashioned.
This is why we want to hear from you. We realise that the atmosphere that youth work takes place in can change dramatically from one neighbourhood to another, let alone across the country. Am I living in a utopian paradise of youth centres amidst a sea of decay, or is open access youth work alive and kicking? Probably, it’s somewhere in-between. So, we invite you to submit your local viewpoint. This could be an update on the situation in your area, a snapshot of a rainy Tuesday night doing detached work, the story of a piece of work with a young person or group, whatever you feel comfortable with. These are not reports as such, just an attempt to paint a picture of what it is we are defending, against what, and why this fight is so important. Feel free to submit these anonymously (we can help with that if need be), as we understand all too well that, however strong our convictions, not all of us are at liberty to speak as freely as we would wish (and others may wish to be anonymous for other reasons such as to preserve young people’s and colleagues’ privacy if you are telling stories that involve them). Submissions should be between 200 and 800 words long, with no expectations of tone or style. Please comment below if you have any queries, or send them and submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.