After fifteen years as a youth worker, I have been on every conceivable training day – from zumba dancing to radicalisation. And I leave most of them thinking about how to adopt some of the ideas into my practice, only for everything I learnt to get lost in the hurly burly of the realities of youth work on the ground. But there is one training event, seven years ago now, that continues to inform both my work and that of the service I work for. And undoubtedly it was the cheapest to run! That was In Defence of Youth Work’s story-telling workshop, that time led by Bernard Davies and Tania de St Croix. The workshops are a wonderful opportunity to explore the values, assumptions and often unrecognised skills that underpin youth work, to build upon them and to communicate them better.
IDYW is now starting a new round of training events, offered to organisations in the UK and beyond (they’re big in Japan…). So if you are a student, hassle your lecturer for one, if a youth worker, present the idea to your manager. And if you are a lecturer or manager, then why haven’t you contacted us already?..
Sharing and analysing youth work stories
An invitation to host a workshop
The Storytelling method cannot be confused with day to day conversation…
(It) involves a combination of strong facilitation, informed probing/questioning, peer interrogation and a thorough documentation of the stories…(A) unique experience.
(Youth work co-ordinator)
In Defence of Youth Work came together in 2009 with the aim of defending youth work as a democratic, emancipatory and critical practice with young people. It defines the ‘cornerstones’ of this practice as, in summary:
- taking place in open-access settings which young people choose to attend;
- offering informal educational opportunities starting from their concerns and interests;
- working with and through their peer networks and other shared identities of, for example, class, gender, ethnicity, (dis)ability and sexual orientation;
- giving value and attention to their here-and-now as well as to their ‘transitions’; and
- developing mutually respectful and trusting personal relationships – amongst young people and between young person and adult.
Story-telling workshops – the backstory
- In 2010 IDYW launched a ‘From the Grassroots’ project to gather qualitative evidence of how youth work can impact on young people’s lives.
- This led in October 2011 to the publication of This is Youth Work: Stories from Practice – an illustrated booklet of twelve workers’ and young people’s accounts of youth work practice contextualised in New Labour and (the then still emerging) Coalition youth policies.
- Between 2012 and 2017, the book prompted some 40 ‘story-telling’ workshops attracting over 1000 participants – voluntary, part-time and full-time workers, voluntary and statutory sector managers, students, tutors and young people.
- As ‘austerity’ decimated local Youth Services and workers increasingly found themselves practising in targeted settings, the workshops were refocused on how (and indeed if) the practice described in the workshop stories was distinctively youth work. A key aim was to encourage participants to be clearer and more articulate about that distinctiveness and practitioners’ identity as youth workers.
- Workshops have been held throughout the UK, in the Republic of Ireland, Finland, Argentina and the Czech Republic. One was also specially organised for a visiting Japanese group who are now translating some of the original IDYW stories into Japanese for inclusion in their own book. Materials developed through the workshops have been available as an online resource since 2015 and to date have had over 10,000 visits.’
Working as a team on ‘youth work stories’ was such a useful and valuable thing to do. I think we are so busy ‘doing’ that we don’t stop to think about our role as youth workers and what the hell we are doing! We should have done this a long time ago – we might have saved more of our service. If we are not clear about what makes youth work unique then how is anyone else going to know?
(Team Leader, local authority Targeted Support for Young People Services)
The workshop process
The workshops – normally lasting two-and-a-half to three hours – can be tailored to meet the needs of different organisations and situations and to start as appropriate from the participants’ own settings. Normally in groups of eight to twelve, key stages of the process include:
- An invitation to participants to offer a ‘headline’ of an example of their current or past practice which in their view represents them practising as a youth worker.
- Choice by the group of one of the proposed ‘stories’ for more detailed analysis.
- Full presentation of that ‘story’.
- Questioning by group members initially to get additional information, clarifications, etc.
- Detailed ‘unpicking’ of the ‘story’ and its processes – particularly the aims, nature and impacts of the worker’s interventions and of young people’s responses.
- Discussion within the group on if and how this practice was open access youth work, using the IDYW ‘cornerstones’ as one frame of reference.
Workshops have also been used to identify the possible impacts of youth work on young people.
In a final session participants are invited to reflect on how they might:
- defend open access youth work in the current political and policy environment, both within their own organisations and more widely;
- re-imagine how this practice might be reinstated if (as) that environment changes, including possible funding and decision-making structures which best fit its defining features.
The staff found it really useful in dismissing the ‘it comes naturally’ myth as it showed the obvious learned conscious and unconscious behaviours youth workers model to reach their aims and objectives.
(Full-time youth worker)
Setting up and running workshops
- as appropriate, publicise workshops through its own contact lists and social media;
- provide facilitators on the basis of one to up to 12 participants;
- where feasible, provide opportunities for supported facilitation experience for participants wanting to run their own story-telling workshops.
Workshop hosts will be expected to:
- provide a venue which allows for small group work;
- photocopy some papers;
- publicise the event and recruit to it within their own organisation and/or through their contact lists and social media;
- offer the workshops as a by-choice opportunity to practitioners and students in their organisations, institutions or wider area;
- pay travel expenses for facilitators, all of whom give their time voluntarily;
- where feasible, pay a fee of at least £100 per facilitator as a contribution to IDYW funds; and/or, on the day, ask participants for a small contribution.
If you are interested in hosting a youth work story-telling workshop, contact:
Bernard Davies – firstname.lastname@example.org