Putting Relationships at the heart of public policy – a conversation

The R Word is a conversation bringing together policy wonks, scientists, practitioners, philosophers, philanthropists, innovators, people facing down disadvantage, and others who will engage in a series of discussions that put relationships at the heart of public policy.


Over the last few weeks David Thompson, a community worker, has posted a series of blogs exploring the task of renewing our commitment to the building of what he terms ‘deep value’ relationships.

The first ‘Connecting Well’ argues:

Connecting well is not the same as being “well connected”. It is not about the size of our address book. It is about the quality of our relationships and, whilst we may now network and transact more than ever, meaningful time together has been, and is being, systematically displaced by fast and shallow connections. We are becoming more atomised and automated, more comfortable with technology but less close to one another.

Aggressive self-interest has triumphed over mutual support as the neoliberal economy has invaded every corner of our lives.

In the tenth of the series, What have we learnt and now what?, he ventures ten tentative headlines, amongst which are:

Responding only to loneliness would be the Food Bank solution — a humane reaction to symptoms and consequences and a necessary response to a crisis but not an attack on the cause. We need also to dig deeper, act earlier.

The future is beyond our current frame of reference, that’s why it is the future. Too often social innovators, especially in the third sector, reduce the scale of an issue to the dimensions of the funding programme. The world doesn’t need a new charity in this field, maybe not even a new app but a different kind of entity helping us all to reimagine and rebuild, generating momentum and catalysing mass. More Airbnb than Travel Lodge, more Lego than Airfix, more MeToo than Trade Union.

There is much to argue about within this exploration, which I’m sure David would welcome, but it points to the continuing need for youth work to allow that its principles and concerns are an expression of the wider struggle to create a just and democratic society.


RIP, John Parr, former Head of Youth and Community Work, Westhill College

In Defence of Youth Work is committed to remembering and respecting those, who have contributed to the creative and pluralist tradition of work with young people we wish to defend and extend. 


John Parr, former Head of Youth and Community Work at the Westhill College in Birmingham died recently. John Holmes has penned this informative and touching tribute.


It was in 1978 that I first met John. I was a researcher looking at career paths of ex-students of the JNC qualifying courses in England. I met John, as Head of Community and Youth Work at Westhill College in Birmingham, the longest established Youth Work course. I was looking for support in pursuing research that I was quickly finding out was a highly political and contentious area. John, along with a number of other heads of courses (such as Peter Duke from Leicester, ….) were well aware that the research could threaten the funding of their courses (direct from the DES at this time) but were helpful to me. Little did I know at the time that I would be taking over John’s role at Westhill, on John’s retirement in 1991.

By 1978 John had already had a long career in youth work. Born in Liverpool, and with lifelong family links to the city, Birmingham became his home for his adult life. John attended Westhill College as a student in the 1950s and became a lecturer in the 1960s. When I met him I remember he reminded me of my Dad, and seemed from a different generation. His commitment to helping young people was very clear, but for me, as a child of the 1960s, his liking for the youth culture of the 1950s, such as Tommy Steele made him seem the other side of the ‘generation gap’. Only later did I come to realise how open he was to others, how good he was at listening before offering any advice. He had strong principles about not offering advice when not appropriate. I always remember him telling me that he would not interfere with my role when I became head of Community and Youth Work at Westhill. This must have been difficult giving his long links to the college and even living opposite when he retired. It must have grieved him to see Westhill closed and the buildings demolished in the years before he died.


John always struck me as a modest man, and so it came as no surprise to find out at his funeral just how much he had done in the service of others. Within youth work, he was highly valued within youth organisations working with homeless young people, involved in youth counselling, and chaired a key committee of the Birmingham Association of Youth Clubs (BAYC) for many years. A story he told me showed how he tried to build links between his various roles, and the enduring power of youth work. A new Westhill Principal, Gordon Benfield, was appointed in the 1960s and when he was introduced to John they greeted each other as long lost friends. Apparently, John had been Gordon’s patrol leader in the Scouts in Liverpool. John persuaded Gordon to become chair of BAYC, so helping to keep youth work central on Westhill’s agenda, at a time when teacher education was becoming dominant.

Another thing I learned at John’s funeral was just how important John’s Christian faith was to him. John was a very active Methodist lay preacher and clearly his faith gave him the strength to do so much for young people. For me as the first, and last, non-Christian head of Community and Youth Work at Westhill, it was somewhat strange to hear the words ‘Bless you’ from John’s lips, but I now recognise the importance of the tradition that John came from and the huge contribution he made.


John Holmes, January 2018

Community Engagement: What’s the Problem? The new Winter CONCEPT explores


A warm welcome to the Winter edition of CONCEPT, the Community Education Journal, which explores what we mean by Community Engagement. In particular, the articles guide us towards the rewarding reader, Community Engagement: A Critical Guide for Practitioners, written by Mae Shaw and Jim Crowther.

Community engagement is generally assumed to operate for the
good of various kinds of communities, but it’s not as straightforward
as that. Thinking politically about community engagement means
delving beneath the surface claims it makes for itself to ask questions
about what it’s really for. What is its purpose? This means looking
at how it’s funded, for what and why? Who is considered to be
‘the community’ and who is not? Who benefits and who loses out?
Engagement on whose terms? How can communities operate within
these circumstances to shift the balance of power in their favour?
These are all questions that raise political issues



Vol 8 No 3 (2017): Winter

S.O.S. Voice of Youth will close… unless you can step up and take it on?

Voice of Youth is circulating the following plea, which gives also a revealing insight into the joys and tensions of organising ‘horizontally’, alongside challenging the target and outcomes culture embraced by so much of the youth ‘sector’.

S.O.S. Voice of Youth

Hackney youth workers’ cooperative VOY will close…
unless you can step up and take it on?

After six wonderful years of cooperative youth work in Hackney, we are now looking for the right team of youth workers to take Voice of Youth forward.

What is Voice of Youth (VOY)?
Voice of Youth is a special organisation. We do things differently: we work co-operatively without bosses, we are inspired by radical and anti-oppressive practice, our work is rooted in young people’s needs and wishes, and we avoid funding that involves meeting targets or defining young people as problems. We were set up in 2011 by local young people and youth workers, and have been doing estate-based youth work, detached youth work, and projects on social issues. Our recent work in Upper Clapton, Hackney, has had around 30 fantastic young people aged 8-18 taking part each week (over 100 each year). We have received funding from a variety of sources, have a good track record in managing our funding and running projects, and currently have around £16,000 available for a project using creative activities to get young people talking about social issues. Our overheads are very low, so even when our income is low, we are still reasonably financially stable.

So, why would VOY need to close?
We have always had a committed group of co-operative members (some paid as part-time sessional workers where funding allows) and volunteers, who run the organisation cooperatively. Sadly, the current workers and volunteers (apart from one of us) will need to move on over the next few months, for a variety of work-related and personal reasons. We all still love VOY and working together, and we are all sad to leave, but we will need to plan for closure unless we can find a new group. We are keen and happy to hand over to you and help you get started – and then it’s all yours!

What we can offer a new group:
– Funding for a 6 month youth project, including sessional paid work for three workers, using creative methods to discuss and challenge inequality.
– Current co-op members will hand over and provide support to the new group over the next few months. One of us – a young woman from the local area who is an experienced youth worker – plans to stay on long-term as part of the co-op.
– Several years of relationships with young people, parents and carers, and organisations in the area.
– All legal documentation, policies, working procedures, financial records, financial procedures, a website. You can choose to amend these, but at least you’re not starting from scratch! We are registered as a non-profit company and workers’ cooperative, and have developed a widely respected ‘How we Work’ pack for our volunteers and co-op members.
– Established processes for insurance and DBS (criminal record checks) – these are currently paused while our work is paused, and will need to be reinstated before starting face-to-face work. Access to free community venues. Freedom to work together to take the organisation in new directions – once you get up and running, there are few restrictions on what you can do.

What does it mean to be a co-op member?
Co-op members work together without bosses to run the organisation. The idea is that those working with young people make the decisions about how the organisation is run. Between them, they share out all the tasks such as working with young people, organising activities, buying resources, supervising and supporting each other, keeping financial records (one member needs to be the treasurer), and ensuring meetings happen and conform to certain procedures (one member needs to be the secretary). All the co-op members also share legal responsibilities – including for safeguarding, financial management, and accountability to funders. Have a look at our website to find out more about our work and our principles: www.voice-of-youth.org. So far, some of our co-op members have been unpaid, and others have been contracted sessionally as self-employees. We don’t yet have long-term funding or PAYE systems – the new coop could, of course, choose to change all of that.

Who can be a VOY co-op member?
Anyone who supports and commits to working towards our principles and policies! Our work relies on trusting relationships with young people and within the staff team, so we ask you to commit to 6 to 12 months if at all possible, and to working well with others and sharing tasks and responsibilities. Anyone aged 16+ can join the co-op (you need to be 18 to be officially on the committee, but we will still involve 16-17 year olds in all decisions). We aim to reflect the community we work in, and we particularly welcome Black and Minority Ethnic people, local people, and EVERYONE of ANY background and identity who is keen to work with young people on their terms, valuing their views and perspectives. All co-op members and volunteers will need a DBS (criminal record) check – an unrelated criminal record is no problem, but please discuss this with us in advance. Travel expenses may be available, ask for details.

Come to an open meeting to find out more: 6pm Monday 5th March (venue tbc).
Contact voyhackney@gmail.com by 19th Feb to let us know you’re coming.

Albemarle pioneer and Principal of the National College, Peter Duke RIP

We have to register with great sadness the news that Peter Duke, a pioneer of post-Albemarle youth work, died recently.



Peter Duke in the NCTYL days


As a result of the Albemarle Report’s 1960 recommendations to expand youth provision and the need for an increase in the youth service’s full-time staffing an ’emergency’ college offering a one year course was set up. Peter Duke became the Vice-Principal of the National College for the Training of Youth Leaders (NCYTL), welcoming 90 students as its first intake at the adapted civil defence premises in Leicester. He took over as Principal when Ted Sidebottom left in 1964. When the college was closed in 1970 he moved to become the Course Leader of the Leicester Polytechnic Youth & Community course, which was housed on the Scraptoft campus. We are not sure of the date of Peter’s retirement from this pivotal post.

Sue Atkins, still going strong and a student at the NCYTL, remembers Peter.

Without Peter Duke, I wouldn’t be doing the job I do, or have done the jobs I’ve done as a Youth Worker for the last fifty years

I first met Peter when I got involved with Oxford House, through my sister who with friends from University were community service volunteers there and among other things took groups of kids on a regular Summer Camp to Goudhurst in Kent. I spent two weeks at that camp when I was 16. Two years later when I got a job in London I volunteered to run some activities with the youth club; and would go once a week when we chatted and did some ‘Drama’. 

Peter, was ‘The Man Upstairs’ at Oxford House; the group I worked with was all boys and we had a very ‘interesting’ version of the Workman’s play from Midsummer Nights Dream that we adapted and brought up to date with our very own ‘Duke’. It never got to full production though but I remember we had a great time making it up, ‘rewriting’ or reimagIning Shakespeare. I wish I’d kept the ‘script’, such as it was.

At the time I recall Peter as being an overall benign presence in the House who was suitably impressed and amused by being ‘The Duke’ of our Play, and probably quite relieved we didn’t get to the performance . By the way, working with this group I learnt a valuable lesson; it is not all about The Play and performing it, but chatting, improvising and just playing with it was great too. (Another by the way, this all took place in Bethnal Green and Whitechapel at the time of ‘Call the Midwife’, making me realise that my life experience is other people’s history!)

For the next ten years I continued on my path of ( what I later found out was ) chronic job changing. Basically I auditioned for Theatre School, ( got places and didn’t take them) worked in Bookshops , wandered through dole offices, delivered the post, and soap coupons etc. ………all the while working with a Youth Theatre Group in Hillingdon and teaching drama in a dancing school.

Ten years later I took the plunge and applied to and was accepted at the National College for Training Youth Leaders.was placed in the tutorial group of  a certain Bernard Davies  (who left after my first term choosing that year to go to the United States). Of course, I renewed my acquaintance with Peter who was the Principal and once again I saw how he brought his ‘presence’ to that enterprise on Humberstone Drive

There were 148 students at Leicester that year, and if I recall only 17 were women . There was a disproportionate fall out rate of the women students and I was nearly one of them.

You didn’t ‘Fail’ at Leicester. It was ‘put to you’ that you might like to consider your position, you reflected with your tutor on the feedback, and came to the ‘right’ decision and withdrew. I had lasted to the end of the second fieldwork practice in Huddersfield.  The Club Leader I worked for, decided I wasn’t suitable so with my tutor ( NOT Bernard who was still in the US)  put this decision to me, pointing out all the negative feedback from other tutors, including my ‘scores’ on the ‘tends To X tends to Y questionnaire, which apparently were extremely unbalanced, not forgetting the fact that I wore blue woollen stockings! So I was invited to consider my position over the weekend . . . .

If I drank, that would have been the night I drowned my sorrows and got very drunk ~ but fortunately I didn’t drink ~ so after a long weekend wallowing in despair and feeling sorry for myself, feeling angry and conned by said Youth Leader/Supervisor, ranting about those bloody men, whilst drinking copious cups of tea and coffee and yes crying a lot ~got to OK I’ve considered my position and I don’t want to go , so I am going to stay.  If ‘they’ disagree then ‘they’ will have to change their policy and ‘Fail or Sack me’. That’s what I told my tutor, who then asked Peter to come and talk to me, presumably to sort me out. Peter came. He didn’t ‘talk’ to me, he asked questions, he listened, he asked more questions, and listened some more and the upshot was he agreed with me that I should stay.

So Thank you, Peter Duke, you really were the Instrument of my completion of the Course (albeit by the skin of teeth) at NCTYL . A wee while back I found my certificate, a copy of which I’ve pinned on the wall behind my desk at Youth Association South Yorkshire, where I still lend a hand. It is, of course, signed by Peter Duke and so as ever I have his backing , his presence as ever inspiring, caring and believing the best in people always.

We’ll leave the final word to Malcolm Ball, a Scraptoft student in the mid-1980’s, a member of the IDYW steering group and Adviser to Lewisham’s Young Mayor.

Indeed Peter was a lovely man. It seems to me he was the epitome of what is to be defended in the Albermarle legacy, a belief in the values of the enlightenment and a commitment to holistic, liberal education. He warned against the dangers ‘of doing irreparable good’ in the name of ideology and warned always of the dangers of working on rather than with young people – a measure of his deep knowledge and subtlety.

Reflection: Dialogue: Action: – “Expressions of faith in Youth Work”, November 18 in Derby


Reflection: Dialogue: Action: – “Expressions of faith in Youth Work”

18 November from 9:30–14:30 in the Britannia Mill, DE22 3BL Derby


An opportunity and reflective space for youth work practitioners of all faiths and none, to gather in exploration, dialogue and recognition of the positive & diverse contribution that faith makes to working with young people in their communities of faith and place.

Through workshops, group discussion, reflective activities and keynote input we will explore key themes including:

The importance of interfaith dialogue with young people in their communities

The spiritual development of young people & practitioners

The tensions and opportunities faith values in professional practice


It is our hope that as delegates we will commit to learning from each other through sharing our journeys and narratives, recognising our blockages and thinking beyond our own known faith communities and reference points.

The day will be facilitated by members of the D2N2 Youth Work Alliance Core Group, including Ian Tannahill, ‘Director of Young People’s Services’ at Blend Youth Project and Angela Brymer, ‘Youth Ministry Adviser’ for the Diocese of Southwell & Nottingham.

Workshop Facilitators

We are pleased to welcome the following workshop facilitators, whose knowledge and experience will help to root our reflections and discussion firmly in models of practice:

Jill Appleton: – ‘Development Worker, Birmingham & Schools Consultant’ for ‘The Feast’.

The Feast is a Christian charity based in Birmingham, working to promote community cohesion between young people of different faiths and cultures. http://www.thefeast.org.uk


Ruth Richardson: – ‘Director’ at the Multi-Faith Centre in Derby.

The Multi-Faith Centre exists to promote mutual understanding between people of different faiths/beliefs and none and to build respect between people as fellow human beings across cultures. http://www.multifaithcentre.org


Additional useful Information

On-site parking is available.

The event will be held in Rooms: BM 115/116

Lunch will be provided


A short D2N2 Youth Work Alliance AGM will be held during the lunch break.

Book your free place at https://www.facebook.com/events/119896412033269/