IDYW 9th Conference – ‘buzzy’, critical and collaborative



Bernard Davies had sent this report on Friday’s conference in Birmingham, bashed out in his own words to give a flavour of what one Facebook message called a ‘buzzy’ experience.



Matthew Hill, Centre for Youth Impact in full flow


Though it mostly it felt a good news day, the bad news was that not only could Tony Taylor not be with us at the conference because of his broken foot. Even the advanced tech skills of two of our most ‘tecky’ Steering Group members couldn’t quite connect him to us via Skype. A great disappointment given how much work he’d put into the 16-point draft position paper, which acted as the main focus for the day and the other preparation he’d done.


Quite a lot of more positive news did seem to come out of the day, however – attended by 50+ people. As a much-needed reminder that youth work can and does have a future, these included a group of ‘Young Ambassadors’ from the Wakefield Youth Association and a number of current youth and community work students, together with their tutors.


The day began with a minute’s silence to honour three highly respected colleagues who have died recently, namely Peter Duke, John Parr and Kevin Morris. Poignantly Kevin’s funeral was taking place at the very same moment.  The conference proceeded with a brief input setting out the background and development so far of the IDYW ‘Is the Tide Turning?’ initiative since it was launched in the aftermath of last year’s General Election. Work throughout the day took place then in five groups, chosen initially by people for its focus in the first session on one of five more specific issues running through the position paper’s 16 bullet points: outcomes; practice; purposes and values; structuring and funding provision; and training and employment. The lively and indeed often clearly passionate discussions generated many sheets of paper recording key points for IDYW to take away and use in any future work on the paper.



Leigh Middleton, NYA, responds to the debate


The two panel sessions which followed allowed brief inputs from organisations which are pretty key at this point in the youth work struggle – the Centre for Youth Impact, the Institute for Youth Work, NYA, the Training Agencies Group, Unison and Unite. These again prompted exchanges within the groups as well as with some of the speakers directly. A final session in groups and plenary gave people a chance to give voice to some of the main messages to IDYW from the groups – some strongly supportive of points on the draft paper, others pointing to need for further thinking, such as the need not to be defensive in our struggle for youth work but to make the case positively on the basis of its strengths and potential.



Paul Fenton, PALYCW,  puts in his pennyworth


Amidst all this hard work, the café-style arrangement, the availability throughout the day of drinks and bits to snack on and the regular brief breaks clearly opened the way not just for many other searching (if unrecorded) informal discussion and exchanges but also for much personal catching-up and for new encounters.


One individual feedback comment at the end of the day: ‘This is my first time at an IDYW event and I found it really interesting and stimulating’. And on Facebook: ‘an…excellent conference … both informative and inspiring and great to catch up with people that I don’t bump into very often’ – prompting a ‘Hear, hear’ response from someone else.


All very gratifying, though still leaving lots of thinking to do about where next to take all the day’s interest, debates and energy – so further reactions and comments certainly welcome.

Thanks to Kevin Jones for the photos.


In Praise of International Women’s Day


International Women’s Day 2018 campaign theme:

With the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report findings telling us that gender parity is over 200 years away – there has never been a more important time to keep motivated and #PressforProgress. And with global activism for women’s equality fuelled by movements like #MeToo#TimesUp and more – there is a strong global momentum striving for gender parity.

And while we know that gender parity won’t happen overnight, the good news is that across the world women are making positive gains day by day. Plus, there’s indeed a very strong and growing global movement of advocacy, activism and support.

So we can’t be complacent. Now, more than ever, there’s a strong call-to-action to press forward and progress gender parity. A strong call to #PressforProgress. A strong call to motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.

International Women’s Day is not country, group or organisation specific. The day belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. So together, let’s all be tenacious in accelerating gender parity. Collectively, let’s all Press for Progress.


Why we’re striking for women’s rights today

Protests are taking place across the world to mark International Women’s Day. Four UK campaigners explain what they’re standing up for.

Is the tide turning? UK Youth certainly doesn’t think so. Bernard Davies responds.



Ta to


The CYPN headline says it all, UK Youth sets out plans to attract investment in sector. Neoliberal to the core UK Youth, positioning itself to be the voice of the youth sector, argues in its State of the membership 2018 that ‘the sector needs to diversify how it is funded and work more closely with the private sector to ensure it can provide a long-term sustainable service amid cuts in local authority spending’. The report goes on to express its desire ‘to see social entrepreneurial approaches, including social investment, embedded in the sector and is particularly keen to see the formation of long-term partnerships between youth groups and businesses’.


In the first of our responses, ahead of this Friday’s In Defence of Youth Work conference, Bernard Davies expresses sharply his concern about UK Youth’s direction of travel.

The future for youth work – as seen by UK Youth


In only two or three years the world of the ‘traditional’ national voluntary youth organisation has changed beyond recognition. It was in November 2012 that a senior DfE official told a conference whose organisers included UK Youth and the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS) that, at a time when the sector was expected increasingly ‘to do more with less’, it needed to consider mergers as a way of protecting itself. Whether as a direct response or not, in 2015 Ambition – once the National Association of Boys Clubs – merged with the Confederation of Heads of Young People’s Services. Then in March 2016, after absorbing NCVYS, in September last year Ambition itself became a ‘subsidiary’ of – that is, it merged into – UK Youth. whose own many previous titles had included the National Association of Youth Clubs.


These high level decisions were not always welcomed by these organisations’ grassroots. In part as a reaction to the 2012 decision by Ambition – by then known as Clubs for Young People – to adopt its new PR-friendly title, a new and independent National Association of Boys and Girls Clubs emerged. This is now providing a range of national sporting, arts and other events as well as infrastructure support for ‘1000 youth clubs in the most deprived communities’ and for over twenty county associations. To fill a perceived gap left by NCVYS’s disappearance, moves are also now detectable to create a new national network for the many local and regional councils of voluntary youth service which are still operating.


UK Youth has now published ‘an overview of its membership data as a merged organisation’, based on a careful sampling of the 230 organisations now directly affiliated to it. When partners’ figures in Scotland, Ireland and Wales are added, these cater for approximately four million young people across the UK. Drawing on the government’s own returns and on two Unison reports, its analysis is set starkly in the wider, especially financial, national contexts: the 41 per cent reduction in ‘universal spending’ between 2010-15 and 2017-18; the loss between 2012 and 2016 of over 3600 post, mostly part-timers; and evidence that ‘at local authority level, the most deprived areas have seen the greatest cuts’. With provision now increasingly dependent on volunteers, UK Youth’s conclusion is that ‘the youth sector has transitioned from a largely statutory provision to a largely voluntary sector-led service’.


In response to this devastation, in its penultimate paragraph, the report slips in a suggestion that, in order ‘to take full advantage of existing finance’, one possibility to be ‘explored’ is ‘redirecting reduced NCS funding (circa £400 million). Overall, however, such expectations of the state are noticeable mainly by their absence. So too is any analysis of the deeper structural causes of the current crisis for open access youth work, and indeed even more importantly for today’s younger generation. That ‘ideologies’ are shaping these policies is mentioned, as part of ‘the political make-up … of councils’ which has driven ‘the restructuring of statutory youth services’. The comment, however, appears in passing and without any critical explanation of what those ideologies are or how and why they have been so damaging both for a practice like youth work and for young people.

This uncritical stance on the dominant ideas of our times and the power relations underpinning them is signalled on the first page of the UK Youth paper by the inclusion. without comment, of a boxed quote from the minister currently holding the ‘youth’ brief as part of her role as Minister for Sport and Civil Society. In this, as at points elsewhere in the report, youth work in the shape of the youth club – ‘for many young people … their only safe place’ – is immediately conflated with the ‘youth services’ through which they get ‘access (to) mental health services, citizenship education, social mixing and training’. It is perhaps therefore not surprising that another of the factors driving that ‘re-structuring of statutory youth services’ – what are evasively called ‘overall financial challenges in local authorities’ – are never explained as stemming from the minister’s own and previous governments’ policies which, under the cloak of ‘austerity’, have been designed to get the state out of as many public services as possible. Indeed the government seems to garner at least implied praise for what I can only call forms of ‘gesture’ funding in support of the character-building, resilience-developing outcomes on which it insists: £50 million here for cadet forces, £40 million there for young people’s ‘social action’, another £16 million for a Youth Engagement Fund based on ‘social investment funds’ and ‘payment by results’.  


Nor does the UK Youth paper address in any direct way how such policies have affected the lives of young people. It notes for example that ‘only 13 per cent of young people in former industrial areas and 14 per cent in remote rural coldspots progress to university compared with 27 per cent in hotspots’. These blockages, however, conceived in the report as ‘challenges of adolescence’, apparently result simply from the ‘lack of aspiration to peer pressures or issues at home’. None of these, of course, are insignificant matters for young people themselves. What they do not do, however, is explain the glaring educational inequalities spelt out earlier. As a result, for tackling the problems of its members, the youth club, as well as providing that safe space, ends up confined it to ‘enabling young people to lead happier, more fulfilling lives’ and ‘empowering young people to make a positive contribution to their community’.


So how, positively, is UK Youth planning to deal with this ‘new context’? Certainly not, it seems, by starting from the proposition that the up to one million young people who have used or tried youth work facilities in the past are citizens now and so entitled to a fair slice of the collective cake. For UK Youth, the answer largely remains ‘to embed social entrepreneurial approaches and secure additional income for the sector, for example through supporting access to social investment opportunities’. (Though these are to include ‘collaborative work with … the private sector’, UK Youth gives no indication of what ethical risks tests it thinks should be applied here).


Even as – post-Carillion and the rest – the neo-liberal shibboleths come under renewed searching scrutiny, this paper makes clear that these remain deeply and uncritically embedded in the thinking of our youth sector ‘leaders’. Still not apparently worth any serious consideration, therefore, is an alternative possibility: that the state – albeit in re-imagined more bottom-up forms – might and indeed should again find and allocate resources for open access, informal educational facilities which its young citizens can use by choice in their leisure time.  

Bernard Davies


Summerhill: Freedom to Learn, Celebrating Humanity in Education – April 6-8

Summerhill: Freedom to Learn


Fri, 6 Apr 2018, 14:00 – Sun, 8 Apr 2018, 17:00 BST

Summerhill, Westword Ho, Leiston, IP16 4HY

The Freedom to Learn Forum is an annual festival, celebrating humanity in education, bringing together progressive educators, families and other pioneers to showcase and inspire unique learning communities governed by equality, freedom, and collaboration.

Unlikely to resemble any other conferences you’ve been to before, the Freedom to Learn Forum is an open-space arena in which adults and children co-create the schedule. Anyone can host a talk or workshop on any topic they are passionate about, allowing us to share our knowledge, experience, and ideas.

This Spring, the Freedom to Learn Forum will be set in the stunning surroundings of the historic Summerhill school, founded in 1921 and still ahead of its time. Delicious food will be provided by their on-site catering team, and students will be adding a ‘Summerhill Sprinkle’ to the affair, hosting mock-meetings and a famous ‘gram’ (disco). There are a limited number of beds for those who wish to have the authentic Summerhill residential experience.

Price varies from £10 to £60

More information and bookings at


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

Is the tide turning? John McDonnell commits Labour to a statutory Youth Service.

In recent months we have been asking if the tide is turning for youth work? Our question is given fresh impetus by the welcome news that John McDonnell has registered his desire to see the inclusion of a commitment to a statutory Youth Service in the Labour Party’s Manifesto. Particularly encouraging is his insistence that this should happen as an integral element of a ‘New Education Service creating lifelong learning from cradle to grave’.  See below the full text of his contribution to the GFTU Union Building Conference 2018 plus video.

McDonnell’s intervention is all the more timely as next week’s IDYW national conference on March 9 in Birmingham will be exploring a set of proposals that might inform the re-emergence of open youth work and a democratised Youth Service. Watch this space.

John McDonnell:  Contribution to GFTU Union Building Conference 2018.

The General Federation of Trade Unions has an important and distinct role to play in the British trade union movement.

As it approaches its 120th year it is fitting to see that it is still dynamic and leading the way in terms of the transformative power of trade union and community education.

The GFTU’s education programme is the biggest and most imaginative in the Movement and supports trade unionists in developing the practical skills, political and economic understanding and sense of history that are so vital today.

But it is also good to see that the GFTU is consciously reaching out to the wider public to keep the flag of trade unionism flying and reaching out through exciting events such as its youth festival to the next generation of younger trade unionists.

I recognise that trade union work to re-engage the younger generation will also be assisted by the rebuilding of the Youth Service so callously pulled apart by the Conservatives. This is why I am supporting the inclusion in the next Labour Party Manifesto the commitment to create a statutory Youth Service as part of the New Education Service creating lifelong learning from cradle to grave.

I am very impressed that the GFTU is offering new training courses for trade union trainers with Leeds Beckett University and Newman University. This is pioneering work indeed and will create a new generation of fully trained and qualified trade union trainers.

Such tremendous commitment to education within the GFTU is also reflected in its commitment to the Shout Out Project. This is greatly appreciated and we hope that together through my office, the GFTU and affiliated unions to bring greatly needed civic and personal and social education back to our communities.

The GFTU Education in Action programme is well worth a visit.



Brighton campaign reaps rewards – Council to boost youth work spending by £90K



Pre-Qual on the streets of Brighton a year ago


Almost exactly a year ago we were congratulating the Brighton ‘Protect Youth Services’ campaign on its creative and successful defence of youth provision in the town. In the aftermath the Pre-Qual group in a thoughtful and challenging blog concluded:

If this campaign to protect youth services has proved one thing, it is that when you organise around a demand which is achievable, have an argument which is strong enough and you pursue that argument with enough persistence and a great enough diversity of tactics, you can achieve concrete success. These were the key elements which won the youth service campaign; saving the service was realistically achievable, the arguments were solid and we simply did not leave the council alone, pursuing every possible avenue available to us, from getting out onto the streets to legally challenging the consultation process. By following this formula we believe that we can be successful in fighting off the cuts again next year, but we can’t do it on our own: we need your help.

It certainly looks as if this advice was taken on board. Indeed CYPN reports, Council to boost youth work spending by £90K :

Proposals set to be considered by members of Brighton and Hove Council next Thursday (22 February) will see the extra money handed to local youth work providers.

A “cross party youth group”, set up in Brighton last year to bring politicians and young people together, will decide how the additional funding should be spent.

“The £90k proposal will be discussed at the next cross party youth group, which includes representatives from the three political groups and from various youth groups across the city,” a council spokesman said.

“It is this group which will be recommending how this additional money should be prioritised.”



Adam looking chuffed


Adam Muirhead, chair of the Institute for Youth Work and local youth worker, who will be speaking at our IDYW national conference on March 9,  has welcomed Brighton and Hove’s decision to buck the national trend of continuing cuts. Interestingly at least part of the reason for the exceptional nature of the decision might well lie in the fact that the town’s politics are volatile and contested – Labour, Greens and Tories vying for influence and power. None of them can afford to be smug and indifferent to the views of their public, including young people, so often ignored.

“Local politicians from across different parties in Brighton and Hove have really tried to listen to young people,” Adam suggests.

“They have then put their money where their mouth is by being supportive of young people, empowering them and protective of youth services.”

The £90,000 extra spend on youth work is part of a package of additional funding, worth £460,000, to improve support for young people in Brighton and Hove.

It’s good to begin a week with uplifting news. Sending our thanks and solidarity to the young people and youth workers of Brighton, who’ve continued the fight so capably.