IDYW National Conference, Friday, March 9 in Birmingham – put the date in the diary





‘Swimming with or against a turning tide? Where should youth work be heading?’

from 12.30 – 4.30 p.m.

Towards the end of last year a series of regional ‘Is the tide turning?’ events were held around the country. As a result, we are attempting to draw out of these diverse discussions a coherent set of proposals and demands that might be put to what we see as the progressive wing of British politics, those parties willing to ditch the damaging legacy of neoliberalism – namely Labour, the Greens, the Scottish Nationalist Party, Plaid Cymru and increasingly the Liberal Democrats. The conference will be our collective opportunity to debate and revise both the purpose and content of such a policy paper.

As last year we are organising on the basis that the starting time will help those travelling longer distances and that you will have consumed your lunch in advance.


12.00 Arrivals, socialising – drinks available. Participants responsible for own lunch.

12.30 Welcome, housekeeping 

12.45 – 1.05 Presentation of the major themes in our draft set of proposals. These will have been circulated in advance. 

1.05 – 2.00 Small group discussion about and responses to the proposals

2.00 – 2.15 Break

2.15 – 3.00 Responses to the proposals from invited representatives from the wider youth sector, such as the National Youth Agency, UK Youth, the Training Agencies Group, UNITE/UNISON and the Centre for Youth Impact

3.00 – 4.00 Further small group exploration of how our proposals might be taken forward

4.00 – 4.30 Taking a collective breath as to what we might do next?


More information soon. In the meantime please spread the word, knowing the conference as ever will take place in the supportive and reflective atmosphere, that characterises IDYW debate and is deeply appreciated by participants. And that the conference fee will definitely not break the bank!



Is the tide turning? An IDYW initiative that means little without you.



Is the tide turning?

Policy proposals for youth work: A discussion paper.

                                         In Defence of Youth Work, Summer 2017


It is likely that local authority youth services will have disappeared by 2020. Yet in the aftermath of the 2017 general election, there are renewed possibilities for state-supported open youth work. This discussion paper will argue that progressive, political parties, focused on the common good rather than private interest, should make an explicit commitment to open, universal, all year round youth work. In order to put this commitment into practice, the following questions need further discussion:

  • Should local authority youth services be reopened, or are there different ways that state-supported youth work can be organised?
  • What principles should underpin the revival of open youth work?
  • How can these changes be made feasible in terms of funding, infrastructure and staffing?

We encourage you to discuss these questions informally and in organised groups, with young people, colleagues, students, friends, policy makers, decision makers, campaigners and activists. We are conscious that our thinking relates most directly to youth work in England and Wales, but hope that its argument will have resonance for practitioners in Scotland and Northern Ireland. All feedback will be greatly valued.


isthetideturningfinal – the discussion paper in full {WORD}

isthe tideturningfinal – the discussion paper in full {PDF}

A Provisional Timetable of Activity

We are looking to use the National Youth Work Week, November 6 – 12, as a point of reference, especially as its theme is:

Youth Services: youth work for today and tomorrow

Our hope is that a diversity of local and regional meetings will take place in and around this week, although not necessarily so. For the moment we are not envisaging an explicitly national event. Thus, from now, we are taking a two-pronged approach.

  1. We are approaching specific people to act as organisers of regional gatherings.
  2. We are hoping very much that this initiative will resonate with our readers/supporters and that you will feel moved to organise meetings at a local level, however small or large. To repeat, please feel free to get your act together as you think fit.

On Wednesday we will post a proposal offering a possible template based on the discussion paper, which might be useful as you get your head around planning a meeting.

In some ways, our ‘Is the tide turning?’ initiative is a test of our collective energy and sense of purpose. We believe together we can rise to the challenge. We hope you agree.

‘The idea of an educated public’: ‘One can only think for oneself if one does not think by oneself’ [Alasdair McIntyre (1987)]

For more information and to let us know you are throwing your questioning hat into the ring of critical debate, contact





For F*****’s sake! Tories Out!

 For our Future’s Sake, Tories Out

I’ve never been persuaded that turning out, whenever it suits politicians and their paymasters, to put a cross on a ballot paper is the highest expression of my democratic conviction. It strikes me as bizarre that handing over my say about how the world should be to an individual, who is the obedient follower of his or her party and who is neither accountable or recallable to me, is perceived as the democratic moment of my existence. Neither is my doubt an insult to the memory of those, who struggled for the universal adult franchise. This important victory is but a stepping stone towards more inclusive forms of democratic involvement, Even under its own rules representative democracy denies the vote to young people, who are taxed without representation.

Hence I’ve always treated elections with caution,  even though, in my time, I’ve leafletted and canvassed for Labour. Indeed there have been moments when I have also openly argued against voting Labour and shown sympathy with the anarchist slogan, ‘Don’t Vote, it only encourages them!’ This is not one such moment.

Across the years the professional youth workforce has tended to support Labour, seeing it as a progressive party committed to the central role of the state in providing public services. Indeed in 1997 many workers were seduced by Blair’s ‘Third Way’ with its championing of what has come to be called ‘identity politics’.  The price paid was a heavy one as New Labour abandoned class politics and solidarity, embracing both neoliberalism’s masturbatory self-centredness and its fetishistic belief in an iron law of the market.  The price paid has been austerity and widening inequality. The price paid has been the creation of the precarious society. The price paid has been the eruption of a Manichean world of good and evil, of our bombs and their bombs, none of which distinguish between the guilty or the innocent. Even as it forfeited power to the Conservatives, New Labour proved unable to think outside the neoliberal oblong. Thus there has seemed to be little choice in the party political arena – ‘you couldn’t put a Rizla between them’.

However, in the last turbulent months and volatile days, the scenario has changed dramatically. A Labour Party, perceived as in a terminal crisis, has risen from its bed, led by Jeremy Corbyn, an unlikely and much-maligned figurehead. To the dismay of much of its Parliamentary wing the Labour Party has been reminded of its social-democratic heritage. Its manifesto, whilst by no means the last word in radicalism, is being experienced as a breath of exhilarating air, by many more than just the faithful. It asserts the common good against private greed. It desires peace not war. Whilst it says very little about youth work – a promise to stop the cuts, NCS retained – it offers hope for young people, aspiring to free them from debt and zero-hour contracts. For now, our sectional interests are not the burning issues.

Where does this leave us? It seems pretty straightforward – Vote Labour on Thursday. And yet? Despite Labour’s remarkable recovery from being written off, it is very unlikely that it can achieve an overall majority, especially with Scotland in mind. And I’m convinced such a triumph would be deeply problematic. It would be pulled off with the support of a minority of the population, which would not stop Labour from declaring it had a mandate to impose its programme. At odds with the proposal that he’s about a new way of doing politics, Jeremy Corbyn is still tribal in his outlook. He yearns for the revival of the two-party contest, Labour versus Conservative. Thus he refuses to countenance supportive, working agreements with other political parties. The Greens are dismissed, even though Caroline Lucas might well be the first choice for a Deputy Prime Minister. He argues neither the Scottish National Party nor the Liberal Democrats are progressive, not to be touched with a fishing rod. Yet the majority of his own party’s MP’s suffer in stunned silence, unable to get their heads around the collapse of their pragmatic accommodation to the status quo.  Can you believe it, they are now being expected to believe in something other than their own careers?

For sure, it’s a mess of contradiction, but let me end with two proposals, for what they’re worth.

  1.  If at all possible, it is vital to prevent five further years of a growing Tory authoritarian populism.
  2. We need to celebrate the possible emergence of a Coalition of Chaos, which brings together in creative dialogue and practice political groupings, which in opposing the way things are, possess a vision of a fairer society.  In IDYW we urge a practice that is improvisatory and reflective, democratic and emancipatory, knowing that nothing is ever guaranteed.

On Thursday, vote defensively to stop the Tories and vote optimistically for a new way of doing politics. In this momentous clash our vote is but the beginning. Both within and without youth work our obligation is to carry on building from below. Our task is to hold politicians to account. Our commitment is to speak truth to power.

Thursday looks like being more enthralling than we ever thought. Whatever the outcome, the struggle continues.



Vote, but voting is never enough……what about some social action?

Predictably Theresa May’s General Election call has led to an upsurge of interest in voting, democracy and politics. Our Facebook page is hosting an interesting thread, kicked off by a question about how to engage young people with the spectre of the looming election. My own long-standing concerns about youth work’s widespread fear of being political and the stunted nature of parliamentary democracy itself are best left to a separate post. Indeed it might be an appropriate moment to dig out a rant I inflicted on a Federation of Detached Youth Workers conference back in 2007. I don’t think it’s past its sell-by date.

However, whatever my reservations about equating voting every so often with being political, the coming election is a highly significant moment in a volatile global atmosphere. Thus here are a number of recommended resources to inform our conversations and activities with young people in the coming weeks.

The League of Young Voters

Bite the Ballot


Democracy Cookbook – The Recipes

Register to vote


And whilst we are exploring with young people the significance or otherwise of the vote, it might be an appropriate time to rescue the idea of social action from the suffocating ‘volunteering’ definition advanced by Step up to Serve. In the run up to the election what about exploring with young people taking direct, public action around issues that perhaps matter to them – a right to benefits, the issue of low pay and zero-hour contracts, the lack of appropriate housing, the precarious future they face and indeed the demand to vote at 16 – not to mention what’s happening to youth provision in their neck of the woods? If we are talking about politics, about power, there is a question haunting youth work. To what extent, with honourable exceptions, has it supported the growth of young people’s authentic social movements from below, giving the lie to Tim Laughton’s fatuous claim that NCS is the fastest growing social movement in Europe. Grassroots social movements don’t have marketing budgets. In this context the recent and ongoing young people’s campaign to save youth services in Brighton offers lessons and poses dilemmas. At this very moment these young people’s energies are turning to wider social and political issues than just youth work. I wonder out loud what is their take on the forthcoming General Election?

This has been said many times, in different ways, but the great advances in terms of freedom and justice have not been the outcome of ruly and bureaucratic procedures from on high, but the result of unruly and improvised action from below. Yes, vote, but don’t stop there.

Over 3,000 folk follow In Defence of Youth Work on Facebook

To keep non-Facebook followers in the picture I posted this message on Facebook at the weekend.



Pauline Grace is ecstatic as Fin Cullen reveals the number of IDYW Facebook followers! Ta to Justin Wyllie for the brilliant image


Just a note to say that as of now the IDYW Facebook group membership has passed the 3,000 mark – 3,046 to be exact. From its humble beginnings on the back of a 2009 Open Letter, which sought both to criticise and oppose the undermining of open, young people-centred, process-led youth work, it has developed, I think, into the most active and pluralist forum of information and debate in the UK. There was a time when the majority of posts came by way of me. That narrow source has long been surpassed. In recent years more and more people have contributed under their own steam, sparking off unexpected and challenging threads of discussion. Indeed this developing diversity flies in the face of those, who, when it suits, peddle the myth, that IDYW is no more than a bunch of moaners trapped in the past. It is true, though, that a few of us might well be put out to pasture, but for the time being, we’ll carry on mucking in. And as evidence that our collective thoughts remain relevant, look out this week for news of a significant piece of European research led by a Finnish university, inspired by our IDYW cornerstones and our Story-Telling approach to interrogating practice.
In the meantime sincere thanks for your critical support, involvement and solidarity.

The Facebook page is to be found at

The cuts are taking youth clubs back to their Victorian roots – Sue Shanks in the Guardian

Just in case you missed it here’s the link to Sue’s insightful piece in the Guardian this week.

The cuts are taking youth clubs back to their Victorian roots



Sue chats to Malcolm Ball at last week’s conference – ta to Justin Wyllie


IDYW Local and Regional Seminars, February 24 – Join in and organise



Colin Brent is coordinating our effort to encourage you to meet locally and regionally to further reflection and debate

Hi everyone, it’s time to start thinking again about the next round of local seminars/discussions. These provide an opportunity for youth workers, students and friends of youth work to come together and discuss issues that they face. I’m suggesting “space” as the theme for the next one: can we share the ‘safe space’ we create with young people with other agencies and how do we negotiate this; does youth work need its own distinct spaces (youth centres) or can it take place in schools, council offices etc.? The last seminars were  in London and Liverpool, it would be great if other areas could join in the debate.

As things stand Colin is looking to coordinate meetings on Friday, February 24th and promising noises are being made by people in London, Liverpool/Oldham and Brighton. Obviously the onus is on local folk to find a venue and publicise, but it can be very low-key. Simply bringing together a handful of people would be a positive start.

Contact Colin to find out more at