The post-truth pantomime – Nigel Pimlott wonders, ‘what it means for youth work?’



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Although written primarily for a Christian audience, Nigel Pimlott’s incisive pantomime analogy sheds light on the significance of ‘post-truthism’ for all of us involved in youth work.

He begins:

The annual panto in our village is always great fun and entertainment. There’s a mix of banter, fantasy and miraculous stories played out by outlandish characters. There are goodies, baddies and dubious promises about living happily ever after tugging on our heart strings. Given what has happened across the political landscape in the last few months, you might think that was also pantomime.



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Our resident panto baddie will bully, threaten and twist things. They’ll be highly selective, cherry-picking facts and manipulating people. They will say whatever it takes to get their own way. They’ll play on the emotions of the vulnerable, unaware and naive. They invoke hysteria and dire consequences if they are disobeyed. They proclaim a populist consensus wrapped up in half-truths, facts taken out of context and fearful predictions. Our post-truth politicians have been found guilty of deploying the same tricks and casting the same spells.

He suggests:

Youth and children’s workers themselves are not immune from the potential bewitchment a post-truth culture casts. It is too easy to fall into the trap of exaggerating things like the number of first-time faith commitments at an event, or bigging-up the impact a project has had. For those who do externally-funded work the pressure to make inflated claims, enhance stories of success and over-state the value of what we do can be overwhelming. Evaluations, reports to church councils, and meetings with line managers can be painted in such a positive light that the truth ends up diminished.

He ends:

We can’t afford to get seduced by post-truth approaches. We mustn’t get caught out by them. So, be aware of pantomime-like claims of magic solutions, ‘too good to be true claims’ and also be aware of political rhetoric about ‘them and us’, promised pots of gold at the end of the rainbow and unsubstantiated tales. They are all likely to be examples of our post-truth culture. Remember – it’s behind you!

It’s smashing and provocative piece with proposals for how we combat post-truth politics. Well worth pursuing in full.

The post-truth pantomime
What does 2016’s ‘word of the year’ mean for youth and children’s ministry? Nigel Pimlott has some ideas…

[Nigel Pimlott is a writer, consultant, facilitator of Messy Church and works part-time for the Methodist Church as a training and development officer.]


Writing the History of Youth in the Modern World, 1800 to the present

It would be great to see contributions on the history of youth work/youth organisations. A few names come to mind.

Writing the History of Youth in the Modern World, 1800 to the present

Friday 26th May 2017, University of Sheffield


Call For Papers

The lives and experiences of young people have long been a topic of historical interest. This conference seeks to explore how historians understand and represent youth in the modern world, and encourages reflection on the different ways of writing the history of young people. With a growing amount of work in the field, this conference will provide a space for scholars to reflect on current approaches, reinterpret and re-evaluate older approaches and structures, present work that moves beyond the urban experiences of youth, or that adopts transnational approaches, and to question how the lives of young people relate to wider histories.

Topics could include, but are not limited to:

The spaces and places inhabited by youth
Regional or local histories of young people
Youth organisations
The experiences and histories of marginalised or underrepresented youth
Reflections on methodologies or sources
Identities of young people
Sex and relationships
The young person as a consumer

Proposals for individual papers of 20 minutes are invited for any topic related to the history of young people in the modern period, loosely defined from 1800- present.

Relevant proposals from outside of the discipline of history are also welcome. Abstracts of 300-350 words should be sent to Sarah Kenny ( by Friday 24th February 2017.

Conference of European Research Network of Open Youth Work: ‘Theory and Practice – Understanding Youth Work’ 19 – 20 January 2017 : Places Available

There are places available at this conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, where IDYW will be contributing a workshop on the insidious impact of neoliberalism on the provision and philosophy of open youth work in England.


Conference of European Research Network of Open Youth Work: ‘Theory and Practice Understanding Youth Work’ and Launch of the International Journal of Open Youth Work 19 – 20 January 2017

Conference venue: Hotel Panorama, Vilnius

There is no participation fee, boarding and lodging will be covered January 19-20,
travel costs up to 100€ will be reimbursed during or right after the conference.

Application form here.


Post-Truth IDYW Seasonal Greetings

This week my intention was to post a piece on fake news and the supposed post-truth world and its possible relevance to youth work. Perhaps I was in mind of a Tory Minister for Youth, a member of the government of austerity and cuts, claiming he wants young people to be involved in ‘building a society for everyone’. No matter, family illness and obligations have scuppered my intentions. It will have to wait awhile, alongside a desire to scribble something about a divided youth work sector. As you can see I’m in a jovial mood.

Hence, at this moment I wish simply to send IDYW ‘s seasonal greetings to all its readers, supporters and critics. Amidst the turmoil besetting the world I hope you’ll create a loving  space, within which to be with your nearest and dearest. And then with renewed strength face the question of ‘what is to be done?’.

Meanwhile, in a pluralist spirit, two anthems bearing the same title, the first doubtful, the second confident – HALLELUJAH.

Tomorrow in our village there’s an informal gathering in which the Greek Orthodox and Protestant traditions will share their carols and traditional snacks. Our tribe of agnostics and atheists will muck in and see if we can’t sneak in the ‘Internationale’.  Despite its age and history  the message of solidarity , of speaking truth to and acting against power, retains all its relevance. Here’s Pete Seeger’s gentle version.

“Being generous of spirit is a wonderful way to live.” -Pete Seeger



‘Co-production, Research and Youth and Community Work’


Invitation to: A January Research Day: ‘Co-production, Research and Youth and Community Work’
Saturday 21st January, 2017. University of Glasgow. Booking now via this link

The Professional Association of Lecturers in Youth and Community Work, in collaboration with CRADALL and The Radical Community Work Journal are collaborating in an event that will explore the role of co-production and research in supporting youth work and community development.

We are inviting presentations around four themes:

1. Co-production with young people.
2. Co-production with communities (communities of practice as well as geographical, cultural etc.)
3. Methodologies of co-production e.g. action research, developmental work research etc.
4. Democratisation of knowledge through the techniques of co-production.

The call for abstracts is for next Friday 9th December, 2016.

Follow this link to an abstract template and read more about the event via this link.

Best wishes

Paul Fenton PFHEA

“Grass roots praxis: youth workers’ reflect on ‘fighting the corner’ and ‘giving value for money’”

At the very worst we hope to carry a review of Tania de St Croix’s new book,  ‘Grassroots Youth Work’, before Christmas. Meanwhile we are very pleased belatedly to post a brief account of a parallel and complementary research project undertaken by Paula Pope with the support of the Keele University. It is heartening and necessary to hear the voices, often stifled, of workers on the ground fighting their corner in the teeth of contradiction. We hope that Paula will be able to publish a fuller and more detailed exploration of her thoughts and findings in the near future, which will speak, we are sure, to our ongoing discussion about the future of our work.


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“Grass roots praxis: youth workers’ reflect on ‘fighting the corner’ and ‘giving value for money’”

A presentation handout by Paula Pope for Liverpool Hope University Conference on ‘Children and Young People in a Changing World, Action, Agency and Participation’, June 2016.

This paper draws on qualitative research into social relations and practices of professional youth workers. This research inquiry, approved by Keele University in 2013, involved 17 JNC qualified and practising youth workers from two districts in NW England. Thematic analysis of transcripts from focus groups and interviews suggested continuing misconceptions of youth work, funding difficulties and managerial practices that conflicted with professional values

There was limited recognition of the generic potential of youth work at the macro level where government youth policy focus was on the National Citizen Service for 16-17 year olds. Some support for professional youth work continued at the meso level in some local councils and organisations, with youth work roles included in the portfolio of provision. Unsurprisingly, youth work was having most impact at the micro level with individuals and in some communities.

It was recognised that youth workers were persevering despite significant funding worries at the grass roots level. In practice, youth workers were continuing to listen to young people, build relationships that started where the young person was at and which at times managed to catch young people when they were in danger of slipping through the net. Youth workers were frequently standing up for young people and advocating on their behalf though this could cause difficulties when it was in conflict with agency expectations and funding constraints.

Among the challenges facing youth workers was the emphasis on targeting certain young people in ‘hot spot areas’ and getting them through a form of accreditation as a way to show youth work had value. For one worker it felt like becoming ‘Tesco’s police’ while another analysed the approach as ‘squeezing’ rather than ‘celebrating’ the usual relationship building activities. Another difficulty was the loss of experienced colleagues in the service cutbacks that left some workers feeling isolated in new organisational structures, particularly when youth work was not well understood by new professional colleagues or managers.

Youth workers were continuing to be passionate about youth work and to reflect on their practice and identify ways to know that their youth work was working:

“I know that my youth work is working because what that means is the relationship is working, and it’s not working because I am getting on really well with them, it is working because they’re trusting me… with unprovoked, voluntary enquiries… asking for help and advice or guidance about something in their life” (Carl)

Explaining youth work ways of working and the difference it can make was not always straightforward. This emerged in workers’ accounts of ‘fighting the corner’ to stay true to their values in inter-agency work:

“We were doing that developmental work with the young people and we had them on side quite quickly but the police, when we were there, what the police wanted us to do and the other agencies wanted us to do was a little bit different than what we were actually going to do” (Greg)

It suggests that youth workers are finding themselves in similar positions to teachers who are operating in realms of “principled infidelity” (Hoyle and Wallace, 2009). The authors argued that ‘principled infidelity’ was a noticeable pragmatic response by school teachers to changes in education policy that appeared to conflict with their professional values. The gap appeared to be widening between external views of what mattered and the views of those on the ground:

“You can see the glaring sort of problems with you know you’re recognising some work that is not completely ethical, do you know what I mean, and that’s, that’s hard. OK, well should we sacrifice our ethics and sort of morals to get the job done and to be recognised for it and that’s, that’s a difficult challenge as well” (Greg)

It was generating worker uncertainty over whether to comply or dissent from the dominant discourse and contributing more nuanced and complex forms of professional identity (Baxter, 2011). This tension is sometimes associated with creating ‘third space identities’ in the emerging middle ground:  

“The third space is a mode of articulation, a way of describing a productive, and not merely reflective, space that engenders new possibility” (Meredith, 1998, 3)

Being active in this middle ground may contribute to affirmations of professional worth. A sense of feeling valued came through in workers’ accounts when they broached new ground. They spoke of taking a risk with new projects, leading informal education initiatives in new settings that prompted formal education to wake up to the benefits of informal education and raising the profile of youth work in new arenas such as police custody suites. Sometimes, small changes could make quite a difference as one worker found on reviewing his work schedule to create the space for more continuity in relationship building with young people:     

“Our funders wouldn’t necessarily have said within that work they wanted us to do any schools’ work but what we’re saying is, well if we do the schools’ work that’ll give us continuity with young people; they’ll see the same staff on a regular basis over 12 months so whilst we’re not in their ward, we’ll still be seeing those young people” (Andy)

It was recognised that the youth and community sector was undergoing dramatic change, yet the research participants continued to express commitment to youth work values and belief in the efficacy of their practice. They offered an optimistic view of future prospects:

“There are huge changes structurally and organisationally, huge changes, but when we look at what we actually do, I think we sell ourselves short and I think that we’re already doing a lot of the things that we’re being asked for; it just takes thinking about it a little bit differently so yea in answer to the question, there is light at the end of the tunnel” (Jessica)


Baxter J. (2011) Public sector professional identities, a review of the literature, The Open University, UK  

House of Commons Education Committee (2011, June) ‘Services for Young People’, Third Report of Session 2010-2012, Volume 1, London: The Stationary Office, Ref HC 744-1

Hoyle E., Wallace M. (2009) ‘Leadership for Professional Practice’, chapter 17 in S. Gewirtz, P. Mahoney, I. Hextall, A. Cribb (editors) Changing teacher professionalism, international trends, challenges and ways forward, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge

Pope P. (2016) “‘Handing over our ethics?’ Youth work conversations in times of austerity’, Ethics and Social Welfare,

Website: National Citizen Service  

Footnote: A thank you to the participating youth workers whose voices can be heard giving insights into today’s fieldwork practice. The quotations have been anonymised to protect confidentiality. For further information, contact Paula Pope:

The use of story-telling to look at responses to sexual abuse in Argentina


We’ve been taken aback by the global interest in our advocacy of story-telling as a  subjective, qualitative and comparable attempt to illustrate the distinctiveness of informal youth work. Indeed partial translations of our web resource, Story-Telling in Youth Work  have appeared in Russian, Kazakh and Finnish with a Japanese version in the offing.

And now Colin Brent has posted a fascinating translation of a piece by Alejandro Capriati, Researcher at CONICET/University of Buenos Aires entitled, ‘The use of story-telling to look at responses to sexual abuse in Argentina.’

Alejandro begins:

Story-telling in Youth Work is a process used by workers, tutors and students that work with young people. In England many of them are government-employed youth workers specially trained for working with young people that are not part of formal education or health services and work in open-access spaces for young people. These have few restrictions on young people’s engagement and are spaces where young people can hang out, take part in a great range of activities (radio, music, art, courses, cooking, etc.), or just do nothing. Each youth centre works in its own way, but is based on the principal of voluntary engagement, and has a focus on relationships, the building of trust between young people and workers, and personal development. From that starting point, some young people may reengage with formal education, report abuse, get support with substance misuse, etc.

There are similarities and differences in the work with young people in English youth centres and in certain projects in Argentina carried out by charities or as part of some social programmes. Looking at these comparisons has been the focus point of a collaboration with Colin Brent, a manager of a youth centre in London, with the aim of adapting our practice and sharing experiences. As part of this exchange of ideas I have taken up using the story-telling technique.

This technique can be used face-to-face in work with young people; as a resource for organisation change through staff training, supervision and monitoring; to communicate the value of youth work; and to evaluate projects. The general aim is for youth workers and their colleagues to have a clear idea of what is distinct in their practise and how this is important for the young people, using critical reflexion about methods of intervention to identify successes, challenges and inconclusive processes.

The objective is for participants to be able to critically reflect on the uniqueness of youth work through describing and analysing an example of practice, exploring the meaning of it for themselves and for the young people. Of course, the idea is to adapt the technique to each situation and context, and below I share our experience.

Continue here

The web resource also includes the Spanish original at El uso del relato de caso (story-telling) para pensar las respuestas a casos de abuso sexual en Argentina