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

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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.

On being heard in your own country, on being heard in Europe

There’s a famous passage in the New Testament, in which Jesus reflects that a prophet might well find it difficult to be heard on their own patch. This observation sprang to mind on hearing that both the IDYW cornerstones and our Story-Telling approach to unravelling the character of practice are at the heart of a new European publication looking at impact and evaluation. I’ll hand over to Bernard Davies, who coordinates our work on Story-Telling, to continue the tale.

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Studying the Impact of International Youth Work – Towards developing an evaluation tool for youth centres reports on a research project funded by the European Erasmus + programme and carried out in Finland, Estonia and Slovenia. Written by Anu Gretschel, the senior researcher, in co-operation with academic and practitioner colleagues from all three of the participating countries, it has been published by the Helsinki: Finnish Youth Centres Association, the Finnish Youth Research Society and the Finnish Youth Research Network.

Particularly significant – and encouraging – for IDYW is the project’s development of the IDYW youth work story-telling process as one of its main research methods. To analyse the evidence coming out of the stories this generated, it then used a version of the IDYW Cornerstones of youth work practice which we subsequently revised to highlight the importance of giving attention to young people’s class, gender, race, sexuality, disability and faith. The report also includes references to our This is Youth Work stories book (now supplemented by the booklet of youth work stories produced by Warwickshire youth workers) and to the IDYW story-telling web resource.

For demonstrating open access youth work’s ‘impacts’ and ‘outcomes’, this international recognition of a qualitative ‘methodology’ like youth work story-telling and ‘measures’ such as the IDYW Cornerstones is welcome and indeed overdue. Statistical ‘tick boxing’, certainly in England, continues to obsess politicians, policy-makers and also many academics to the point where not only have their demands distorted how the practice is understood, but also how it is actually implemented. Those controlling the purse strings have ended up concluding that this practice cannot be supported because, against their narrowly defined criteria, it can’t prove its effectiveness.

Indeed, by using youth work story-telling in these ways, our European colleagues have done something which in IDYW we have talked about from time to time but not actually followed through in a systematic way. My experience has been that our primary focus in workshop groups has been to ‘unpack’ a story and the youth work process it exemplifies in order to prompt practitioners and students to identify what is distinctive about their practice. This, we hope, will help strengthen their identity as youth workers and enable them to become clearer and more robust in communicating its defining (and effective) features to significant audiences – not least those sceptical policy-makers. Though story-telling’s potential for demonstrating how the practice touches young people’s lives often becomes clear as a by-product, this has not been our priority – which for us gives this new report even greater significance.

Given how the researchers defined and applied some of the IDYW Cornerstones, the report also offers some challenging prompts for further discussion and debate within IDYW networks and indeed beyond on how we have been understanding and explaining these crucial signifiers of our practice.

Bernard Davies

The research is available as an e-book at http://www.snk.fi/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Studying-the-impact-of-international-youth-work.pdf

I’m sure both our Finnish friends and ourselves would welcome comments and criticism.

‘Inspiring young people to create their social change’- Institute of Youth Work conference, May 20 in Sheffield

Message from Adam Muirhead, Chair of the Institute of Youth Work

 

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Adam Muirhead – ta to Justin Wyllie for the image

 

The 2nd Institute of Youth Work Conference and AGM, in partnership with Sheffield Hallam University, Youth Work Unit Yorkshire & Humber and YASY.

Saturday, May 20 at Sheffield Hallam University

 

We are coming together for our second ever ‘In the Service of Youth’ conference to explore this year’s theme ‘Inspiring young people to create their social change’. The cost ranges from £15 to £30 depending on IYW membership status (so for some it may be worth joining ahead of buying conference tickets).

More information on the programme workshops etc are being added soon but confirmed speakers include youth work writer Brian Belton, author of ‘Radical Youth Work’, and Pegah Moulana, UK Young Ambassador for BYC at the European Youth Forum.

We have moved the conference to Sheffield this year to try to meet those who may struggle to travel to London easily and acknowledge that our youth work world is not London-centric!

For more info and to register, go to In Service of Youth

RIP Darcus Howe – Truth teller and paladin for justice

 

Darcus Howe

Darcus Howe

 

The words above penned by Bonnie Greer resonate for any of us, who knew Darcus Howe, whether on the streets or through his writings.

Farrukh Dhondy, a playwright and commissioning editor who worked with Howe in the British Black Panther movement and on Race Today, as well as on Channel 4, said he was deeply mourning the loss of a close friend of 45 years.

“He was one of the most important immigrant activists that Britain has known. And his great gift was that he was a practical agitator for the rights of black people, and not simply a theoretician. He was, to describe it colloquially, a street-fighting man.

“It had powerful results. I am absolutely sure that the political parties and general political opinion shifted because of the agitation and stance that he, and others, took at the time in the Black Panther movement and in magazines like Race Today.”

For many youth work activists of the late 70’s and 80’s he was an inspirational figure. Up north in the Wigan Youth Service we caused controversy by subscribing to ‘Race Today’, of which he was the editor, never mind using his friend, Linton Kwesi Johnson’s poetry on training courses. We invited more criticism by our support for the mass demonstration and protests held in the aftermath of the New Cross fire, in which 13 black young people died. Unbeknown to him Darcus Howe played a significant part in our efforts to develop an anti-racist youth work practice. We remain profoundly in his debt and the struggle goes on.

See David Renton’s review of the biography of Darcus Howe by Robin Bunce and Paul Field – ‘Racism Had Taken a Beating’

If one were to write a total history of racism and anti-racism in Britain since 1945 — taking in the arrival of the Empire Windrush, the 1958 Notting Hill riots, the deaths of Blair Peach, Cynthia Jarrett and Stephen Lawrence, the stunts of Martin Webster and the brief electoral success of Nick Griffin, shifting popular ideas of solidarity or exclusion, and the changing approaches of the British state — Darcus Howe would deserve inclusion..

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

 

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

 

Still room at the IDYW conference plus can we measure and treasure character?

On Thursday I’m contributing to a Centre for Youth Impact event, ‘The Measure and the Treasure: Evaluation in personal and social development’ in London. It’s sold out. OK, I accept there is unlikely to be a connection. However I will post next week a report of the proceedings and a summary of my sceptical input into the morning panel debate.

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The Measure and the Treasure: Evaluation in personal and social development

The Centre for Youth Impact is hosting a day-long event on the 16th March 2017 focused on issues of measurement and personal and social development.
The day will explore policy, practical and philosophical debates about whether, how and why we should seek to measure the development of social and emotional skills in young people – also referred to as non-cognitive skills, soft skills and character, amongst other terms. We want to structure a thought-provoking and engaging day that introduces participants to a range of ideas and activities. The day will be designed for practitioners working directly with young people, those in an evaluation role, and funders of youth provision.

Speakers and facilitators include: Emma Revie (Ambition), Daniel Acquah (Early Intervention Foundation), Graeme Duncan (Right to Suceed), Robin Bannerjee (University of Sussex), Paul Oginsky (Personal Development Point), Jenny North (Impetus-PEF), Tony Taylor (In Defence of Youth Work), Sarah Wallbank (Yes Futures), Jack Cattell (Get the Data), Mary Darking, Carl Walker and Bethan Prosser (Brighton University), Leonie Elliott-Graves and Chas Mollet (Wac Arts), Tom Ravenscroft (Enabling Enterprise), Phil Sital-Singh (UK Youth) and Luke McCarthy (Think Forward).

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Then on Friday it’s our eighth national conference in Birmingham. To be honest the number of people registering is disappointing, well down on previous years. Although, obviously, the smaller audience, around 30 folk at the moment, will make for intense debate. This said, we’d love to see you there so it’s not too late to register or even turn up on the day.

Youth Work: Educating for good or Preventing the bad?

Details on this Facebook page or at this previous post.

Brighton and Hove’s Youth Services Survive – Blog from Preventing Inequality

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The Pre-Qual Group report from a victorious Brighton and Hove.

Our latest blog post, reflecting on the successful campaign to #protectyouthservices and how we can move forward and build on our momentum.

It begins:

Before we go anywhere in terms of analysing the result of the council’s budget meeting on February the 23rd and discussing how we can move forward, we just want to say well f****** done everybody!!! We all absolutely smashed this campaign, and youth services will survive another year!!!

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It continues:

It is incredibly important that we ask where this money which has been put back into the budget has come from. Most of it will be coming from the Housing Revenue Account, on the basis that those living in council estates are those most likely to benefit from properly funded youth services. The Housing Revenue Account records all revenue expenditure and income from council controlled housing and other services and is essentially a fund to be spent only on housing related services. Given the dire state of much council accommodation in the city (check out ETHRAG, Brighton Housing Coalition and Brighton SolFed for more information on current housing campaigns in the city) it is clear that any money which is diverted from the HRA will limit the council’s ability to deal with the poor conditions rife in council housing and flats. Although the residents of council estates will see a benefit from youth services in terms of things such as the wellbeing of young people, reduced crime and homelessness, a reduction in the HRA will likely have a negative impact on the conditions of the places they live. The issues addressed by youth services are not the same as those addressed by the HRA and as such to say the benefits of one can replace the benefits of the other is simply wrong.

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At the start of the campaign we called for the council to declare a “no cuts” budget. This is an action for which there is precedent, where the council refuses to set a budget within the funding limits set by central government. Our reasoning for this call was that the proposed cuts in the budget would be unavoidably devastating for many, if not all, of the residents of our city, with cuts going through across the board, from temporary and emergency accommodation to support for disabled adults. We believe these cuts to be shortsighted both economically and socially, and hoped that the proposed cuts to youth services might best illustrate the massive cost to our city of the Conservative government’s enforced cuts to Local Authorities. Fundamentally, we did not believe that any service that provides for the most vulnerable in our communities is more deserving of funding than another, so it would be unfair to take money from one service to fund another. Unfortunately, this call for “no cuts” quickly died as the reality of the situation dictated that such a budget would not occur, and the best we could hope for was mitigating the effects of the proposed cuts to youth services. However, this should be seen as the beginning, not the end, of calls for a “no cuts” budget.

It concludes:

Building a movement

Finally, we believe it is absolutely vital that we begin our planning and our campaigning against cuts to council services as early as possible. One thing which we have taken as a key lesson from the campaign to protect youth services is that by simply reacting to decisions we automatically put ourselves at a disadvantage. Campaigners have maintained this reactive attitude for for too long, merely responding to the latest attack on ordinary people by the political establishment. Instead we must be proactive in building a movement to defend our interests. When the proposed cuts were announced, we found ourselves in a position where we had only a couple of months to put together an effective campaign. By beginning our preparations now and building a strong coalition of groups opposed to cuts across the city we might be able to stop the cuts altogether next year, with a strong ground campaign engaging residents in the issues to gain mass support and building a strong enough case for a “no cuts” budget that the council cannot ignore it. As such, we call on every group which has fought cuts to any and all services to join us in building a movement to end the violent cycle of cuts which are destroying our city and the lives of its residents.

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.

Read this challenging and self-critical account  in full at Brighton and Hove’s Youth Services Survive