What future for state-funded youth work? Manchester and London seminars in June


In Defence of Youth Work
Engaging Critically Seminars

What future for state-funded youth work?

Manchester, Wednesday 14th June 1-4pm
London, Friday 23rd June, 1-4pm

  • What is the current role of government in providing or funding open access youth work?
  • What does this mean for young people, youth workers, and youth organisations?
  • What might we expect to see in the future, and what should we be fighting for?

Bernard Davies will start from the proposition that the local authority youth service may well have disappeared by 2020 as the model for supporting and providing open access youth work. Recognising that ‘the state’ is a complex and contested concept whose past intrusions into this form of practice with young people have not always been helpful, his recently published article in Youth and Policy 116 on which his talk will draw seeks to break out of the neo-liberal mind-set to re-imagine, for youth work, more appropriate state responses. Bernard is a widely published author on youth work and is a retired youth worker, Youth Officer, and lecturer who has been active in IDYW since it was created.

Tania de St Croix will critically discuss the government’s primary vehicle for investment in a universal youth service – the National Citizen Service. What does state support for the National Citizen Service tell us about how young people – and services for young people – are perceived in policy? Does the National Citizen Service ‘count’ as youth work, and does that matter? Six years on, is Tania’s critique of NCS in Youth and Policy 106 still relevant? Tania is a Lecturer in the Sociology of Youth and Childhood at King’s College London, a volunteer youth worker/co-op member at Voice of Youth, and has been involved in IDYW since the early days.

These short talks will be followed by open discussion on the questions above. We particularly welcome youth workers and other youth practitioners (paid or unpaid), managers, voluntary sector and local authority employees, policy makers, students, tutors/lecturers, researchers, and anyone else who is interested. The seminar is offered an opportunity to take time out from the hurly-burly of practice to think about where we are, where we are going, and what we might do differently.

In Defence of Youth Work is a forum for critical discussion on youth work. We are committed to encouraging an open and pluralist debate at a time of limited opportunities for collective discussion.

Manchester seminar: Wednesday 14th June 1-4pm at M13 Youth Project
Brunswick Parish Church Centre, Brunswick St, Manchester, M13 9TQ
A short walk or bus ride from Manchester Piccadilly. See map and directions: http://www.brunswickchurch.org.uk/contact–location.html

London seminar: Friday 23rd June, 1-4pm at King’s College London
School of Education, Communication & Society, Rm 2/21, Waterloo Bridge Wing, Waterloo Road, SE1 9NH.
Five minutes from Waterloo station (but slightly confusing to find!) See map and directions: https://www.kcl.ac.uk/sspp/departments/education/WTKings/Finding-WBW.aspx

Suggested donation to IDYW: £2-5 (students/volunteers/unwaged) / £5-10 (waged). Tea/coffee provided.

To register, email Rachel@yasy.co.uk

Please circulate around your networks the flyer for this event.

YS NCS flyer [Word]

YS NCS flyer [pdf]

Using Stories in Warwick to make the Youth Work case

Over the last few months the Warwick Workers’Forum, inspired by its involvement in an IDYW Story-Telling workshop and supported by Bernard Davies, has been working on its own collection of Stories in Practice. The process has now come to fruition and the Forum has produced an attractive and compelling booklet, ‘Youth Work Stories’. The intention is to use the booklet as a campaigning tool with both politicians and the wider community.


Ta to Jethro Brice from the original IDYW Stories book

storiesbookfinal – download the pdf via this link.

The booklet begins,

These youth work stories are just a small number of examples of the challenging but ultimately beneficial work that youth workers from Warwick District have delivered. They have been compiled because nationally and locally youth work practice is vanishing.

We want community members, decision makers and influencers to hear these stories so that they can better understand why youth work is so important and so this decline can be halted.
Youth work makes a difference. It changes lives. The way it achieves such success is often
shrouded in mystery and the profession can go unrecognised. Youth workers themselves can find it difficult to promote and celebrate their achievements and the uniqueness of youth work. This needs to change; society should recognise the value and its
Youth workers take time to build relationships of mutual trust and support with young people, working in their communities, helping them make their own decisions about their own lives, and developing their confidence and resilience.
They work where young people are – in schools, youth and community centres, at home or in the park, offering informal education opportunities starting from young people’s concerns and needs.
Nationally thousands of youth worker posts have disappeared and local government spending on young people’s services has on average decreased by 25%.

The booklet contains 10 stories preceded by an introductory context provided by Bernard Davies. As we go to press the Forum is beginning to formulate its strategy for using the booklet in conversations with councillors at a county, district, town and parish level. We look forward to hearing about how its initiative unfolds and hope it will inspire workers elsewhere to explore how to use narrative as a weapon of resistance, of both defence and offence.

We’ll put a permanent link to the pdf in the sidebar.

After the conferences : Bernard Davies reflects

In the aftermath of a series of youth work conferences and events concerned with the future, Bernard Davies offers these immediate reflections.


Some personal reflections on the struggle for a future for youth work

Three events in a month run by organisations with mandates as different as the Training Agencies Group (TAG), ChooseYouth and the Institute for Youth Work (IYW). Attended in total by around 240 people ranging from very experienced practitioners working on the front line and youth work students struggling with non-youth work placements to the Chief Executive of UK Youth and university heads of departments. And all dedicated to reflecting on the question: what future for youth work and the Youth Service? Out of the contradictions, the confusions and – yes – the conflicts, what clarifications, lessons and thoughts for possible action has all that left me with?

The diversity of the attendance was both a positive and a challenge. Given that neither ChooseYouth nor the unions that have done so much to sustain it or indeed IYW, were on the invitation list for last December’s sector collaboration conference part-sponsored by UK Youth, the up-front contributions to the ChooseYouth event of two senior UK Youth staff members certainly felt like a important step forward in alliance building.

On the other hand, the range of attendees’ roles and work settings also brought to the surface some significantly contrasting, if often taken-for-granted, perspectives on what the practice requires. For me this was captured in one discussion which produced both vivid descriptions by workers in open access settings of their struggles to negotiate managers’ demands for ‘measured outcomes’ and the apparently wholly unproblematic request from another practitioner working in a targeted programme for guidance on how, as straightforwardly as possible, to record the personal details of the young people they were working on their computer.

Nor was this the only issue to emerge where consensus seemed elusive. Many – especially, it seemed, experienced qualified workers who have for years run up against the disdain of other professions – remain keen on some form of nationally recognised ‘protection of title’/‘licence to practice’ or even a formal registration process. For others howevernot least voluntary workers – this clearly smacked of exclusiveness and even of threatening to define what they were doing as lower status.

And then, and most fundamentally, was the question: so what now do we mean by ‘youth work’? Given what has happened to the sector over the past six years, it is hardly surprising that the notion that any ‘work with young people is youth work, especially if it can make some claims to being ‘informal’, has bitten deep into the consciousness of the workforce – practitioners as well as policy-makers and managers. For such committed workers, in whatever settings they now find themselves, there seems to be no alternative but to see their use of their ‘transferable youth work skills’ as confirmation of deeply embedded personal as well as occupational identities?

So where does all that leave a ‘defence of youth work’? On the premise that we

– the sector – will be stronger together than apart, my own very personal starting point has to be to try and identify some core issues around which pluralist responses might rally. Out of my reflection on these three recent events – and recognising that as immediate ‘successes’ are now very unlikely, mid- long-term perspectives are needed – might collaboration with, for example, ChooseYouth, with TAG, IYW and the Centre for Youth Impact perhaps focus on:

  • Continuing to make the case for local all-year youth work provision which young people choose to use – arguing that case on the evidence going back decades that those facilities are likely to be attended regularly and/or sampled by anything up to a million 13-19 year olds, and that – contradicting the presumed constraints of ‘austerity’many could be funded out of the £89M currently spent on the 58,000 16-19 year olds enrolling in the NCS.
  • Supporting university courses which, as part of their efforts to maintain recruitment, are reaching out to FE students – particularly those on access courses; and also getting the word out in more systematic ways that, even in the current tough graduate employment market, their students are getting jobs.
  • Highlighting the appropriateness for youth work of qualitative forms of evaluation focused on the ‘how’ of the practice (on its process and methods) and not just, as so often now, on its impacts including perhaps by seeking funds for a collaborative piece of research into how the kinds of youth work story-telling which IDYW has been developing could contribute to this.

Not much to go on, perhaps – but maybe something to help concentrate our debates on what, beyond the rhetoric often running through these three conferences, collaboration’ and ‘alliance-building’ might actually look like on the ground.

Bernard Davies

April 2016

ChooseYouth and Institute of Youth Work April Events


Whilst we have announced the postponement of our national conference at the beginning of April there’s still plenty going on, with which we’re involved. For example Bernard Davies is the keynote speaker at the Institute for Youth Work conference – see below.


choose youth logo

On Wednesday, April 13 ChooseYouth is organising a forum, ‘Youth Work and Youth Services: Our Shared Future’ at the UNITE offices in London.

The fledgling youth service was nearly abandoned by funders in the late nineteen fifties and all those concerned banded together and not only rescued it, but they created the modern youth service with public funding, national collective bargaining through JNC a respected professional qualification and training and support structures for part time worker and volunteers.

Unfortunately, as we all know, this once world leading infrastructure and set of professional practices within personal and social education has not just been cut, it has been so severely affected since 2010 that all providers are struggling and the essential education and support that youth work offers is being destroyed. This adds immeasurably to the pressures young people face at a time when they need youth workers more than ever.

The unity of purpose evident amongst all those who built the service two generations ago is much needed again and we reflect also that at times of danger to the service in the eighties and nineties it was only alliances of the main organisations concerned about young people that pulled us through.

Since 2010 ChooseYouth has successfully flown the flag as a broad alliance. At our January meeting there was a strong feeling that we need to create a new opportunity for every concerned organisation to get together and see what more can be done to secure a future for youth work and youth services.

We therefore invite all interested parties to an open forum to discuss what more can be done together to protect and enhance essential services for young people through youth work.

Full details and registration at Our Shared Future



On Saturday, April 16 the Institute for Youth Work, together with the London Metropolitan University, is organising a conference, ‘In the Service of Youth’.

Adam Muirhead, Chair of the Institute for Youth Work


Áine Woods, Senior lecturer/Course Leader Youth Work, London Metropolitan University

Would like to invite you to our joint conference this year, entitled ‘In the Service of Youth’ on Saturday 16th April 2016, hosted at London Metropolitan University
This national conference aims to bring together youth work practitioners, policy makers and commentators to discuss contemporary issues for the youth sector and develop actions for the Institute of Youth Work (IYW) to lead on over the next year.

We would love to see as many of our members attend, to meet the team, hear about developments and engage in shaping the future of the IYW.

London Metropolitan University hope to promote a collaborative discussion relating to the current position of the services on offer to young people. London Met are keen to provide a platform to showcase initiatives and examples of good practice across a range of services for young people.

Key discussions will include: promoting anti-oppressive practices nationwide; LGBTQ youth work; tackling racism; exploring the pressures that young people engaging in gang culture face, as well as new funding initiatives.

Projects, clubs and individual practitioners are welcome to display their work at our best-practice marketplace.

Those considering a career in youth work will have the opportunity to meet current students and practitioners.

Let’s keep our services for young people alive, celebrating work with young people.

There is a small charge for the event

Further details and registration at In the Service of Youth

The Youth Sector – Bernard Davies questions the trajectory


Ta to nacocanada.com

‘Charting a new course for Youth Services: some questions about the trajectory’?

If ever youth workers and the organisations that support and serve them needed to pull together, then now is that time. I for one have therefore welcomed the Youth Sector Collaboration Consultation initiated last October by NCVYS, UK Youth and Ambition and was pleased that IDYW was able to have two representatives at the open consultation event in London in November.

However the paper released by the three organisations outlining the consultations’ findings and a proposed set of actions for me raises a number of difficult questions. Some are about the final stages of the process – a two-day by-invitation event with the title ‘Changing the Trajectory – Charting a New Course for Youth Services’. This brought together thirty people from all the high profile national and some local voluntary youth organisations plus government and local authority representatives, academics, funders and the Centre for Youth Impact, with young people’s ‘voice’ represented by BYC and NUS. Significantly however no-one was invited from the somewhat maverick Woodcraft Folk, nor from the Institute of Youth Work, nor indeed from the youth work trade unions.   

Questions also now need to be asked, I believe, about the actual proposals, starting with the paper’s bold opening statement: ‘Government and the youth sector are united in their aim to improve outcomes for young people’. United 100%? On all possible, even likely, outcomes? Such as under-25s’ threatened loss of housing benefit? And the votelessness of 16 and 17 year olds in the coming European referendum? To say nothing of, between 2012 and 2014, the ‘outcome’ of 41,000 fewer youth club places – and rising? Is there nowhere within this claimed consensus for some of these ‘leadership organisations’ at least to take on the role of critical friend to ‘government’ – to advocate openly on behalf of all those young people now living very precarious lives, whose futures look no less precarious and who already been labelled ‘the lost generation’?

And then, for so many organisations whose history is inseparable from the history of youth work, there is the question: so where in this statement is the youth work? The paper manages two passing mentions. One, in a throw-back to the Victorian origins of many of the organisations involved, is to youth workers (together with ‘commission trainers’ and teachers) to ‘share and create character related materials for every school in the country’; the other to ‘youth work training for new forms of delivery organisation’.

What we get instead are frequent and often unexplained references to ‘non-formal education’; to ‘social development’; to the government’s failing apprenticeships scheme; to ‘social action’ (exemplified at one point as ‘working as a team to refurbish a Nursing Home’); and, as if this is or could be a substitute for all those lost local and open access youth club places, to the National Citizens Service. All underpinned by assumptions about the need for ‘new business models’ to shape those new delivery organisations and for ‘metrics’ which demonstrate outcomes overwhelmingly starting from the presumption that, within an environment taken overall to be benign, it is just the individual young person who needs to be ‘developed’.

At this stage I pose these questions on the premise that the query which headed the UK Youth blog on the findings paper: ‘Where Next for the Youth Sector?’ is a genuinely open one intended to prompt further debate on the crucial issues the consultation has raised. In this spirit I also look forward to IDYW collectively contributing further by offering its own positive vision for ‘charting a new course for youth services’ and in particular for that distinctive and, by young people, much needed practice we know as youth work.  

Bernard Davies,  January 2016

A Text for our Times : Bernard Davies reviews Youth Work : Histories, Policy and Contexts


graham bright

A (partial) review of Youth Work: Histories, Policy and Contexts (2015), edited by Graham Bright, published by Palgrave

This piece makes no claim to being a full review of this important book – a welcome and, these days, all too rare addition to the literature on youth work. Doing full justice to (in this case) thirteen papers written by fifteen different contributors on topics ranging from ‘Uniformed Youth Work’, ‘Youth Work and the Church’ and ‘Questioning “Muslim Youth”’ to ‘Relocating Detached Youth Work’, ‘Youth Work in Schools’ and ‘Youth Work in Digital Spaces’ – that, it seems to me, is a hard act to pull off in two-to-three thousand words. What follows therefore are some personal reactions to the first six chapters and the concluding chapter which, taken together, provide a valuable updated and critical overview of youth work’s development. In particular they focus our thinking on the role of the state from tentative beginnings via significant expansion to, now, swift decline; its shifting relationship with the voluntary youth sector; and the wider policy terrain on which youth work is now operating.

Analysing politically?

In offering even this partial review, I need to start with a clarification – or is it a confession? I read nothing about youth work these days without sooner or later finding myself asking: so is this article or paper or book locating its discussion within the policies which frame and so often constrain the practice? Is it, furthermore, confronting the politics of those policies – first recognising and then at least to some degree explicitly seeking to unpick and explain their underpinning values and their inbuilt power relations and dynamics? Or does it duck and dive around these questions by taking as a given – even perhaps as self-evidently benign – the wider contextual and especially structural realities: the sense of entitlement of privileged and powerful interests to determine what should and should not be done, and how; and, defined often by class or gender or race, the greatly narrowed if not actually blocked room for manoeuvre of most other individuals, groups and communities?

The sections of the book reviewed here, I have to say, not only avoid this ducking and diving. Chapter by chapter, they each adopt up-front political perspectives well supported by analysis and evidence, some based on the author’s original research. Graham Bright, the book’s editor, sets the overall tone in the opening paper – on youth work’s emergence as a distinctive way of working with young people. In a chapter tellingly headed ‘Our contemporary need for history’ he for example asserts:

Understanding the heritage of any profession is of key importance to critical reflection, and to shaping the direction of future policy and practice.

– adding that

youth work is highly susceptible to the changing tides of policy, which increasingly appear to marginalize it in the wake of the neo-liberal drifts.

Importantly, too, he reminds us that;

the meanings and discourses attached to “youth” are socially constructed and change over time

– with the very notion of adolescence having been constructed at a particular historical moment in response to the changing economic and especially industrial conditions and demands of the later nineteenth century.

Other contributors then consistently reinforce this kind of wider contextualisation. Simon Bradford, in surveying youth work’s development over the nearly sixty years up to 1996, in part entitles his chapter ‘State beneficence or government control…?’. He then goes on to suggest that

Governmentality designates a political rationality in which power is exercised over social and cultural space to create and sustain order and stability over time.

Tania de St Croix, in her exploration of the impact on youth work of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, comments that:

New Labour’s brand of neo-liberal youth work was broadly directed towards social control.

Pat Norris and Carole Pugh’s chapter on ‘Local Authority Youth Work’ notes how under the Coalition ‘neo-liberal agendas provide an ominous backdrop to the current position’. And in some detail Ilona Buchroth and Marc Husband, in their contribution ‘Youth Work in the Voluntary Sector’, track how all recent governments have for their own strategic purposes corrupted voluntary organisations’ independence by corralling them into something they have rebadged as ‘the third sector’ – that is, as third in line to the state and the market – while at the same time (like it or not) requiring them to be closely integrated with both. What often also becomes clearer from reading this and other chapters is how the market has in effect now been constructed as ‘the first sector’ with the state struggling to retain its ranking even as number two.

In his chapter ‘In the Service of the State: Youth Work under New Labour’, Howard Sercombe spells out some of the values underpinning of all of this. He points for example to New Labour’s

fundamental belief in the efficacy of the market as a way mediating human interactions of any kind, and facilitating the best and most efficient effort (or ‘maximising goods’) of any kind, including time, emotion, commitment and kindness, as well as objects and commodities’.

He then goes on to pair this neo-liberal stance with what he calls – and what attracts comment in other chapters – its ‘methodological’ underpinning:

the application of New Public Management techniques in order to control and govern processes within government and across domains over which the state had substantive control.

In his concluding chapter ‘In Search of Soul: Where Now for Youth and Community Work?’, Bright seems barely able to conceal his anger with all of this:

Political presumption in pronouncing collective social values is staggering; it conditions by drip-feed narrow and often illiberal views concerning society at large and young people in particular. It says ‘our’ values are right while assuming they are universally shared. Yet, such attitudes … are unable to recognise the sheer hypocrisy that these ‘values’ … not only reproduce, but also exacerbate structural inequalities, and further impoverish social conditions.

Continue reading

Story-Telling Workshops 2015 – A Review plus International News

Bernard Davies has sent us the following review of our Story-Telling workshops initiative. It’s important to underline that our offer of a Story-Telling workshop is still very much on the table.

And to add on 19/01  news filtering through that we have been invited via Jon Ord to run a story-telling workshop at a forthcoming conference in Helsinki, Finland and that we are in exploratory conversation with academics in northern Argentina about story-telling and community work. In addition it looks as if our book, ‘This is Youth Work’ is to be translated into Japanese.


Ta to dtelepathy.com

Youth work story-telling workshops: a brief review of 2015

The response

IDYW ran a total of 12 story-telling workshops in 2015 for around 230 participants. Six were hosted by higher education institutions for students and local workers and managers, including one at Ulster University. One was offered to their field workers by two local authorities working together; one was arranged specially for twelve visiting Japanese workers’, managers and academics; two, held in Athlone in the Irish Republic for volunteers and paid workers from different parts of the country, came out of a ‘taster’ day in Dublin for youth officers and development officers.

The process

As in the past, at the heart of the workshops were small group sessions of six – twelve participants. Prompted by one of IDYW’s seven experienced facilitators, each small group focused on the narration and analysis (‘unpicking’) of an example of practice offered by a group member and chosen by the group for its potential to illuminate the ‘cornerstones’ of youth work (see https://indefenceofyouthwork.com/idyw-statement-2014/ p1). A final exercise focused on how participants were trying to defend this practice in their workplace and beyond – something which has become both more challenging and more necessary as the workshops have increasingly attracted participants not working in open access settings.

The story-telling web resource

At the start of 2015 IDYW published a web-based resource ‘Story-telling in Youth Work’ (https://indefenceofyouthwork.com/the-stories-project/story-telling-in-youth-work/case), drawing on its collective experience of developing the story-telling approach. This includes case studies of stories being ‘unpicked’ in a small group and the materials IDYW has produced over the last five years to support the workshops. By mid-Oct the site had had over 1000 visitors from over 50 countries.

Feedback …

the session … demonstrated the value of time spent with peers to critically reflect on our practice – not only did we benefit from hearing a variety of perspectives as we contemplated one particular scenario but it allowed space for fresh insights, encouragement and affirmation.

(It was) good to get ‘back to basics’.

I think what was really memorable was when other participants in the group began to ask questions of the person sharing their story and ‘unpick’ it… and also to empathise with the story being told.

and a work in progress: into 2016 – and beyond

In addition to seeking out and responding to invitations to run workshops, IDYW has three other priorities for 2016:

  • To pilot facilitator training in the use of story-telling.
  • To test out further if and how it can be used to provide evidence of the value of youth work to the young people who engage with it.
  • To submit a bid for funds for a research project with the provisional title ‘Articulating youth work’s purpose, process and impact through story-telling’.

If you are interested in hosting a workshop or being involved in any of these activities, contact Bernard Davies at davies@vip.solis.co.uk.