Bernard Davies responds to Labour’s skewed youth work vision

Further to our post questioning the direction of the recent Labour Party commitment to youth services, Reviving Youth Work as Soft-Policing: Labour Party Policy? you will find below a letter to the Guardian from Bernard Davies, which was sadly not published.



Bernard listens attentively to Jon Ord – ta to Justin Wylie for the photo


A commitment by one of the main political parties to require councils to provide a minimum level of local youth provision (‘Labour vows to rebuild youth services’, 31 July) is to be welcomed after the way those services have been devastated under ‘austerity’. As a sign that it is taking this seriously, it is good to know, too, that it has commissioned its own research to support other findings that council spending on these services has fallen by at least 50% since 2012.

For those of us who were involved in youth work before all this started, however, Labour’s rationale for its policy in very depressing. Without in any way denying the importance of tackling youth crime, and in particular knife crime, it is surely worth restating that most of the up to nearly 30% of the 10-15 age group who were using or sampling youth work facilities in 2013 were not actual or even potential criminals. Whether they engaged as a member of a now abandoned club or through a now closed-down detached work project, the work started from the interests and concerns they brought with them and had unashamedly educational and developmental goals. It thus assumed their potential and sought to encourage and support them to go, not just to where they’d never been before, but to where, individually and with their peers, they might never have dreamed of going. Along the way, of course, the practice might also often turn out to be ‘preventative’ of all sorts of less positive outcomes.

Why is a party which claims to be breaking out of the dominant neo-liberal ways of making policy adopting such unimaginative, conformist and indeed negative aspirations in its approach to this, for young people, crucial area of public services?


Bernard Davies

Clearly, it is incumbent on us to respond to the Labour Party [LP] consultation led by Cat Smith, the party’s shadow youth minister. We’ll do a separate post this week explaining how to make a submission. It’s not necessary to be an LP member to be involved.



WHY YOUTH WORK? A participatory workshop

with Bernard Davies

Tuesday 5th October 2010, 10.00-13.00

Park Road Community Centre, Elswick, Newcastle NE4 7RW

This workshop is organised by the Developing and Defending Youth Work in the North East. It will provide an opportunity for all those who work with young people and who have a commitment to youth work (as volunteers, paid workers, managers, trainers and educators) to discuss key issues facing us in the constantly changing context for practice and policy.

  • Is there something special about the process of youth work? What makes it special? Does it have a purpose and if so what? What do young people actually get out of youth work and the relationships they have with youth workers?
  • Can youth work make a difference to young people’s lives? Can we define what is meant by ‘good youth work’?
  • What are the success stories of youth work? Can they be put into words? More often than not our work is measured by numbers and by outcomes that have been set by politicians and funding bodies. But what effect does our work really have?

Following an introduction from Bernard Davies, participants will be invited to form discussion groups  to explore their experiences of youth work around themes such as:

  • Building & sustaining relationships with young people
  • Working in groups
  • Detached youth work
  • Inter-agency working for surveillance
  • Meeting young people on their terms vs meeting pre-determined outcomes

We aim to create a report from the discussions at this event to record the fine detail of the youth work process that is often not recognised by the general public and politicians.  You will also get the choice to be (or not be) in a discussion group that is video-recorded. We aim to make a DVD to capture the stories that highlight the real value of youth work.  Only those participants who give permission will be included in the DVD.

10.00      Tea, coffee & registration

10.30      Introduction, Bernard Davies

11.00      Discussion groups

12.30      Feedback

13.00      Buffet lunch

BERNARD DAVIES has been involved in youth work over many years as a practitioner, manager, trainer, policy-maker, researcher, writer and trade unionist. He has published widely on young people and youth work, including: Threatening Youth; Youth Work: A Manifesto for Our Times; A History of the Youth Service in England; and Squaring the Circle, a recent inquiry with Bryan Merton into the state of youth work.

DIRECTIONS TO VENUEComing by car: Just off Scotswood Road, turn off right when heading out of town from Newcastle onto Park Road next to Cruddas Park flats, the centre is half way up the road on the left. Public Transport: next to the No1 Bus route from Newcastle Central station, look for buses heading towards Slatyford or Buddle Road, get off at Cruddas Park shopping centre on Westmorland road. The community centre is just behind the shopping centre.

BOOKINGS – in order for us to plan lunch, please register your intention to attend and state any specific dietary or access requirements by contacting: or 0191 2742429, ask for Pearl or Don.

WHY YOUTH WORK, flyer for 5 Oct 2010, Newcastle