Searching for Pearls: Reflections on Researching the Life and Work of Pearl Jephcott

Notice of the following event focused on the remarkable figure of Pearl  Jephcott, who between 1922 and 1946 was by turns a volunteer girls’ club worker, Organising Secretary for the Birmingham Union of Girls’ Clubs, the occupant of a similar post in County Durham and finally the Publications Officer for the National Association of Girls’ Clubs – thanks for this background to Tony Jeffs, who has a forthcoming article on this period in her life. The Leicester seminar looks more widely at her ensuing career as a pioneering social science researcher.


The next MediaCom Seminar hosted by the School of Media, Communication and Sociology at the University of Leicester will take place on Wednesday 10 May with Professor John Goodwin (University of Leicester).

The seminar will take place 4:00-5:30 pm on Wednesday 10 May in Bankfield House Lecture Theatre – all welcome.

School of Media, Communication and Sociology
University of Leicester
Bankfield House
132 New Walk

Searching for Pearls: Reflections on Researching the Life and Work of Pearl Jephcott

Pearl Jephcott (1900-1980), in a research career spanning some forty years, made an outstanding contribution to British social science research. Her key works, included Girls Growing Up (1942), Rising Twenty (1948), Some Young People (1954), Married Women Working (1962), A Troubled Area: Notes on Notting Hill (1964), Time of One’s Own (1967) and Homes in High Flats (1971), alongside numerous other reports and articles. These publications paved the way for many of the subsequent developments that were to come in the sociology of gender, women’s’ studies, urban sociology, the sociology of youth and are replete with originality, innovation and sociological imagination. Yet despite this Jephcott’s work has become neglected – seemingly relegated to second-hand booksellers and to ‘studies from the past’. As such in this paper I aim to do three things. First, I begin by providing a biographical sketch of Pearl Jephcott as well as reflecting upon key aspects of her early biography that helped inform her subsequent sociological practice. Second, I will provide an overview of her key works and draw out their contemporary relevance. Finally, I want to reflect on the ‘processes’ of researching a ‘past sociologist’ and the impact the research has had on my own sociological practice.

Spare Rib, Women and Innovative Youth Work


The appearance of Spare Rib in the Briarcroft Training centre of the Wigan Youth Service back in 1978 was symbolic. Whether organised on the shelves or strewn amidst the cushions in our ‘trendy’ groupwork room it reflected a major shift in the youth work outlook of that northern Metropolitan Borough.  Even getting the agreement of the education bureaucracy to subscribe to this dangerous magazine was greeted with dismissive opposition. However  the sheer energy and passion brought into the Service by women involved in the Women’s Movement, the force of their arguments, won over key men in the Education Department hierarchy. ‘Boys Rule not OK!’ events were organised. A Youth Service Women’s Group, bringing together part and full-time workers, secured support and funding. The very first full-time Girls’ Worker was appointed. Girls’ Nights flourished. Male workers and young men were challenged. The local CYSA branch was to be transformed, playing its part in the creation of CYWU with its radical constitution, the Women’s Caucus to the fore. It was a time, dare we use words exhausted by their relentless and inappropriate invocation nowadays, of creativity and innovation. This Wigan experience was replicated in Youth Services across the country.

Hence, in reminding us of this history, of a challenging youth work practice that had to make its case against the odds, it’s brilliant to see that all 239 editions of the landmark feminist magazine, Spare Rib are to be published online for the first time.

Spare Rib enters the digital age

Few titles sum up an era and a movement like Spare Rib. With its commitment to challenging the status quo, Spare Rib battled oppression and gave a voice to the struggles, discussions and debates of diverse groups of women over the 21 years it was in print (1972-1993)

Disjointed and Demoralised: Fighting Back

Charlie Carr’s speech to the Bradford IN DEFENCE event raises a range of vital questions for all of us.

Hello everybody,

My name is Charlie Carr. I am a full time detached youth worker within Targeted Youth Support, a member of CYWU and I sit on the newly formed national steering group for the in defence of youth work campaign.

This is the third time I will have spoken either at a union event or on behalf of the union and it isn’t getting any less scary!!

It was very nice to be asked to have a little input in today’s session which will just involve a brief outline of my experience with CYWU and a little bit about the in defence of campaign.

I studied at St Martins and although I was aware that changes were occurring, to witness these first hand was something quite different. The openness and informality of the work that I learned about and had become passionate about through my studies didn’t run parallel with some of the things that were happening on the ground. For example, whilst running a girls group I started to become affected by the pressures to meet targets set by a different agenda. I realised that the spontaneity and natural flow of our sessions was hindered by my conscious and distracting efforts to find an opportunity for accreditation.

Also, I was proud to be part of a profession whose relationships with young people were based on honesty and trust but very soon became disappointed that this was not reflected throughout other aspects of the work. I mean this in the way that workers have felt under pressure to manipulate various bits of paperwork and recordings which are not fully relevant to young people’s experience. For example, I hardly think canoeing can be squeezed in to the box of ‘economic well-being’ yet a colleague once claimed as much in their endeavour to tick boxes, however inappropriately! In this respect, it felt like the values of honesty and trust were not in line with some of the practise that was happening.

Thus, I had emerged from University as an idealistic and optimistic young youth worker, into an environment of disjointed values and demoralised workers that these pressures as well as others have the potential to create.

The overarching feeling this brought was confusion.

  • Confusion about why youth work is under such massive threat from national and local government when it is so valuable to young people’s personal and social development.
  • Confusion about why there are so many newly qualified and also practised youth workers struggling to find substantial posts in youth work when it is so valuable to unlocking young people’s potential.
  • And confusion as to why the voluntary and reciprocal relationships between youth workers and young people are being put under immense strains in various ways when it is so valuable in its uniqueness and affirming nature.

As I gain more experience though, and listen to the voices of others I have realised that feeling confused is actually ok…I think!!

To put it a little more eloquently, ‘if you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention.’

On first joining the CYWU I was actually quite overwhelmed and even a little bit intimidated by the sheer amount of experience and knowledge that seemed to be in one place at one time. My first experience of being amongst other Unionists was at the national conference in Eastbourne nearly three years ago. This played a massive part in my still ongoing politicisation as I was able to start locating what were quite abstract issues into reality.

For example, I began to make links between the threat to the core values of youth work and how this was manifesting itself in cuts to youth work provision across the country. Most importantly, this was able to take place in a safe and supportive network of youth workers.

Since this conference, I have attended another national conference, student conference which is a vital space in which to be heard, a march for jobs rally in Birmingham with seven thousand other Unionists, and have most recently been invited to Cuba for the annual Young Unionists Brigade.

As some of you may be aware, CYWU, as well as Unison, are in a position of solidarity to the In Defence of Campaign. CYWU are actually putting forward a motion at their next conference that expresses their support. Likewise, the In defence of campaign is encouraging members to also be aware of local level attacks that the Union are fighting that actually embody what it is we are defending as a campaign.

In this current climate, I feel the link between CYWU and IDOYW are inextricable. They are different and they are the same but the core principle of each is the protection of something very precious. So part of my role on the steering group is to try to represent the unions position on various debates and try to liaise between the two – and as someone who is still learning so much this sometimes seems quite a degree of responsibility! However, I recognise the importance in the dialogue that IDOYW creates the space for. It is, of course, the thing that has the potential to give youth work its power but that is only realised in the strength of the collective yet the individual, the agreeing yet disagreeing and the political yet accessible voice of a body youth workers.

I was recently put in a precarious situation in the workplace and although it really wasn’t as bad I felt at the time, what was massively comforting as I worried and got all self critical was remembering that I am part of something. The CYWU would protect my role on a practical level if needed and The IDOYW campaign offers a critical space for reflection with its emphasis on defending youth work values.

I suppose what I am really saying is that it is OK not to have all the answers but it is so important to ask the questions. So I hope everyone gets a lot out of today and uses the opportunity to explore some of the contradictions we face as a profession.

And remember, ‘one who asks a question is a fool for five minutes, one who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.’

And as the great philosopher, Mr T once said, ‘I Pity the Fool!’

Youth Work – What Future?

For ease we were going to copy and paste the Workshop report from the North-East’s September meeting in its entirety, but unfortunately the format would not cooperate. However find below the informative and challenging account pulled together by Sarah Banks – a must read.

Developing and defending youth work 2: The Future of Youth Work

In addition we attach the notes of the Working with Girls workshop, which was part of the same event.

Feedback from the Working with Girls Workshop – NE September 21

Thanks to our North-East supporters for all their hard graft.

Thinking Seriously about Work with Girls and Young Women

Thinking Seriously

About Youth Work and Work With Girls and Young Women

22nd 23rd March 2010

Hinsley Hall, Leeds

The second of the biannual ‘Thinking Seriously’ conferences organized by ‘Youth and Policy’ is to focus on the subject of Work With Girls and Young Women.

The intention of the ‘Thinking Seriously’ conferences is to offer participants an opportunity to discuss youth work and other approaches to work with young people in a serious, reflective and analytical way, benefiting from analysis and research as well as practice experience across a range of settings and localities. The events are deliberately structured to be small scale to encourage sustained and open critical discussion and developmental conversation amongst participants.

The 2010 conference will approach the question of work with girls and young women from the broad perspective of gender inequality and difference and will seek to develop a critical understanding of current policy agendas and the particular professional specialisms associated with work with girls and young women.

In keeping with the intention to create an atmosphere and setting favourable to debate and conversation, we shall restrict attendance to a maximum of 60 and ask all participants to make a commitment to attend for the whole two day event so book early to guarantee a place!

Find further information and a booking form below, please get in touch if you require any further information.
This is a women’s only event, which has already sparked a classic debate on the In Defence Google group, to which you might subscribe –

In this context too,  find below the transcript of  the presentation given by Tania de St Croix at the recent UK Youth/Feminist Webs National Girls’ Work conference, the first to be held for 15 years.

Off Target: Girls Work, Control and Inequality

Talk at UK Youth Girls Work Conference, Tania de St Croix, 08/09/09

Tania begins:

I am not an experienced speaker and this is way out of my comfort zone! So why did I say yes? Because I don’t think we face-to-face workers speak up often enough. Because I love youth work and girls work. And because they are under threat.

The kind of youth work I love is not the special events, it’s what I try to do every night: usually improvised, mostly informal, sometimes chaotic, often creative and always questioning.

And I believe this is a time in youth work history when all of us who practice this kind of youth work need to take action if we want it to survive.

tania girls work speech september 09

Girls' Work: Threat or New Dawn?

As we discuss both  defending and extending a democratic and emancipatory youth work,  UK Youth are organising a one day conference, Girls’ Work: Threat or New Dawn to be held on Tuesday, September 8 at Hinsley Hall, Leeds.

Youth work with young women has a long history, but an uncertain future. Due to targets, current funding mechanisms and a focus on troublesome male youth. This one day conference of presentations, workshops, and groupwork will seek to draw lessons from past and present practice. It will consider how we can find ways in which girls work can develop and expand in the future.

Please download the booking form at

Girls’ Work: Threat or New Dawn?

As we discuss both  defending and extending a democratic and emancipatory youth work,  UK Youth are organising a one day conference, Girls’ Work: Threat or New Dawn to be held on Tuesday, September 8 at Hinsley Hall, Leeds.

Youth work with young women has a long history, but an uncertain future. Due to targets, current funding mechanisms and a focus on troublesome male youth. This one day conference of presentations, workshops, and groupwork will seek to draw lessons from past and present practice. It will consider how we can find ways in which girls work can develop and expand in the future.

Please download the booking form at