Thinking seriously about youth work. And how to prepare people to do it – views from across Europe

Following on from our recent reference to Youth Work in the Commonwealth: A Growth Profession news from Europe of a challenging publication, ‘Thinking Seriously about Youth Work’, which houses over 37 thought-provoking chapters plus a compelling introduction and conclusion. As someone, who over the years has lost some of his faith in the power of the written word, a major concern is that this flood of diverse analysis will drown the potential reader’s interest before they even dip their toe into its contents. I hope my pessimism is misplaced. For now my favourite piece is ‘Youth work in Flanders – Playful usefulness and useful playfulness’ by Guy Redig and Filip Coussée, who, in suggesting that youth work is a necessary kind of wild zone and free space in society, crucial to democracy itself, note that,

Flanders youth work operates on the front line. The vast majority of (local) youth work can be described as intuitively hostile to demands for utility or instrumentalisation. At the same time, it has to survive the dominant discourse of using all resources – including youth work – for economic activation and adaptation in a neoliberal system. For the more pessimistic prophets, Flemish youth work can be classified as an anachronism close to extinction, soon to be replaced by professional, efficient and smooth concepts suited to multiple purposes. For other observers, the authenticity, autonomy and joie de vivre of Flemish youth work are unbeatable and will survive con brio. Youth work will survive, stubborn and petulant, peevish and cross, generation after generation.

The complete publication is available online via the following link.


Thinking seriously about youth work. And how to prepare people to do it

Hanjo Schild, Nuala Connolly, Francine Labadie, Jan Vanhee, Howard Williamson (eds.)                                                                                                                                                      


If we consider the 50 states having ratified the European Cultural Convention of the Council of Europe or the member states of the European Union, the multiple and divergent nature of the realities, theories, concepts and strategies underlying the expression “youth work” becomes evident. Across Europe, youth work takes place in circumstances presenting enormous differences with regard to opportunities, support, structures, recognition and realities, and how it performs reflects the social, cultural, political and economic context and the value systems in which it is undertaken.

By analysing theories and concepts of youth work and by providing insight from various perspectives and geographical and professional backgrounds, the authors hope to further contribute to finding common ground for – and thus assure the quality of – youth work in general. Presenting its purified and essential concept is not the objective here. The focus rather is on describing how to “provide opportunities for all young people to shape their own futures”, as Peter Lauritzen described the fundamental mission of youth work.

The best way to do this remains an open question. This Youth Knowledge book tries to find some answers and strives to communicate the strengths, capacities and impact of youth work to those within the youth sector and those beyond, to those familiar with its concepts and those new to this field, all the while sharing practices and insights and encouraging further reflection.


Section I – Theories and concepts in selected European regions and countries includes:

Winning space, building bridges – What youth work is all about by Howard Williamson

Youth work and youth social work in Germany by Andreas Thimmel

Thinking about youth work in Ireland by Maurice Devlin

Influential theories and concepts in UK youth work – What’s going on in England? by Pauline Grace and Tony   Taylor


Section II – Key challenges of youth work today includes:

 Youth work and an internationally agreed definition of youth work – More than a tough job by Guy Redig

Keep calm and repeat – Youth work is not (unfortunately) just fun and games by Özgehan Şenyuva and Tomi   Kiilakoski

Young people, youth work and the digital world by Nuala Connolly

Youth radicalisation and the role of youth work in times of (in)security by Dora Giannaki


Section III – Reflections on the recommendations made in the Declaration of the 2nd European Youth Work Convention includes:

 Further exploring the common ground – Some introductory remarks by Hanjo Schild

Towards knowledge-based youth work by Helmut Fennes

Funding sustainable youth work by Claudius Siebel

Youth work, cross-sectoral youth policy, and co-operation: critical reflections on a puzzling relationship by Magda Nico





In the Aftermath : Does Europe offer a way forward for Youth Work?

HW Europe 2

Earlier this month we commented favourably on the appearance of a Second European Youth Work Declaration in a post, Developing Youth Work in Europe : Do we want to be part of it? We were more than pleasantly surprised by its progressive tone and content, despite the inevitable pressure to stress youth work’s role in improving ’employability’ and combating extremism/radicalisation, the latter dangerously slippery concepts. Great credit is due to those, who burnt the midnight oil in producing the document, not least Howard Williamson, a major figure on the European scene for many a decade. It is clear that the group did listen to messages coming from the floor of the Convention and that a bureaucratic script was not written in advance.


Youth work is not a luxury but an existential necessity if a precarious Europe is to effectively address its concerns about social inclusion, cohesion and equal opportunities, and commitment to values of democracy and human rights. Youth work is a central component of a social Europe.
A failure to invest in youth work has three consequences. It is an abdication of responsibility to the next generation. It is a loss of opportunity to strengthen contemporary civil society throughout Europe. And finally, it weakens the potential for dealing effectively with some of the major social challenges (such as unemployment and extremism) of our time.

Such Declarations can easily gather dust on politicians’ and management’s shelves, never even coming to the notice of many youth workers. However in the aftermath of the General Election in the UK and the continuing crisis facing youth work, especially perhaps in England, there is a powerful case for considering whether the European Declaration can be a rallying call. Certainly in the coming weeks we will be sounding out tentatively whether major youth work players feel there is mileage in an initial major conference, which uses the Declaration as a catalyst to a renewed debate across our differences about the future. Faced by five years of continued Tory austerity and hostility to informal education don’t we need to explore how we will resist or indeed how we will compromise?

Read in full – The 2nd European Youth Work Declaration_FINAL

Feeling shattered, proud and even hopeful

Howard Williamson summing up

Howard Williamson summing up

The Second European Convention closed yesterday. Is that of any consequence for youth work in the UK and perhaps especially England? We’ll try to say more about this next week. In the meantime this is an initial reaction from Pauline Grace, who I can vouch hardly stopped for breath over the four days.

So far this week I’ve managed to rekindle my passion and commitment to political, social, economic and philosophical debates within and about Youth Work. I’m exhausted and I’m not even involved in the huge task of trying to capture the conventions thoughts to be written up in the shape of the declaration – hats off to the dedicated hard working group that will be working through the night on that one! But I am tired, tired because I’ve spent almost every waking hour since Monday immersed in the narrative and discourse of youth work. Is that really hard work? Well I suppose I’m no manual labourer so to equate this experience to hard work might be slightly disingenuous.

Hard work in this European Youth Work Convention 2015 context means Intense full-on days full of guest speakers, politicians, workshops and declaration preparations minimum 12+ hours per day and that’s without the ‘networking’. That even whilst eating or on coffee break the conversation continues and there is little space or time to contemplate other aspects of daily existence.

For me it is essential that we have this wide ranging exploration of youth work at a European (Global) level if we in England are ever going to survive the culling of state funded youth work. We are going to need the allies of our European colleagues and friends to help us maintain a sense of purpose and direction.

In these depressing and sad times when good youth workers have been made redundant, young people have lost access to youth work projects and processes, missing out on the incredibly positive experience of learning about themselves and others, about the world and where they fit (or don’t). It is even more important to find collective shared narratives to remind us of why we are bothered at all.

Youth work for me has always been more than a job, it’s been a vocation. Which I guess in some people’s eyes makes me a very sad bunny!

But so far I’ve met with some amazing fellow travellers, people who have dedicated their whole life to working in a democratic liberatory and emancipatory way with young people. Workers committed to working with and alongside young people, workers who are on young people’s side, who consciously and deliberately seek to support young people in the face of moral panics and stereotyping.

I’ve meet researchers, activists, policy makers, high flying Eurocrats, ordinary volunteers and all with one thing in common…. A deep felt commitment to young people and youth work.

Feeling shattered, proud, enthused and hopeful!

Finding Common Ground : Howard Williamson’s European tour de force

euro youth forum

For most of my life I’ve regarded myself as an internationalist, inspired no doubt by the line in the Communist Manifesto, ‘working men [sic] have no country’. And yet across the years my youth work focus remained insular. I knew next to nothing about youth work outside of these shores and precious little more about Scotland, Wales and Ireland! Ironically I have been something of a tiny Englander in my outlook, notwithstanding winning finance now and again for European Youth Exchanges and the like. However in the last decade I have thrown off my national shackles and discovered European youth work in its diversity, not to mention more recently developments in Australia, Canada and the USA.  A key figure in this transformation has been Filip Coussee from the Ghent University in Flanders, with whom I began to exchange conversations and articles. His invitation to contribute to European conferences led to the renewal of my contact with Howard Williamson, Professor of European Youth Policy at the University of South Wales, whose outward looking perspective could not be more historically different than mine.

All of which is a preface to the appearance of a sweeping and challenging traversal of the European youth work landscape,’Finding Common Ground : Mapping and scanning the horizons for European youth work in the 21st century’, written by Howard for the 2nd European Youth Work Convention to be held in Brussels, April 27 – 30. I could have done with something as magisterial thirty years ago. It is a veritable tour de force and obligatory reading for anyone wanting a handle on the diversity of definitions and practices across Europe. Within its pages he elaborates in detail the following summary:

The current state of play for youth work in Europe – coupled with its history and evolution that has taken many different forms – calls for establishing whether there are today prevailing, consensual ideas throughout Europe on what youth work is and does. The 2nd European Youth Work Convention will aim at finding common ground within the diversity of youth work practice by tackling seven themes:

– The meaning, the ‘raison d’être’ of youth work
– The aims and anticipated outcomes of youth work
– The patterns and practices constituting youth work
– The connections between youth work and wider work with young people (formal education, training and employment, entrepreneurship and more)
– The recognition of youth work within and beyond the youth field
– The need for education and training for quality
– The value of youth work for young people, their communities and society at large

Read FINDING COMMON GROUND in full – well worth the effort.

POSTSCRIPT – I’ve received a late invitation to attend the Convention as Coordinator of In Defence of Youth Work, which says something significant about how we are regarded on the wider youth work scene. If I can establish a working relationship with my tablet I’ll try to post as the Convention’s activities unfold.