James Ballantyne on the Church, Revolution and Young People

A questioning blog from James as the Christian Holy Week draws to its climax, suggesting that the first ‘youth worship’ on Palm Sunday got a bit political.


“The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.“(Matthew 21: 14-15)

Indignant in this verse means a combination of grief and anger. The religious leaders were angry about what they were about to lose. But what was it they were indignant about, was it the tables, the money launderers and the confusion. No, it was because the next generation was singing his praises because they followed a new leader, they believed in a new revolution, one that challenged the old practices, the unfair ones.

Read in full at:

Easter week reflection; Where Children’s praises caused uproar


I wonder, does every Youthworker……?A freezing James Ballantyne ponders.

My favourite youth work blogger, James Ballantyne, kicks off the New Year with a list of questions it’s difficult to resist answering. His musing starts from pondering whether all youth workers are huddled in cold offices.


Ta to distractify.com

Read in full at I wonder, does every Youthworker……?

That got me thinking – what else – apart from the ability to work in a cold office – what other experiences of youth work might be pretty much common, or even universal to all youth workers?

  • Do all youth workers have a positive experience of being ‘youth worked’ as a young person?
  • Do all youth workers have large DVD collections (we could be specific and suggest actual titles)
  • I wonder – do all faith-based youth workers either start or grow up evangelical? – some might stay.
  • Do all youth workers hope they had better supervision?
  • Have all youth workers used at least one ‘ready to use guide’ in youthwork magazine?
  • Have all youth workers had to try and describe what they do by saying what they’re not? (ie police, social worker, teacher)
  • Do all youth workers find the dark spots even when the light is blazing bright?
  • Do all youth workers love that moment when it ‘just clicks’ between themselves and a young person – that moment of conversation, moment of trust, moment of significance
  • Do all youth workers wish more people would ‘get’ what youth work actually is
  • Do all youth workers know the feeling of just running on adrenalin during a residential weekend with young people – but also loving every single minute of it
  • Have all youth workers (in the UK) read either something by Pete Ward, Jeffs and Smith, Paulo Freire, Danny Brierley or Richard Passmore?
  • Do all youth workers cringe at being subjected to the same ice-breakers that they subject young people to?
  • Has every youth worker had the ‘Why me?’ moment when the mini-bus breaks down half way up the M6, or young people smash windows on the residential, or terrorise the neighbours, or run across the roadr, drunk, just when you are with them on detached (maybe that one is just me) – but the ‘why me?’ moment none the less.
  • Has every youth worker took positives from the ‘why me?’ moment – either for themselves, the memories and experiences created or the relationship building with such challenging young people… yeah,, thought so..
  • Does every youth worker secretly wish they got paid as much as a teacher but glad they don’t have to do the work or have the day to day pressure a teacher does.
  • Does every youth worker drink coffee? ( actually no this isn’t true)
  • Is every youth worker on Facebook?
  • Does every youth worker love the variety of every day, of every week and every moment with young people?
  • Does every youth worker hate it when young people are misrepresented, judged unfairly and not listened to?
  • Does every youth worker work in a cold office space?

Nodding much? ..I thought so… I reckon I am at least 15 of these and so I wonder if they are just ‘highlights’ of my own experience as a youth worker, and I imagine many of you reading this will be able to add others to the list. It’s a bit like those magazines, if you scored 0-8 you’re not a proper youth worker, or ‘are you new?’ , score 8-15..and so on.. but

There are times when the world of youth work brings out the distinctions in people’s practices, beliefs or intentions, but I wonder deep down most youth workers share many common experiences of cold office spaces, misunderstood practice, love for coffee and DVD’s, and desire better supervision – all because they invest and care deeply about young people.

PS In a provocative tweet James asks, ‘Call yourself a youth worker? Maybe getting 15/20 is the benchmark?’

Amidst celebration the cuts continue

In the past few weeks I’ve been trying to get my head around the contrasting pictures of youth work painted nowadays,  one apparently vibrant, the other full of woe. I’ll post some thoughts about these parallel universes this week.

In the meantime James Ballantyne, blogger extraordinaire, is ahead of me, as is often the case. His latest rumination begins:

On the morning of Fidel Castro’s death, a possible recount of the votes in one American state and a huge swell of media attention to historic sex offences in football ( top three stories right now on BBC news website), there wont be many column inches spared to the pending closure of the Universal youth provision in Brighton which was announced in the last two days. It is part of a 1.3m savings process for the local council, in which ‘vulnerable young people may be put at risk’ the details are here: and by some accounts was announced to the media as consultations were being organised.

It feels a strange week then, given that ‘Youth worker of the year awards’ were publicised by ‘CYP Now’ this week, and the Christian Youth worker awards were held only 2 weeks ago. Is there much to be celebrated? – well of course given the huge demands on the profession, the people fighting for it and the work that is done to help young people, people delivering youth work should be heralded more than ever. But it remains a critical time and I didn’t hear much from the platforms of people giving prophetic, challenging messages about the state of the profession. You know, a bit like the actresses at the Oscars who know they are making a scene when they challenge gender pay inequality, or when race inequality is also challenged.

Where was the politically charged speech? if there was one it wasn’t shared very widely. Maybe the occasion too managed, the funding too precious, sponsorship too seductive, that at gatherings of youth work professionals calls to challenge the pending desolation of the founding identity of practice – the youth club is on its way out. I wonder if there is too much protectionism of the brands and organisations that people represent to challenge the powers and structure that are undermining youth work and in effect young people as people at all.

Read in full at Something socially good is lost when youth clubs are closing. 


 Coventry Demo : Ta to Bring Colour

And as for the continuing cuts:

For further information on the Brighton situation, see Charities may close as Brighton and Hove council prepares to scrap £1.3m youth services contract

In Somerset see the campaign Save Somerset LGBT+ Youth Support Group 2BU

In Kirklees https://indefenceofyouthwork.com/2016/11/11/save-kirklees-youth-service/


UNISON CYMRU reports that Youth centre closures in Wales reach 100 since 2012


If Young people exist in community – should youth workers develop positive community approaches?

Given yesterday’s notice of the Federation of Detached Youth Work conference and its theme of ‘community’, James Ballantyne, who is going to be one of the contributors, offers some advance thoughts, adding that you deserve a medal if you make it to the end of his piece. Obviously I’ve already put in for my reward.

Detached Youthwork - Learning from the Street

In  a few weeks time im delivering a workshop at the Federation of Detached youthwork conference, the title of which I am yet to finalise, but in readiness of the conference and its theme, i have asked around a few places to get a few definitions of ‘Youth work’ as well as gather some from the resources i have to hand on my bookshelf, or recent articles.

One of the themes of the Conference is – ‘Is community back on the Agenda?’ for detached youthwork, with the brief that aspects of partnership and community work seem to be more common place in detached youthwork at present, with the reason being that it might be other agencies, such as the police, that are in effect funding it, and so there has to be a community, or at least a community agency partnership focus to the work. The question i want to ask is

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Privileging Passionate and Risky Conversations in Informal Youth Work

Ta to AZ quotes

Ta to AZ quotes

In my last post, FORMALISING THE INFORMAL : THE NEED FOR CRITICAL DIALOGUE, I suggested that neo-liberal values had infected our work, so much so that they appear to be simply common-sense. One expression of neo-liberal’s instrumental fixation on outcomes is to dismiss  youth work’s informal education tradition as unable to deliver the goods. Neo-liberalism fears emotion, passion and love. Hence I hope you will have a sken at these two blogs by my favourite blogger nowadays, James Ballantyne. In these you are drawn into a world of improvisatory, deeply thoughtful practice.

The first, 10 Privileges of doing detached youthwork, describes being on the streets of Durham one Monday evening.

Its just an awesome thing to be present in the space of detached to enable young people to reflect and learn in the conversation, to help them think about the future, and to be able to do this without having to construct activity or cause them to be on a course. It’s a privilege.

The second, Passionate risky conversations, lets us into a dialogue between Paolo Freire and Myles Horton. James reflects,  “reading it has felt like being in the room with two passionate people, passionate about people, passionate about loving people and helping people make sense of the world, and helping people to understand the systems of the world that cause them to be inhumanely treated.”

We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change by Myles Horton, Paulo Freire


James Ballantyne on Tools, Genres and Trident


Our friend, James Ballantyne is on a blogging roll. Indeed it’s difficult to keep up with his outpourings on Learning from the Streets, although it’s always worthwhile. They are a rich mix of theory and practice, of praxis.

On the practical side you will find 10 Tools to develop youthwork from scratch, which begins,

  1. Spend a long time researching, not just the area, the culture, the gaps and the gifts of the young people – but find out their interests, their skills and how they want to develop the group, what they want to do, where, when and how they want it to occur.

More broadly he plays around with whether it’s useful or not to categorise youth work in The quagmire of creating genres in youthwork, within which he ponders,

Many words have prefixed ‘youthwork’ over the past 20 odd years, some more helpful that others; Rural, Urban, Detached, Faith-based, Christian, Muslim, Voluntary, Jewish, Symbiotic (Passmore 2013), Sacrilized (Nash 2012), Street-based, Centre/community -Based, – have any of them become so clear that those within the profession know what they are? Well detached maybe.

And does it depend who is using them? – hence a good amount of confusion.

Whilst in Spending £31 Billion. On Trident or 1 million youth workers? he reflects that the £30-40 billion would,

  1. at £30,000 wages it would employ 1 million youthworkers for a year – with the right training, thus enabling many young people to develop better understanding of themselves in the world, support, inclusion and long term economic prospects (even if as youth workers we’d hate to say it)

Loads more too…. James is well worth following.



Finding Common Ground across Faiths, Beliefs and Ideologies


Showing creativity and discipline beyond my understanding James Ballantyne put these thoughts together last night following the stimulating Faith conference in Bradford. I sipped a pint or two and mused. I’ll put up the notes from my contribution, ‘No More Gods’ in a few days. They probably lend weight to James’s feeling that some of us were trapped in generalisations, which failed to recognise the diversity of perspectives within faiths.

I have an hour at York station waiting for my connection back to Hartlepool on my way back from the youthwork and faith day at Bradford university hosted by youth and policy with some input from the in defense of youthwork and other practitioners in the variety of fields of youth work across many faith positions.  

In this hour and the time it takes me to get back to Hartlepool I hope to reflect on the day and pose a number of questions for further thought which might be of use. We ended the day wondering about shared commonalities across youthwork that transcended or encapsulates all faith positions.
From the day there seemed be a number of these:

I’m tantalising you! To continue, go to FINDING COMMON GROUND