Celebrating Youth & Policy 3 – Bernard Davies on ‘youth volunteering – the new panacea’



There are few people better placed to put today’s interpretations of  volunteering and social action under the microscope than Bernard Davies, author of a trilogy of ‘Histories of the Youth Service in England.’ Drawing on his extensive historical research Bernard seeks to interrogate policy and practice in an arena, which has come to be seen as simply ‘a good thing’.

Youth volunteering: the new panacea?



Bernard in discussion with Jon Ord- Ta to Justin Wyllie for the image


He begins:

Governments of all parties have long been keen to get young people to volunteer – that is, to give some of their time freely to a worthy cause or activity. Papers and reports going back at least fifty years have been urging them to offer themselves for what was at the time often called ‘community service’. One of these, from the Youth Service Development Council entitled Service by Youth and dated December 1965, prompted me even then to ask: So – is this another attempt to tame the young? (Davies, 1967).

At one point he poses these questions:

How far, for example, are young people engaging on a genuinely voluntary basis – that is, outside adult authority pressures – given that one survey has suggested that in 2015 nearly 75 percent of the participants found their way into volunteering via their school or college? (Offord, 2015b; 2016b).
How far are the programmes’ educational interventions building from and on the interests and concerns brought to them by the young people who are actually participating?
How far are the programmes starting from the process-focused presumption that, in their own right, relationship-building and interpersonal responsiveness – young person to young person and young person to adult – require at least as much dedicated attention as task- and programme-completion?

I hope Bernard’s piece gets the attention and response it deserves, not least from those, for whom youth volunteering is without contradiction.



Vote, but voting is never enough……what about some social action?

Predictably Theresa May’s General Election call has led to an upsurge of interest in voting, democracy and politics. Our Facebook page is hosting an interesting thread, kicked off by a question about how to engage young people with the spectre of the looming election. My own long-standing concerns about youth work’s widespread fear of being political and the stunted nature of parliamentary democracy itself are best left to a separate post. Indeed it might be an appropriate moment to dig out a rant I inflicted on a Federation of Detached Youth Workers conference back in 2007. I don’t think it’s past its sell-by date.

However, whatever my reservations about equating voting every so often with being political, the coming election is a highly significant moment in a volatile global atmosphere. Thus here are a number of recommended resources to inform our conversations and activities with young people in the coming weeks.

The League of Young Voters

Bite the Ballot


Democracy Cookbook – The Recipes

Register to vote


And whilst we are exploring with young people the significance or otherwise of the vote, it might be an appropriate time to rescue the idea of social action from the suffocating ‘volunteering’ definition advanced by Step up to Serve. In the run up to the election what about exploring with young people taking direct, public action around issues that perhaps matter to them – a right to benefits, the issue of low pay and zero-hour contracts, the lack of appropriate housing, the precarious future they face and indeed the demand to vote at 16 – not to mention what’s happening to youth provision in their neck of the woods? If we are talking about politics, about power, there is a question haunting youth work. To what extent, with honourable exceptions, has it supported the growth of young people’s authentic social movements from below, giving the lie to Tim Laughton’s fatuous claim that NCS is the fastest growing social movement in Europe. Grassroots social movements don’t have marketing budgets. In this context the recent and ongoing young people’s campaign to save youth services in Brighton offers lessons and poses dilemmas. At this very moment these young people’s energies are turning to wider social and political issues than just youth work. I wonder out loud what is their take on the forthcoming General Election?

This has been said many times, in different ways, but the great advances in terms of freedom and justice have not been the outcome of ruly and bureaucratic procedures from on high, but the result of unruly and improvised action from below. Yes, vote, but don’t stop there.

Youth Social Action : A Question of Politics

A few of us are thinking about submitting a possible paper to this conference with the working title, ‘Taking the Politics out of Social Action’, drawing on our own histories and a different interpretation of what Social Action might mean –  Their Social Action and Ours – social change or social control? Your thoughts welcomed.


Voluntary Sector Studies Network – VSSN – Day Seminar, Birmingham, 22 November 2016

Youth social action: What do we know about young people’s participation?

The next VSSN Day Seminar will take place at the University of Birmingham on Tuesday 22 November: 10.30am – 4.00pm.
Please put the date in your diary now!
And consider submitting a paper….

The next VSSN day seminar is hosted by the Third Sector Research Centre at the University of Birmingham in association with the #iwill campaign. The seminar will explore the broad theme of youth social action, which includes activities such as volunteering, fundraising, campaigning, political participation, democratic engagement and activism that young people do to help others and the environment. The landscape of provision for young people in the UK has changed in recent decades, particularly at a local authority level for out-of-school services. On a national level, the last 15 years have seen various social action initiatives promoted by Labour, Coalition and Conservative governments, including the introduction of Citizenship to the National Curriculum; the introduction of the government-backed National Citizen Service, and recently-announced plans to inject further funding; and cross-party support for the #iwill campaign. The #iwill campaign is a cross-sector, collective impact campaign aiming to increase the involvement of 10-20 year olds in the UK in social action by 2020. It is coordinated by the charity Step Up To Serve.

A recent survey of participation in youth social action shows that in 2015 42% of young people participated in social action at least every few months, or did a one-off activity lasting more than a day, and recognised the benefits it had for themselves and for the community or cause they were helping. Yet, similar to some of the patterns we see in adults’ participation, there are socio-demographic differences in participation. Significantly, those from less affluent backgrounds (C2DE) are participating less than those from most affluent backgrounds (ABC1) – 45% compared to 39% respectively. The same study found that the majority (68%) of young people who weren’t involved could think of at least one factor that would motivate them to take part, namely, ivolvement with friends or family, or if it was close to where they live.

This broad context raises several questions, including for example:
· What barriers do young people face to participating in youth social action? What are the costs of participation for young people (financial and otherwise)?
· What difference does taking part in youth social action make to young people’s lives, and/or to society?
· Are government programmes and/or wider societal factors changing how young people can participate?
· What types of participation are being encouraged within youth social action initiatives? Are some forms of participation seen as more legitimate than others?
· How does social action relate to the formation of identities amongst young people?
· In a wider political context, to what extent is youth social action being constructed around the idea of a responsible citizen?
· How do we research young people’s participation? How are young people getting involved in the research process?

Presenters and delegates are invited to consider how their research and experience relates to youth social action, and in particular to the questions listed above. The theme ‘youth social action’ is deliberately broad to encompass work on volunteering, campaigning, citizenship and fundraising, as well as activism and participation of young people in civil society more widely.

Submitting an abstract
We welcome presentations from researchers, academics, doctoral students and practitioners in voluntary organisations who are doing research that can shine a light on the issues raised in this call. We will be pleased to consider papers that provide empirical, theoretical, methodological, practice or policy insights associated with our theme. Papers are usually based on completed or ongoing research (qualitative or quantitative) or a review of the evidence or literature in an area of interest to voluntary sector researchers.

If you would like to propose a paper for the day, please submit an abstract of around 250 words and a brief biography by email to Emma Taylor at e.taylor.2@bham.ac.uk no later than 3 August 2016. Your abstract should contain a question, problem or dilemma arising from practice, theory or research findings, the argument you intend to make, and how this contributes to the theme for the day. PLEASE DO NOT HIT THE ‘REPLY’ BUTTON to this message or you will be replying to everyone on this VSSN list. Please note that, if selected, your abstract will be posted on VSSN website and you will need to book and pay to attend the Seminar.

For any other queries, or if you wish to discuss a proposed paper’s suitability, please email e.taylor.2@bham.ac.uk.

Attending the event
VSSN aims to promote an understanding of the UK voluntary sector through research. The event is aimed at researchers, academics, doctoral students and practitioners in voluntary organisations or foundations interested in the UK voluntary sector. We also welcome policy makers engaged in the voluntary sector. We are also keen to meet and receive contributions from, colleagues in other countries who are involved in research on civil society organisations. The working language is English.
Booking will open once the programme is finalised. We look forward to welcoming you to Birmingham on 22 November.

Their Social Action and Ours – social change or social control?

Further to the post on the paltry Social Action fund announced by the Cabinet Office, Breathtaking Hypocrisy, a much-needed antidote to today’s distortion of the meaning of social action is to be found in this pamphlet, Their Social Action and Ours – social change or social control?, written by Mark Harrison and Kev Jones under the banner of Social Action Solutions. It’s well worth reading in full. Here’s a flavour of its argument.

Social Action

A difficulty with some of the current measures, particularly those aimed at young people, is the emphasis on the benefits of philanthropy for the people doing the volunteering. “Step up to Serve” (formally the Independent Campaign for Youth Social Action), launched by HRH The Prince of Wales states on its website;

“The most significant areas of impact are: • Improving young people’s skills (academic, metacognitive, character capabilities) and employability; • Strengthening social bonds and integrating young people who are on the margins, thereby reducing crime and anti-social behaviour; • Increasing other dimensions of active citizenship, like formal political engagement; • Better emotional, behavioural and social wellbeing which in turn leads to higher levels of educational attainment and more engagement in school.”

The idea that the “most significant” benefits of volunteering are to be felt by individual volunteers themselves is in direct opposition to the Social Action principle that collective action, by and for a community, can create real benefits for the community as a whole, through creating a greater understanding of shared problems and enacting a collective response to them. Building character through doing good deeds for others may well be valuable and beneficial, but it is not Social Action. It cannot provide the same lasting collective benefits to communities as our version of Social Action sets out to achieve.

Our version of social action was developed in Nottingham in the late 1970s. It was a critical response to the prevailing models of practice in social, youth, youth justice and community development work. What these practices had in common was: • They operated on a deficit model • Professionals were in control – doing to, for or on behalf of communities and service users • Community members were passive recipients in the programmes • The agents of change were the professionals not the service users

The models that social action challenged can be summarised as compensation, modification or reparation. All these models saw community members as being part of the problem but not potentially the people to transform the situation as the agents of change. Social action set out to change this by viewing people as experts in their own lives. Professionals negotiated a new relationship, working alongside people and facilitating them to identify and address issues and concerns that were important to them. The focus was on community members addressing root causes and creating social change for themselves. In the process they would empower themselves and their communities and learn new skills and behaviours, which could be used in other areas of their lives. Central to this was a shift of power in the relationship between professionals and the people we are paid to work with. Professionals were no longer ‘On Top’, but now need to be ‘On Tap’. This required professionals to develop new skills as facilitators rather than leaders, because the leadership now comes from the community and group members.

The Social Action site contains two excellent books by Mark Harrison for download ;

Social Action–co-creating social change A Companion for Practitioners and

Ideas and Outcomes of Social Action

Breathtaking Hypocrisy : Tories declare commitment to a truly compassionate society

Ta to nuneatonconservatives.org.uk

Ta to nuneatonconservatives.org.uk

In recent weeks we’ve linked to a range of responses to the government’s assault on young people’s lives and futures, Young People on the receiving end yet again of political and economic dogmaYoung people are not fair game, Mr Osborne and The War on Youth. Indeed Ben Chu argues in this week’s Independent, Britain is no country for the young – in jobs, income or housing, that “until young people start mobilising to force their desperate circumstances on to the political agenda – they can expect more of the same.” Do we smell social and political action in the air?

Lo and behold the Cabinet Office announces that £1.26 million pounds is to be made available for social action. Momentarily we have visions of young people against austerity groups rushing to the fore. Then we come to our senses. This pretty paltry amount, seeing it is spread across the country and over two years,  is open to applications from Charities, Community Interest Companies and Social Enterprises. And the funding comes as part of the government’s pledge  to support the #iwill campaign, run by Step Up To Serve. As you might expect in practice the social action model used is rooted in ‘volunteering’ to do good to others, which is all well and good. However it is a very conservative notion of social action.  To make things worse, it is used, given the government’s policies toward young people, in the most hypocritical way. Seeing I’m lost for words I’ll give the last cynical word to Rob Wilson, the youth minister.

 “As part of the government’s commitment to building a truly compassionate society, this additional funding will tackle the challenges facing disadvantaged young people and help embed social action in young people’s lives.”

Further info re applying etc… at National Youth Social Action Fund: expressions of interest