IDYW 9th Conference – ‘buzzy’, critical and collaborative

 

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Bernard Davies had sent this report on Friday’s conference in Birmingham, bashed out in his own words to give a flavour of what one Facebook message called a ‘buzzy’ experience.

 

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Matthew Hill, Centre for Youth Impact in full flow

 

Though it mostly it felt a good news day, the bad news was that not only could Tony Taylor not be with us at the conference because of his broken foot. Even the advanced tech skills of two of our most ‘tecky’ Steering Group members couldn’t quite connect him to us via Skype. A great disappointment given how much work he’d put into the 16-point draft position paper, which acted as the main focus for the day and the other preparation he’d done.

 

Quite a lot of more positive news did seem to come out of the day, however – attended by 50+ people. As a much-needed reminder that youth work can and does have a future, these included a group of ‘Young Ambassadors’ from the Wakefield Youth Association and a number of current youth and community work students, together with their tutors.

 

The day began with a minute’s silence to honour three highly respected colleagues who have died recently, namely Peter Duke, John Parr and Kevin Morris. Poignantly Kevin’s funeral was taking place at the very same moment.  The conference proceeded with a brief input setting out the background and development so far of the IDYW ‘Is the Tide Turning?’ initiative since it was launched in the aftermath of last year’s General Election. Work throughout the day took place then in five groups, chosen initially by people for its focus in the first session on one of five more specific issues running through the position paper’s 16 bullet points: outcomes; practice; purposes and values; structuring and funding provision; and training and employment. The lively and indeed often clearly passionate discussions generated many sheets of paper recording key points for IDYW to take away and use in any future work on the paper.

 

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Leigh Middleton, NYA, responds to the debate

 

The two panel sessions which followed allowed brief inputs from organisations which are pretty key at this point in the youth work struggle – the Centre for Youth Impact, the Institute for Youth Work, NYA, the Training Agencies Group, Unison and Unite. These again prompted exchanges within the groups as well as with some of the speakers directly. A final session in groups and plenary gave people a chance to give voice to some of the main messages to IDYW from the groups – some strongly supportive of points on the draft paper, others pointing to need for further thinking, such as the need not to be defensive in our struggle for youth work but to make the case positively on the basis of its strengths and potential.

 

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Paul Fenton, PALYCW,  puts in his pennyworth

 

Amidst all this hard work, the café-style arrangement, the availability throughout the day of drinks and bits to snack on and the regular brief breaks clearly opened the way not just for many other searching (if unrecorded) informal discussion and exchanges but also for much personal catching-up and for new encounters.

 

One individual feedback comment at the end of the day: ‘This is my first time at an IDYW event and I found it really interesting and stimulating’. And on Facebook: ‘an…excellent conference … both informative and inspiring and great to catch up with people that I don’t bump into very often’ – prompting a ‘Hear, hear’ response from someone else.

 

All very gratifying, though still leaving lots of thinking to do about where next to take all the day’s interest, debates and energy – so further reactions and comments certainly welcome.

Thanks to Kevin Jones for the photos.

 

Looking Ahead: Some Scattered Thoughts

In the last few weeks both the North-East and South-East steering groups have been discussing ‘where things are up to’ and ‘where things might be going’. In particular they have focused on issues of representation from the regions and a timetable leading to a possible national In Defence of Youth Work conference. Parallel conversations have also taken place between individual supporters across the country. The following is my attempt to summarise the present situation and sketch a possible timetable for the next six months or so.

Whilst the North-East and South-East have held regional meetings and established steering groups, other areas are still in their infancy. Thus the West Midlands, Leeds/Humberside and South Yorkshire held their first open meetings only recently in July and in other areas we have isolated supporters. The North-West has not got a steering group, but hopes to hold a second regional in the Autumn. The West Midlands steering group met a few days ago, whereas South Yorkshire have identified a Steering Group coordinator, but no more. The Leeds meeting did not identify an organising group, but is committed to a future In Defence event. In addition supportive noises have been made by individuals in Scotland , Wales and Northern Ireland , but these have yet to take on any organisational form. Inevitably we are in a state of uneven development. Becoming more organised is bedevilled too at this moment by the holiday period.

This said there is pressure to bring together regional representatives and to collectivise further the campaign. Indeed the North-East have suggested using our presence at the Social Work Action Network conference, September 10/11 in Bath as the basis for an initial meeting to look at progress. This will be worth doing, but I think we need to recognise that most regions need more time to find their feet. Also, in my opinion, all meetings should remain open to any supporters sufficiently galvanised to make the effort.

A Rough Timetable for Discussion [including meetings already planned]

September 9 : Third London and South-East Regional Meeting at Goldsmiths.

September 10/11: In Defence workshop being presented to the SWAN conference at Bath University at the time of writing by Tony Taylor, Tania de st Croix[South-East] and Don Jenkins [North-East] – on the Thursday afternoon. Other In Defence supporters are attending, so at the very least an informal discussion can take place. Please get in touch with Tony if you feel you can get to Bath to participate in this initial chat. Given the conference timetable the Thursday evening might be the best time.

September 21: Second North-East Regional meeting in Newcastle.

Early October: would it be practical and feasible to hold at this time a somewhat more formal meeting for regional representatives and others or is it still too precipitate? Day? Venue?

November 13/14/15: National Federation of Detached Youth Work conference in Wigan. The suggestion is that in conjunction we aim for a national In Defence organising meeting, perhaps on Friday, 13 November, hoping that by this time more regions will be represented. The principal task would be to talk through the case for a national conference and organise the arrangements if this seems the right way forward. The North-East group are concerned that as yet we lack a Manifesto or a list of Campaign demands. In this sense we are but an emerging force with a critique.

During the period sketched we need to make the maximum use of the In Defence blog, the Google mail group and social networking sites such as Facebook in encouraging the widest debate and in involving seriously supporters outside of the developing regional structure.

As ever your thoughts and criticisms appreciated. I’m conscious there is a NE steering group on August 4 so it would be good to get their collective response.

Tony Taylor