Sue Atkins, an extraordinary woman – 80 Years an Activist

 

Sue Atkins80

Last weekend Sheffield was warmed by autumnal sun and the joy emanating from those gathered at Sue Atkins’ 80th birthday party. Crossing the festooned threshold of the venue was to be thrown into a melting pot of humanity – youth workers past and present, the very young and the quite old, the toothful and toothless, folk from a diversity of cultures and backgrounds, All were thrust together through their shared respect and affection for a remarkable woman, who has devoted much of her life to a form of youth work, that aspires to be ‘volatile and voluntary, creative and collective – an association and conversation without guarantees’, informed at every turn by a genuine love for young people.

For my part, I met Sue first at a tumultuous Community and Youth Service Association [CYSA] conference in around 1980, out of which through the power of caucusing emerged the Community and Youth Workers Union [CYWU], of which she was to be a future President. Of her lengthy sojourn within youth work many a tale could be told, which suggests much sooner rather than later, an interview with Sue would be fascinating and revealing. Indeed it would shed light on why in the late 1980’s, in a memorable phrase, she described me, amongst others, as ‘a shite in whining armour’. Watch this space.

For now it’s sobering to note that she continues to be a leading light of the voluntary organisation, Youth Association South Yorkshire, a member of the Education and Training Standards Committee (ETS), the body that provides professional validation for youth work qualifications in England, on behalf of the JNC for Youth & Community Workers, not forgetting her formidable presence on our very own In Defence of Youth Work steering group.

Amongst the variety of tributes made during the day a highlight was the heartfelt rendition of this clever rewriting by Julia Lyford of a Flanders and Swann ditty, ‘The Gas Man cometh’. I suspect its lyrics will strike a chord with many a youth worker visiting these pages.

 

The Youth Worker Cometh

(With acknowledgements or apologies to Flanders and Swann)

 

In June of 1940 a circular was born

It spoke of building character, for brains but also brawn

It hoped to foster places where young people chose to be

Both physical and social, or just for jamboree

And it all made work for the volunteer to do dum dum dum…dah dah dah

 

The fifties kept on building up the recreation show

The teenager was born, discovered coffee and Bongo

In uniforms or sports strips or in drama, choir or dance

Communities and charities took up a moral stance

And it all made work for the youth leader to do dum dum dum….dah dah dah

 

‘Twas in the 1960s that Albemarle was cool,

It led to flashy centres, to arts labs and to pool

The dawning of Aquarius gave pace to drugs and sex

And self-determination meant that most of us were wrecks

But it all made work for co-counsellors to do dah dah dah…dah dah dah

 

The Seventies saw people start to recognise the gaps

To notice gender, race and class and reach for the detached

Nintendo loomed, and numbers fell, young people stayed away

So issue – based and project work began to have their day

And it all made work for the activist to do dum dum dum dah dah dah

 

The Eighties saw the riots, young people were ‘at risk’

From HIV or pregnancy or other kinds of fix

The Union fought the cuts and tackled section 28

We had to look for outcomes, with process out the gate

And it all made work for youth officers to do dum dum dum dah dah dah

 

From YTS to work – or not – young people bore the brunt

The nineties went thematic and put learning at the front

We taught in schools, had casework loads and tried to join it up

We ended with Connexions, aspirations all amock

And it all made work for personal advisers to do dum dum dum dah dah dah

 

The Noughties said ‘Youth Matters’ and we ended up in Trusts

We raided health and care funds and pretended to consult  

We safeguarded the vulnerable but not so much ourselves

We got bogged down in paperwork or starting stacking shelves

And it all made work for the volunteer to do dum dum dum…dah dah dah

 

So – in the twenty-tens Sue’s raised us all up in Defence ……

She’s given us momentum, to let youth work re-commence!

 

FOR THE TUNE!!

And, just to close by observing that to say Sue has been an activist for 80 years seems to be stretching a point. Yet I can just imagine Sue emerging from the womb with a half-apologetic, searching question already on her lips. So eighty years it is and long may it continue.

 

 

 

Greetings and solidarity on International Workers Day

Thanks to the indefatigable Sue Atkins for the May Day collage

 

Greetings and solidarity to all our readers, supporters and critics on International Workers Day. As much as ever we need that fragile, but creative cocktail of dissenting dialogue and collective strength – involving, to use today’s parlance, both millenials, centennials, generation X, baby boomers and the traditionalists – in the struggle for social justice, equality and authentic democracy. Let’s carry on chatting, agitating and organising.

Female workers in the May Day Parade in New York City in 1936 [File: New York Daily News Archive/Getty Images]

Sheffield Youth Service acting against Discrimination in 1969

A pertinent and thought-provoking piece of Youth Work history.

Sue Atkins draws our attention to the Sheffield Youth Service and the Christian Education Movement [CEM] campaign in 1969 – I TAKE A STAND! She suggest a revival in these xenophobic times might not be a bad idea. Anyone know more about the history of the CEM?

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Statutory issue sparks into life – A Time for Action or A Time for Debate? Is it really Either/Or?

  • Thanks to mariamuir.com

    Thanks to mariamuir.com

    Yesterday we posted Ian McGimpsey’s thoughts on the question of statutory funding, ‘What lies behind the headline?’ Hopefully, we said, it will prompt critical responses. We didn’t have to wait long. And the sparks flew on our Facebook page between Pete Sims, the initiator of the 38 Degree petition in support of a statutory service and Sue Atkins from the IDYW Steering group. Both are happy for us to post the passionate discussion here and we do so in the belief that it ought to inspire the thoughtful activism crucial to our struggle.
    Pete Sims Not the debate we need at this critical moment. Dear me. I would much more like to see physical and passionate campaigning and support to save services than academic navel gazing and potentially divisive claptrap at this particular juncture. Great timing – not
    Susan Atkins Pete, this IS the debate we need, and it is not incompatible with what you describe as ‘physical and passionate campaigning and support to save services’ . IF government funds start to flow once more, and IF those services are ring fenced for youth work, yes that is good news. However if that money is only ring fenced to local authorities, rather than say for instance to a more relevant and creative partnership which includes voluntary sector, local communities and young people, then in many areas that could make for a very sterile service. We DO need to organise, and we most certainly need to under take a calm and honest review of where our strengths are – we need to be building alliances and allies now, to be making dialogue with training agencies and their students. Brother we are in for the long haul here, it is not going to be like some of our previous victories where we have saved the service, reduced cuts, this is about how we rebuild local democracy, accountability and ensure that young people have the opportunities , choices and freedoms that we believe in so passionately . It is not about ‘Delivering Differently,’ as this Government is currently dangling in front of local authorities, it is not about shepherding young people through centres where they get information advice and employability course wrapped up in NCS and outdoor pursuits. It IS about how we can once again engage with young people in social and political education that starts with their lived experience (not ours) and which enables empowers and supports their active participation in developing and delivering a wide range of open access with and for their communities; it’s about Youth Work ; and through that work to support the need to rebuild a careers/ educational information and support service, for proper sexual health and mental health services which understand work with young people, and for flexible education and training with genuine financial support through reinstating EMA – there is more of course – but that’s a start 
    Pete Sims Then continue the debate Susan, but we are not going to have services to debate soon! My energies Susan have been, and will continue to be channeled into saving and then securing Youth Work for the future and for young people.  I believe we have a monumental job to prevent this tide and no amount of theorising and debating at this stage amongst ourselves has ( as evidenced very clearly over the past couple of years) or will save our services. Collective action and mobilisation of a sector is what is needed, that is what is going to keep the doors open of provision and no amount of internal debate and rumination is going to achieve that. We need to empower ourselves, others and young people to feel that we can, at least, try to challenge this assault on young people and our profession. I see little in the article in question that does that – at this point of potential obliteration of what the article wants to debate. I respect your views Susan, but we will have to agree to disagree on this. Let’s still collectivise and use every ounce of energy to challenge and resist this assault and try to create a statutory commitment. This is a time for action, in my opinion, not navel gazing, let’s debate when we’ve secured something to debate about! I would be more than happy to do that then. Until then – onwards and upwards with campaigning!
    Susan Atkins Pete – my position is that debate and action are NOT incompatible – indeed they are essential to any creative rebuild. A statutory base – yes; and take a realistic look at what and who is going to be ‘in charge’ of local authority ‘commissioning’, where are the people who understand and have experience of delivering and managing the work? How many workers have taken or been given redundancy? How many full-time youth workers are employed? In my City there will be no NO full-time generic youth workers employed under the council contract by January, those that won’t have taken redundancy will be reduced to Four days per week, and substantial part-time workers reduced from 18 hours to 10 and will be working FIVE two-hour sessions and no development or prep time.  We do need the discussion , it is just not good enough to think with statutory funding we can erect a ring-fence and with one bound everything will be OK . We need a much better strategy and much more canny tactics to pull this off .  , 
    Pete Sims A creative rebuild Susan? We are in the process of heartless destruction! I’m not sure what you precisely want to discuss or debate. What I do know is that 2000 plus Youth Workers have lost their jobs, council run services are being dismantled,  Vol sector grants are being cut, our profession is in danger of becoming obsolete etc. I am clear, that no amount of discussion and internal debate is going to create the statutory base that will give us a chance to shape and secure services to you people. If (and it won’t be achieved if our energies are diluted and fractioned) we are successful in securing a Statutory base then local arrangements will need to ensure the best and highest quality delivery mechanisms needs to be in place. But cart before the horse! That’s a mile off – let’s concentrate efforts to stop this onslaught and then when we feel we have a chance to secure adequate provision – then collectively debate what it should be. Right now, I firmly believe we need to keep our eye firmly and decisively on the prize of securing political support for a Statutory basis for our work. If we don’t do it now, under conditions that I’ve never seen in the 30 years I’ve been involved in Youth Work, then it will never happen. Susan – we can’t let this moment and opportunity pass. Once again, I deeply respect your views, but not entirely your focus at the moment.

Youth Work Cuts lead to more Crime etc. Singing from the Neo-Liberal Hymn Sheet

Thanks to rankyouthwork.org

Thanks to rankyouthwork.org

Find below a few thoughts I scribbled for Facebook this morning following a SKY News piece on Youth Service cuts. I need to flesh out this argument, given that I believe that an emphasis on linking the case for youth work to social problems and anti-social behaviour has grown exponentially over the last two decades. For my part I think this has proved profoundly counter-productive. For the moment here’s my FB rant, which a few people have suggested be posted on the IDYW site.

There’s just been a short piece on Sky News, drawing upon, but not acknowledging the UNISON report. Interviews in the Hideaway Centre, Moss Side, Manchester and with Sue Atkins, wearing her South Yorkshire hat. Whilst Sue tried eloquently to place the cuts within the assault on liberal education and public services as a whole, the thrust of the piece was all about closures and cuts leading perhaps to more crime, higher unemployment etc….. The difficulty for us is that this dressed up ‘keeps them off the streets’ line finds us singing from the same hymn sheet as those in favour of targeting, early intervention etc… Thus the councillor from the Local Government Association at the end of the piece is saying, ‘the trouble is open-access ‘programmes’ [as he mistakenly puts it] have failed so we are going to put the money that remains into targeted youth social work and we will achieve ‘more with less’. As things stand we will not win this circular argument. Conspicuously absent is the understanding that youth work is informal education focused holistically and critically on young people’s definitions of their needs and desires. And I’m tired of being told that folk don’t understand this argument. Over the years, presenting reports, chatting to parents etc.. I’ve never found this to be the case. And this applies to the councillors to whom I’ve reported. The crunch has always come when budgets are being cut. It’s at that moment when politicians suddenly suffer from collective amnesia and claim they don’t get it. And as we can see all the bloody data in the world is pretty meaningless in this scenario of imposed austerity. With our backs to the wall more than ever we need to defend youth work as educational and voluntary, not preventative and imposed.