Thanks to Adam Muirhead for this  immediate and enlightening report on the recent celebratory event held at YMCA George Williams College. You must read it in full on his blog. My snippets will surely whet your appetite.

Mark Smith


He begins:

I recently attended the ‘100 Years of Youth and Community Work Education’ event hosted by the YMCA George Williams College and supported by Youth & Policy, UKYouth and TAG/PALYCW. The event came about off the back of Tony Jeffs recognising that on the 8th October 100 years ago, what he (and others) recognise as the first proper youth & community training programme came into being. For someone like me who enjoys a bit of Youth Work celebrity spotting this was a star-studded event! The great and the good of our profession and people I’ve been reading and quoting for years were present and ready to divulge their experience.

As well as Tony amongst the great and good contributing were such notables as Alan Gibson Tom Wylie, Marg Mayo and Mark Smith, the latter proclaiming evidently the death of youth work.

According to Adam, Mark went as far as to say that the key texts he developed for the profession under the umbrella of ‘Youth Work’ had been the equivalent of flogging a dead horse. So you can see why some people felt peeved.

Unbowed Adam ends by drinking a toast to the next 100 years of Youth and Community Work Education!

Youth & Policy Special Pre-Election Edition: The Next Five Years: Prospects for young people


Youth & Policy 114 is a bumper special indeed!

The Next Five Years: Prospects for young people

Published ahead of the coming election it is a challenging mix of sometimes controversial commentary on both youth policy and youth work.

While the articles very much stand alone, all authors provide careful reflections on the social policy needs of young people, what they consider to be the key issues for young people today and what this means for the future direction of policy. It is hoped that not only will the articles provide stimulating food for thought as we approach a key transitional phase; the juncture between the Coalition Government and the likely change in governance to take place from 2015, but also that they will inform ongoing debate and political activity which works for the benefit of young people in our society.

Young People and Housing: A Review of the Present Policy and Practice Landscape – Julie Rugg & Deborah Quilgars

If young people’s housing needs are to be met more adequately, there needs to be a more fundamental reexamination of how the tenure system works for young people in the UK.

Young people, health and youth policy – John Coleman and Ann Hagell

In this article we review public attitudes to the health of young people. We note that too often concerns about the health of adolescents are linked with a notion of risky behaviour.

Youth Crime and Youth Justice 2015–2020 – John Pitts

This article considers current issues in crime and justice in the UK and how these may bear upon young people over the next five years.

Youth Work – Tom Wylie

This article focuses on the place of youth work which is presented as a distinctive form of practice with young people complementing other approaches such as schooling or social work. It offers suggestions on how youth work can be re-built.

Austerity youth policy: exploring the distinctions between youth work in principle and youth work in practice – Will Mason

Presenting ethnographic material from three years of research with casually paid youth workers, volunteers and young people, the article illustrates some of the contradictions embedded within the Coalition government’s youth policy. In this endeavour the discussion also demonstrates respondents’ commitment to the principles of child centred, open access youth work.

Innovation and Youth Work – Tony Jeffs

Innovation has long been central to the survival of youth work as a form of welfare practice. During a period when local and central government spending is being curtailed how can we expect innovative practice to emerge without the stimulus of state funding and in the face of state indifference to youth work per se?

Youth Work: A Manifesto For Our Times : Revisited – Bernard Davies

When ‘Youth Work: A Manifesto For Our Times’ was published nearly a decade ago, it opened withwhat was for me, at the time, a perplexing question: Has youth work ever been so fashionable – or at greater risk? (Davies, 2005:7)

The Fortified College – Brian Belton

Talking of the plans to build plans to build an £85m ‘secure college’ for 320 young offenders Brian ponders, “I have been to places much like the one focused on in this article; I’ve breathed the air and felt their harsh caress”. 

This is an especially stimulating Y &P offering and it deserves our serious attention. With this in mind we’ll be returning to a number of the articles in due course.

The Youth Work Manifesto is available as a pdf in its own right.

Manifesto for Youth Work Revisited

Innovation in Youth Work : Tony Jeffs asks ‘What sort of future for our work?’

As  observed in yesterday’s post over the coming weeks we will be posting links to particular chapters from the new and challenging book, ‘Innovation in Youth Work : Thinking in Practice’, edited by Naomi Stanton. We are doing this as part of the YMCA College’s commitment to spreading the word as widely as possible. Amidst the hurly-burly we hope you will find time to peruse and reflect upon its contents.


In a typically forthright piece Tony Jeffs sets the scene for an exploration of innovative youth work in ‘What sort of future? It begins:

Innovation is woven into the very fabric of youth
work. From its outset, youth work was obliged to
remake itself each time the social context and young
people’s needs changed. Inflexibility was, therefore,
never a viable option as youth work always risked
being overtaken by technological and social change.
During a two hundred year history, this occurred
infrequently. Club leaders and youth workers, as a
consequence of their recurring contact with young
people and communities, most being part-time
workers or volunteers functioning in their own
neighbourhoods, have rarely been caught unawares by
these transformations. They may, at times, have been
one step behind. However, rarely has it been more
than one step. The dialogical basis of their practice
ensured club leaders and youth workers were
incessantly engaged in conversation with young
people. Therefore, those practitioners who listened and
were embedded within the local community acquired a
distinctive insight into the lived experiences of young
people and the places wherein they grew up. Rightly,
such practitioners were listened to by local and
national politicians, many of whom in the past
emerged from the ranks of youth work. It needs to be
recalled that, until relatively recently, youth work was a
‘mass movement’. Made up of thousands of clubs and
units; hundreds of thousands of leaders freely giving of
their time and energy; and a million-plus voluntary
members. From this potpourri of talents, youthful zest
and commitment to public service emerged a constant
flow of innovation. Nearly always these innovations
came from the grass roots, in response to pressure from
an active membership of young people and workers.
National youth organisations were themselves
products of this dynamic; which meant initially they
were controlled from below by local branches.
Innovation therefore tended to occur as part of the
natural order of things, driven by the desire of
practitioners to better serve the changing needs of
members. Almost without exception, every innovation
in relation to practice – be it the concept of the club
itself; the idea of a youth centre; detached and
outreach work; youth cafes; residential centres;
outdoor and adventure provision; specialist work –
with girls and young women, the disabled, ethnic
minorities and gay, lesbian and transgender young
people; or mobile provision – originally surfaced at the
local level.


Years of retrenchment mean the once vibrant grass
roots have withered away. Youth work is no longer a
mass movement but a remnant – sustained, where it
survives, by a rapidly decreasing number of paid full
and part-time workers. There are exceptions. Notably
some uniformed youth organisations, which have
enjoyed a revival, and the faith-based sector which
thrives thanks to a pool of voluntary leaders and an
increasing number of often poorly remunerated staff.
Therefore, whenever discussion of ‘a youth work crisis’
occurs, it is important to recall that the ‘crisis’ relates
almost exclusively to secular units and typically those
either fully or partially funded by local authorities.

To read in full, hover your cursor on This is Youth Work : The Book  in the brown header at the top of this page and click on Innovation in Youth Work : Thinking in Practice. This will take you to a designated page, where the full pdf of the book can be viewed. Tony’s chapter is contained within pages 10 – 17. As ever responses welcomed.

Innovation and Reflection at YMCA George Williams

Tony Jeffs sitting comfortably

Tony Jeffs sitting comfortably



Innovation in Youth Work: Creative Practice in Challenging Times was a conference held on 13th May 2014 at YMCA George Williams conference. The event was part supported by the Big Lottery Fund’s ‘Awards for All: England’ programme through a bid held by the college.

The conference was attended by youth work practitioners and academics from across the UK and discussion focused on the positive and innovative practice that is taking place during the current Government austerity.

The main speaker sessions included:

– Tony Jeffs (Youth and Policy) on the current state of youth work and the challenges and opportunities the field faces in moving forward;

– Aniela Wenham (University of York) and Ian McGimpsey (University of Birmingham) on measuring the impact of youth work including both current problems in the way it is measured and ways to think creatively in moving forward

– Elaine Johannes (Kansas State University) on how youth work is developed and sustained in the USA where there is no state or federal requirement for investment in youth services.

Workshops were facilitated by practitioners from a range of organisations including, among others; In Defence of Youth Work, NUS, The Foyer Federation and The Boys Brigade.


Reflecting on the event

At a time of steady decline, rallying cries levied against those responsible for cuts to youth services seems to be falling on deaf ears. Why is this? Is youth work living though its final hours or is now the time for youth work to be reborn so that it can fulfil its telos? In his key note speech, Tony Jeffs argued that the withdrawal of the state, in funding youth work, is not a feature of austerity, rather the state has little interest in youth work now. Recent attempts to revive youth work have proved both costly and unsuccessful in the bigger scheme of things as seen with the Youth Service Development Fund, Transforming Youth Work, Connexions and, most recently, Myplace.

But is the writing on the wall for youth work? Outside state funded provisions it would seem all is well and good. Youth work in the faith sector and the uniformed organisations is thriving. Rather than responding to what funders want to hear, fighting for the scraps of targeted youth work being tendered out, we see youth work which has thought about what it wants to be rather than responding to what funders want to hear. Katherine O’Brien, a church based youth worker, talked extensively in her workshop about how she sees youth work as a way to empower young people through social action and a commitment to social justice. For those youth workers who were perhaps a little longer in the tooth, this was a rejuvenating experience allowing time to consider the importance of youth work that is political; working with issues that young people are really concerned with.

Similarly, the need to encourage a more politicised approach through collective action seemed to be one of the main messages coming from Ben Kinross and Sarah Kerton of the NUS as they sought to build links between the work of student unions and youth work.

In seeking to reclaim youth work’s raison d’etre, a call for rigorous research and strong philosophical grounding were both considered to be important principles for supporting and developing practice rich in intrinsic value, furrowing its own path rather than following the ploughed lines of political rhetoric and targets – now is the time to innovate.

Simon Frost, YMCA George Williams College.


We should also report that the YMCA is launching a Centre for Reflective Leadership – full details on their web site, including info on a new Masters degree and a range of short courses. Also see the pdf to be found below.

Centre for Reflective Leadership 2014 pdf.

Thanks to Naomi Stanton for the for the link and photo.