Renewing Collective Purpose : The D2N2 Youth Work Alliance

Further to yesterday’s piece celebrating Nottinghamshire’s defence of open youth work, find below a report on the launch of a Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire Youth Work Alliance, which outlines powerfully its collective sense of purpose and identity.

Is this a useful template for others in the struggle to renew a tradition of cooperation and solidarity within our work? It would be interesting to hear the views of the youth work trade unions and the Institute for Youth Work. I believe the D2N2 Alliance is making a contribution to the Unite national conference in Eastbourne on Saturday, November 19. My own initial response is that we should encourage further serious discussion about the wider possibilities of this important development.




D2N2 Youth Work Alliance is a forum of professional Youth and Community Workers who contribute to the support and development of young people in Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire. The methods, approaches, values and principles are in line with those set out through academic and evidence based practice.

On the 15th October 2016 we held the Launch event at Derby University, the programme of workshops was developed and facilitated by a group of young people to over 70 attendees, including Youth Workers from both Statutory, Third and Voluntary Sector Organisations and Elected Members.

The three workshops (Youth Work Past, Youth Work Present & Youth Work Future) led to plenary session to ratify the Alliance’s future programme of work;


  • To promote and youth work as a distinct and effective educational approach to engaging and intervening with young people.
  • To encourage the growth of open access youth work outside of the school day and targeted Youth Work with small group or individuals.
  • To positively influence the professional training and development of both Youth Workers and Youth Support Workers.
  • To advise on the quality assurance and inspection of youth work practice across Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
  • To promote of cross border cooperation and efficiencies on aspects of youth work including; policy & practice, curriculum, quality assurance and workforce development.

Eligibility for Membership of the Alliance is set out below.

This is to maintain the professional status of Youth and Community Workers. Membership recognises the diversity of the youth work sector; hence includes those that work with young people, who engage on a voluntary basis, in public, private and third sector (including faith-based) organisations. The work may be paid or unpaid and includes face-to-face workers, youth work managers and educators. It recognises those practitioners that may have an interest in community development, with young people at the heart of their interests. All members must subscribe to the Code of Ethics.


Membership is open to anyone who;

  • Holds an enhanced DBS check
  • Contributes to the development of young people in Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire.
  • Supports and does not contravene the code of principles and ethics of professional youth and community work.

Membership will include the following benefits:

  • Quarterly forum meetings to discuss current issues, debates and professional practice
  • A forum to raise issues, concerns or challenges that require challenge in decision making arenas
  • Membership of a collective voice which enables collective action for social change in the interest of young people and their communities
  • Ability to contribute to maintain the professional standards of youth and community work
  • Invitation to free CPD events
  • An online portal to share news within the field, opportunities, best practice and resources for effective youth and community work.

Fees: This is free


D2N2YWA believes that Youth work enables young people to develop holistically, working with them to facilitate their personal, social and educational development, to enable them to develop their voice, influence and place in society and to reach their full potential. It is characterised by:

  • Positive relationships based on mutual respect.
  • An informal educational process starting from their current unique experience based on voluntary participation, harnessing the unique learning opportunities of working in groups.
  • Planned opportunities, activities, experiences and interventions based on an informal curriculum, co-created through the young person and the professional.
  • Providing information, advice, support and guidance on the many complex needs young people face, in all areas of their lives.
  • Preparing young people to make a positive contribution to society in adult life, based on the principles of empathy, equality and social justice.
  • A diverse professional sector with a clear value base and National Occupational Standards to support young people through their adolescent phase of life.

Whilst youth work skills are applied in a variety of settings and contexts, which are welcomed, youth work is not:

  • Formal vocational or academic education or training.
  • Social control directed by outcomes driven by social care, education or youth justice professionals.

What do we mean by voluntary? Jon Ord propels the debate

If you’ve followed any of the 2016 post-conference posts on this site you will know that we scratched the surface of the continuing debate about the significance or otherwise of the voluntary relationship in defining what we mean by youth work. As things stand the very first of IDYW’s cornerstones of practice reads:

  • the primacy of the voluntary relationship, from which the young person can withdraw without compulsion or sanction.

Yet this interpretation is increasingly contested, so much so that we intend to organise a series of seminars this winter to explore further, given the present climate, the vexed question of ‘what we mean by voluntary’? In the run up to these gatherings we will post differing responses to the question. Hence we are pleased to hear from Jon Ord, who writes:


At the recent IDYW conference, in the debate on Voluntary Participation, Bernard Davies made reference to a chapter in my latest book, which looks in some detail at the concept. Afterwards someone did ask me: ‘what book’? So I thought it might be a good idea to share a little bit from it, which may go some way to publicise it…

The following is adapted from chapter 10, ‘On Voluntary Participation and Choice’:

‘Voluntary participation is perhaps one of the most controversial issues in contemporary youth work. Workers are increasingly finding themselves being asked to work in situations where the young people have not accessed the provision voluntarily. However despite the ease with which some youth workers are embracing these new environments we need to have a critical understanding of the concept of voluntary participation. For example: there is actually no opposite to voluntary participation. One cannot participate ‘involuntarily’. Neither is this mere semantics. Participation is an intentional act. One can be physically present but not actually participate. What this shows is that there are two important and distinctly different aspects to voluntary participation – attendance and participation…Ultimately it is the quality of the relationship which forms out of the engagement, the degree of choice at the disposal of the participants, and the participative practices of the workers, not simply whether the project was based on the participants being able to choose to attend, that defines the potential of youth work practice. Ultimately it is the ability to ‘enable young people to engage’ which is important. Choosing to attend is one of the factors which would assist this engagement but it is not the only one and in itself it is no guarantee. I would argue therefore it is possible to do youth work in settings where young people have not chosen to attend but of course success is not guaranteed. Youth work practice should be underpinned by a critical awareness of ‘power and authority’ whatever the context and such issues are of particular importance in settings where young people cannot leave of their own volition’. In such settings of course the possibilities for genuine participation may well be severely hampered and this should not be glossed over…

The above provides a brief insight into some of the arguments in the debate about voluntary participation but more can be found in chapter 10 of the 2nd edition of Youth Work Process Product and Practice. A flyer is attached which provides you with a 20% discount on your order should you wish to explore this further.

It is good stuff, so Jon, we forgive you for this flagrant act of publicity!

ord_process, product and practice authorflyer-iii

Blurring the Boundaries conference : Reflections 3

Adam Muirhead, Chair of the Institute of Youth work, posted these reflections on our IDYW conference on his blog, YOUTHWORKABLE, which is always worth a visit. He focuses in particular on the opening session, which in challenging our emphasis on the voluntary relationship raises issues we hope to explore in more depth in the near future.



In Defence of Youth Work (IDYW) hosted the conference for what is clearly a large supporter base; 70+ of us were welcomed by Tony Taylor, who opened by updating on recent activities, thoughts and considerations of the IDYW group:

The numbers of supporters engaging online remain very good
There is a need for greater capacity and fresh blood on the steering group – plurality is welcomed
IDYW is transitioning from being a campaign group towards being a force for critical engagement with youth work theory and practice
Storytelling work is going strong and has now been translated into several languages
There is scope to increase the number and variety of posts made to the website, Facebook, Twitter etc



Bernard Davies introduced a presentation from Annette Coburn and Sinead Gormally that had been developed from ideas that came out of a chapter titled ‘Youth Work in Schools’ in the recent Graham Bright book . It challenges the ‘voluntary participation’ principle that, over the years, has become somewhat enshrined in youth work lore. The argument centred around the notion that young people may be within a non-voluntary space (such as a school, prison or hospital) and still be engaged in youth work if the focus of the work is young person centred, emancipatory, the relationship with the youth worker is able to be negotiated and if there is capacity to meaningfully engage.

Annette and Sinead argued that should this new paradigm be accepted it may represent a ‘threshold concept’ for youth work that allows us, with a new perspective, to move forwards with youth work representing ‘an educational methodology’ rather than a profession per se, that could help us to explore new theoretical landscapes.

Tania de St. Croix offered a contrasting response that the voluntary component is fundamental to our practice, especially in settings where sanctions can be imposed for non-compliance or non-attendance. The point was made that there remain so few spaces for young people to choose to come and go and youth work represents a bastion of the principle that this is absolutely necessary.

There was a helpful acknowledgement that power and choice are complicated issues – the ‘choice’ to be at a youth club may be because your mum kicks you out of the house each night and you have nowhere else to go. The power presents itself in different guises, for example, the Hitler Youth espoused principles of voluntary engagement…


The presentations precipitated some interesting reflections from the group at large; deliberately avoiding naming people I have tried to capture some below:

Student placements can’t be refused to those working in non-voluntary settings.
Reassuringly, graduates are going into non-voluntary settings and, with an appreciation for youth work ethics and values, are subverting the practices and creating ‘spaces for youth work’.
There are ‘open-access’ youth clubs that don’t look like they are doing youth work – the power imbalances are left completely unchecked (between genders for example. Conversely some excellent practice exists in school/college settings. Youth workers have colluded with the “give us a job, I can do that” mentality to keep funding. Has this been corrupting?
Is it helpful to consider youth work as separate from youth work skills so that we can ‘set out our stall’ with clarity?
An interesting Chinese perspective was added by one delegate who told of how youth work does not exist in and of itself in China. Those that work with teens outside of school are also known as teachers and the practice of gathering young people in their leisure time bears little significance/meaning in the ways we consider it does – until, that is, individuals take it upon themselves to apply youth work theory. But it’s certainly not permeated social policy at any level in this delegate’s experience.
Others felt that these discussions were quite self-centred on us as professionals; Young people must remain the focus of the discussion as the subject and the object of our work.
Starting where young people are at is key. Back in the day there was nothing else to do but go to the youth club. In this, workers actually had quite a lot of power. We now have to go where young people are at – it represents a new, necessary nature of youth work.
Many new youth workers have their own instincts about being a force for regulation and control and often, only after studying, bring a new emancipatory angle to their work – at the same time as their management try to enforce more control and regulation.
Changing the definition of youth work is the wrong starting place – we have to consider what we feel and know to be good practice (whilst recognising constraints).
We want to train a community of ‘critical pedagogues’ – we then practice youth work in a distinctive setting – after all, a teacher tries to ‘meaningfully engage’ young people…
The critical spaces to iron out these ideas have been in decline.
The setting is less important. Perhaps ‘voluntary’ relationships is a misnomer and an umbrella term should be found to encompass the complexities and multi-faceted nature of this notion?
Yes, youth workers have been guilty of hitting targets or acquiring funding by moving into schools etc – but isn’t it better that youth workers do this than PCSOs or Counsellors?
An interesting exercise may be to conduct an examination of how settings do influence practice. Are these values shared across the UK? Other countries didn’t have an Albemarle watershed…
Sue Atkins shared a funny anecdote about a cleaner at an art college she once knew. One student’s installation had been quite ‘casual’ and this cleaner lady had accidentally cleaned it away overnight. Once, she’d been informed of what she’d done she would go around pointing at rubbish asking ‘is this art?’, ‘is this art?’. There may be parallels now with us wandering confused, asking ‘is this youth work?’

So, perhaps more questions than answers, but I would reflect that delegates seemed to very much value the space provided on the day to thrash these ideas about together – I certainly did.

Thanks to the IDYW team, in my opinion no one creates these spaces better. I look forward to cultivating cooperation with the Institute for Youth Work as we move forwards in solving some of our puzzles!

Notes from the rest of the day may inform a forthcoming post.

Disclaimer – written in this post is my interpretation of people’s meaning and inference at this conference. Please contact me if you would like to challenge any points you recognise as your own that I have misinterpreted.