The Youthworker and the youthwork Holy Grail

But i still havent found what i am looking for (U2)

This week i have been in the position of having to encourage one of my colleagues, who despite all best intentions was struggling with the prospect of evaluating a substantially funded youthwork programme that only 1-2 young people had turned up at. The target audience for the group was young girls who were at risk of anti social behaviour over the summer holidays, who hadnt engaged that well at school and were displaying other similar indicators. He had been in touch with many referral agencies prior to the group starting and had run a similar group last year in which 6-8 young people had attended. His questions were initially : ” can i justify spending £50 on taking 4 leaders (including volunteers)  and 1 young person bowling?” to “how can i evaluate the whole group to the Bosses when they return from holiday in 3 weeks?” to more despondently “this group is a failure” and “how is it that other youthworkers have been able to do this kind of work and i cant?”

On a practical level  there may be easy questions for my colleague to reflect on that have affected the attendance at his group, which consider the length of time planning and recruiting, or whether there was a need for the group, and determining that the group is of value to the one or two young people, and having supervised one of the sessions, they seemed to enjoy and participate well in it. It would also be fair to say that if you were a young person struggling to engage in a school environment would you participate in something like this during the school holidays?

However, these are all things that maybe pinpoint the detail of this one group, there is a bigger concern.  He as a youthworker, was being informed,  that this is a type of youthwork. Therefore as a youthworker he was undergoing the beginnings of a personal crisis, that he wasnt a good youthworker.  The emotion and desperation however were blinding the reality of the situation, square peg in round hole.

The type of youthwork now being offered, when money is chucked at the ‘anti-social’ problem, (the stuff that isn’t sports/dance clubs etc) or the work and employment programme caused youthwork to have become less ‘youthwork’ and more ‘training and upskilling’.

Let me give you a metaphor; how often nowadays is training offered for free by organisations, but that if you dont turn up there will be a small, but not insignificant, fine to pay? , the alternative is that training is costly to the individual or organisation… Yet in the adult employment world wouldnt consider this kind of approach to be anything other than training/upskilling, its not adult-work or community education is it? to be encouraged through funding to participate in training? whether we think we need it or not? would we ever say that a trainer uses a youthwork approach?

Yet this is what employment based/ fear of anti social behaviour based work with young people is asking of the young people, to participate in courses that look/ feel no different to training courses, except they are being perpetuated as youthwork, by the government, by voluntary organisations and by the local authorities.

Youthwork is so much more than an approach with which the government can coerce to prevent anti social behaviour (and the youthwork watershed of last years riots may be an indication), or just to entertain young people, giving them a good time.

It is a philosophy, an art built upon virtues of empowerment, of participation, of growth and freedom. It considers the human as a somebody, creative, artistic and social. It believes in an education system that empowers the trampled and despondent, and advocates for the injustice of those who cant yet do it for themselves.  Maybe because all of this is so difficult to quantify that it feels like the Holy Grail, we as youthworkers never quite know when weve got there, but strangely we know when we’re no where close.

My colleague, if you’re reading this, you are a good youthworker, you know this, you are just in a place right now where the Holy Grail is frustratingly far off, but you know that when you get the opportunity you’ll be looking for a place that helps you get nearer to it.


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