10 of the deeply frustrating moments on the streets

I may really love detached youthwork, there are times when its all roses, and dramatic, purposeful and worth every moment, and the latest list of 10 is not reason to think that there may be reasons behind these moments to learn from, however – there can be some really difficult times, bleak and challenging incidents- which can be hugely useful to be present in, but doesnt make them heart wrenching.

  1. The moments when you think, without being judgemental, during a conversation with a young adult that not only should they deserve better to be treated in the way they have described, but that theres limited you can do but listen, share and support, however helpful this is.
  2. That moment when groups of young people fit the stereotype
  3. The moment when adults in the streets behave worse than the young people, and they dont realise it.
  4. The moment when the group you want to talk to dont sit down and theres no way of enabling a conversation
  5. The moment when you know you spoke to someone a few months ago and you cant remember their name- they remember yours, its on your ID
  6. That moment when you can tell a young person wants to talk in the here and now but that the group dynamics wont allow it.
  7. That moment when volunteers who get the nature of the work, that you invest in with time, training and supervision build great relationships with young people- only for them to move on after a year or two.
  8. The moment when people like the space that you create with young people and they want to take advantage of this for their own ends. The difference between detached and outreach. the difference between believing in long term process and investing, and the publicity monster of a provider who needs to be seen to do something.
  9. The moment when the Police interrupt the work, just their presence changes the tone of the moment.
  10. The moment when after a great night on detached, great conversations, great teamwork – when the adrenaline is still going 2 hours later and its going to be a late night trying to sleep.

A number 11 would include finding funding or poor management, however i wanted to focus on the moments on the streets themselves as opposed to organisational sustainability or structures.

Got to take the rough with the smooth, and learn the complexity of the moments on the streets.



Theatrical Conversations on the streets

“Each conversation is like a small piece of theatre, and within it we acquire a role” (Wardhaugh 1985)

“Theatre happens when someone offers something- word or deed-to another” (Vanhoozer, 2010:43)

I have a small confession to make; over the last 3-4 years i have developed a routine when I train detached youthworkers, volunteers or students even, when it comes to thinking about detached youthwork, especially the aspect of Cold Contact – or the conversation between the detached worker and the group of young people.  In developing the training since starting thinking about detached with the Sidewalk project in Perth in 2007 and the first training session, right through to training a group of volunteers in Byker the other week, I have tended to think slightly scientifically or deconstructively about those conversational moments, and thus I have encouraged discussion on;

The feelings, surroundings and first impressions

The first sentence – what do you say?

All the broken down aspects of a conversation, which we often take for granted, both verbal and non-verbal cues

Different ways of responding to questions, and what those questions may be

Tone, Humour, asking questions

Listening, Empathising and Values

As I’ve thought about the above quotation from Wardheugh, I’ve been challenged to think about whether I have had a tendency to de construct or scientificise natural conversations – and in so doing inhibit the pure theatre of improvised conversations.

Within each conversation – Smith goes on to describe we do embody an acting role. Its often the perceived leaders who make the first moves. Yet roles we can fulfil on the stage of the conversation can be to WD40 the conversation by maintaining the flow, or keep the scene going. We could be someone to illuminate the scene by drawing out the character of the young adult to perform, we could be the scene director who moves the scene to somewhere different – changing the subject, asking a question. Yet what role do the young people play in the scene? – are they merely actors in our performance?  What roles might they play?

In detached – they have the choice to be present in our stages, and choice to act authentically (without hypocracy – a term meaning false acting – cf Vanhoozer) , choice to leave, or perform as the context allows. They provide the context of the play, the focus is determined by them- as the detached youthworkers seek to utilise the context to draw out the improvised script.

Not unlike Jazz, or like interactive theatre, the performance of the conversations is improvised. But unlike either of these, there is skill required to maintain the play of the conversation in such a free space, where both parties can enter or more-so exit at any time.  The skill of the detached youthworker is to encourage the young adult to want to perform in this small space of theatre, to trust the others in the performance, whether each other as friends, or the youthworkers themselves.

Does the metaphor of conversation as theatre help a further artistic creation of detached youthwork performance? – it might do – as in thinking about roles of the scene, the drama that the young adults are encouraged to perform can take centre stage – after all- youthwork is about the young person as primary client in their social context (Sercombe) – maybe it is more like the young persons (s) as primary actors in their co-created stage with adults enabling them to perform.

Not unlike the world of Drama – there are cues, behaviours, actions and skills to rehearse – and thats where the training might still be very much valid, the Jazz musician still needs to know how to play the instrument, just that in the band there is collective improvisation.

After all theatre is a present activity, performance is affected by the audience and actors alike no two performances are ever the same.



Teachers; Credentials of the now rarely spotted youthworker.

Teachers (or Parents);  Just in case you have a youth worker in your school, invited in the school by the deputy head, or another of the senior management team, and you’re not sure what a youth worker is; here are a few pointers to help. There might not be many articles in TES about the practice of youthwork (even though it has educational credentials)  Its funny that no teacher I have ever met in a school had personal connection with youthwork – did they not ever have use of a youth worker as a young person themselves? maybe not- so for them, and other teachers here, in no particular order are some credentials of youth workers.

  1. Youthworkers do do more than just play table tennis with young people. Or take young people off the streets.
  2. Youthworkers might have limited sympathy for you as your pay doesnt rise. Youthworkers have had their jobs decimated by 40% in the last 5 years, and have lost colleagues, buildings, resources, and identity.
  3. Youthworkers, most of them, have received professional training which includes education philosophies, such as Friere, person centred work of Rogers, and consider education to be important with young people. We would love to do the educational work that wed like to do, and not have to focus on the targetting of job employment, alcohol or social development work that we maybe have to.
  4. Youthworkers consider the environment the space of learning and nature of learning to be important, and that young people learn better in their own context, and we can help young people reflect on the things that you teach them in classrooms, we find that young people love to tell us about lessons they love, they hate, their futures, their choices and their struggles.
  5. Youthworkers might be the people whom young people might choose to talk to, their voice is valid, especially in multi agency case meetings, they might also be able to act to affect the solution outside or inside the school environment, in between the structures & timetabling.
  6. Youthworkers will want young people to flourish, and know that school is important and a valid process for most young people, but for some young people it doesnt fit, youthworkers arent there to fill that gap necessarily, just to help think about a broader inclusive approach, and critique the bindings that you face from the regulations of Ofsted, league tables and curriculum. So, on the basis that you hate regulation and inspection we’re on your side, just that there’s less of us left to fight with you, and we dont have a union.
  7. A Youthworker might live and work in the social & geographical context of the school, and thus might meet the pupils in different local contexts, have greyer boundaries, they might be employed by councils, voluntary agencies or faith organisations. Their local context they see as a strength in building purposeful significant relationships, however odd this might seem as you drive 10 miles to the school each day.
  8. A Youthworker will have policies, guidelines and procedures to adhere to, so dont worry, theyre not mavericks, but just have a more informal approach, they would want to work with young people within values such as voluntary participation, empowerment, informal education, value the individual, community/human flourishing. Do ask them, not just to justify themselves, but so that they can enable you to trust them and learn about their way of working.
  9. Youthworkers might want to work during break and lunchtimes in school, and take breaks during lessons. The space when young people have more freedom is a better space for conversation & interaction. Its part of our work to be in thier spaces, however socially timed and constructed by the environment of a school.
  10. Youthworkers, especially professional ones have undertaken at least 2-3 years higher education training, and have JNC/CEVE accreditation. Its something, it might not be to the level of a teacher, its just different based on community learning, not formal curriculum.

So, if you have a youthworker in your school, and someone who describes themselves as a youth & community worker most of the above apply. Its not that youthworkers think these things on the basis that we think teachers might not, its that these tend to be commonalities of approaches, philosophies and background (except the table tennis bit). Should they say that they’re a Youth Minister or youth pastor, I wouldn’t want to state how many of the above apply to them as their training or approach might be different. However, a youth worker will want to have the needs and flourishing of young people as their predominant focus, and this is surely then a resource of a person that you as a school or teacher will want to utilise.

Employing a youthworker – letter to church congregations

Dear Church congregations,

Heres some handy tips to prepare yourselves if you have the resources and vision and passion for young people and lucky enough to appoint a youthworker.

Given that theres not many to go around nowadays, that a few Christian youthwork training courses have closed recently, a quick scan of youthwork magazine, Facebook and twitter might reveal an increased number of roles required, but less youthworkers availible to fill them. So, if your church is looking to employ a youth worker, whether for young adults you already know as a church, or the young adults and their families whom you don’t know yet, then i would suggest that at some point in the process of seeking this appointment that you consider the following (in no particular order);

  1. Get the administration right! – nothing worse than being a youthworker in a new role and having to ask about the admin – such as payroll, insurance, tax or expenses – or at least have to create the processes for these things in an organisation that might be new. Have the roles for DBS, & pay designated.
  2. Have some knowledge about the role of the youthworker, their training, motivations and influences, so that you might be able to encourage them in the way in which they might be shaping the practice of youthwork once they start
  3. Think carefully about the management structure, who they report to, how they report, and how the congregation feed into this and receive from the youthworker in terms of communication & progress. Give them a line manager who has time and keen to learn about managing a youthworker, not just the most obvious person, the vicar.
  4. Give the youthworker a honeymoon period in which their new ideas are encouraged, and that phrases like “the previous youthworker/in the 1970/80/90’s we did it this way” are reduced, actually any sentence that includes the terms ‘did it this way’ or ‘we used to..’ should be banned full stop.  This is known as England football manager syndrome.
  5. Consider that if the youthwork is so difficult that you have chosen to appoint a professional, giving them too much advice on the way they are doing things would seem to be at odds with how difficult you think it actually is.
  6. Dont think that you cant be a volunteer and help them because of your age. If you want to be a volunteer just ask.
  7. If you’re appointing a youthworker and the work is not already occurring doing the work, and have no idea who the volunteers might be, id advise you not to employ someone in the first place.
  8. Enable them to have someone to help them continue to think professionally and reflectively about their practice – whether another youthworker locally. They will really appreciate this, especially if they are the only youthworker in the church or with the closure of youth centres the only youthworker for 15-20 miles.
  9. Allow them to ask questions and be critical, they might only be asking questions that the young people might be asking too. Trust them with new ways, after all thats why you’ve employed a thinking professional youthworker.
  10. Avoid using numerical terms to measure the success of anything the youthworker does. Even if it seems the easiest thing to do. Most youthworkers hate numbers as success. If your youthworker plays the numbers game, they’re less of a youthworker than they think they are or they might just be trying to play the church numbers game. Its probably a youth pastor dressed up in youth work clothing.
  11. Feed them regularly, and get to know them.
  12. Give them contacts and networks of people locally, especially important people in the community such as schools, police, other agencies.
  13. Join in with their work, join in the ride and the life of the young adults, show empathy.
  14. Allocate funding for their role so that they dont have to worry about more than a year in advance. Pay them well, appraise them, and give them positive feedback, based on what has gone well, the details, not just attendance figures.
  15. Give them chances & opportunities to grow, have responsibility, be part of ministry teams.
  16. Make sure they’re not over worked, or have their hours full in the first 6 months. Where is the growth room?
  17. Give them time off at Christmas, especially if theyre 100’s of miles from their family.
  18. Of course theyll want a laptop and phone. And an office/desk.
  19. Theyd really love a budget for networking and coffees out. This is important for them.
  20. Think ahead, and how to get things right when things might not be going well – do you have policies in place for grievance, code of conduct & accountability?

If they are properly supervised, managed & administered, and that the whole church is behind the appointment (and its not just the leaders, or a visionary) and that their role is made clear from the outset, and so when they take up the post they know what to expect- these would be the main structural aspects to get right and ensure some smooth introductions and inductions (oh yes give them a good induction). The rest is left to how they integrate into your faith community, and integrate with young adults in your faith community, and how other young people might become as integrated too.

Treasure your new youthworker, if you do that, theyll hopefully stay for a long time, and if they do that itll be far more beneficial to the young people you value enough to invest in a youthworker in the first place.



un- macdonaldising the church – learning from the context & streets

The title of this blog is about learning from the streets, and, as a detached youthworker the street, or the context of the street,  is such a key influence on the shape of the work of detached youthwork. In many ways the actions of the detached worker, or project are shaped around the movements, timings, gatherings of young people in any particular contexts, and its the job of a detached worker to find all these things out!

Along with the streets (context) – the work of detached youthwork is shaped around Values (christian/youthwork) ones, as behaving according to values (however that happens) dictates the nature of the relationships that can be created (ie non judgemental, forgiving, mercy) . However, this is an aside as i was wondering what it look like for the church to learn from the street.

The question should be asked currently – what are the factors that shape the performance of church currently?

(and dont say Jesus)

If you stopped to think about it – why does church do the things that it does? who does it do them for? How/why did they start?

You might do a Sunday school – but do you know why you do a sunday school?  You do an old peoples lunch on a friday – do you know why? or what its original purpose was – or the catalyst was for its emergence? And I could go on, but think about the shape of your sunday worship, the activities of the church, its liturgy (or lack of) its maintenance, groups, activities.

What are the main contributing factors that shape & dictate their being?  which people group might the activities be actually for? what might you know about these people which lead you to do the activity and how are you presenting the knowledge?

As yet there is no opposite to MacDonalisation, a term often used as an umbrella term for the profligation of repeated work, done in a franchise system kind of way. Does Macdonalds consider the needs of the local community? hardly, or maybe even be bothered that a similar outlet might close down up the road. But that wouldnt stop a franchise of Macdonalds wanting to position itself in a community. It is there to make money. Even the cutest brands that have more ethical considerations are influenced by Macdonalds – starbucks, body shop etc – though Starbucks might have coined its own consumerist phenomenon. Has the church become Macdonaldized? and if so,  How might that be undone in a culture for which Macdonaldisation has purveyed almost every consumer/cultural space. Ie be counter cultural, not just copying its business ethic but supposedly ‘for Jesus’.

There are some obvious ways in which the church has become influenced by Mcd’s has, and John Dranes book covers these , there are some brands and products flying around the ministry of the church that could be argued are acting in a similar franchise way.

However, what about the softer, subtle activities of your church?  How easy is it to copy the church up the road? or in another county just because it works for them? or the latest teaching materials, or activity manual, church planting programme or social action project – because it looks like to you (person inside the church) it should be done in this way here? What about even the liturgies, performance of communion, songs that are sung – how do they come to being in your particular church- and why?

When might we stop and do things differently in that way of being the church’s local theatre in local spaces with local perfomances? (as Kevin Vanhoozer might put it in Drama of Doctrine p 440-460)

Should the starting point for a new initiative be, not what we like on the inside or what others up the road do, but the people for whom we’re performing with in the village or the town – should this be the starting point?

Mission as the starting point for church – or more specifically the learning, living and being we could be doing in the community of the church.

What might the church learn from the streets?

  1. It would learn that the streets are places of community, of people gathering in groups, of sociability
  2. It would learn that people on the streets are people, are human and worth interacting with
  3. It would realise that there are a whole host of people for whom it is approaches in the last 30 years have had almost no bearing on the lives of.
  4. It would learn that God might already be at work in families, in young adults and that finding this out would be a fun place to start.
  5. It would learn to act differently, reduce power, become vulnerable, and listen.
  6. It would learn that emerging church from local community might be improvised, unpredictable and sparkling with originality and specifically authentic.

It might be difficult to try and shape the church into a different way of being, especially if, on the surface it has a successful conveyor belt of people from youngest to oldest, a regular incoming group, and dare i say it, a regular income, and thus these larger ones might endeavour to keep the status quo, and have the so called platform to dominate the narrative such like.  But what of the majority of other churches? Well, they all have a local community of people around them, of people for whom the church has got to start getting to actually know, not because of a mission strategy, but that it has to unlearn its current endeavours to perform local theatres, on local stages which include the streets. To perform locally, think and listen locally and almost be ‘self service’ might undo an element of Macdonaldisation, but not to do this with this in mind, learn from the streets because that, i hope, might be where God is calling us to follow him.

*When i say the streets, i could also mean other public settings, parks, community centres etc. But not so much other socially constucted or constricted areas like schools, prisons, work places.

How to Manage a youthworker; a note to Vicars.

Between October 2000, after just moving into our first house, and August 2001, Lynn and I were waiting in expectation for the arrival of our first child. It seemed a long time at the time, it seemed an odd but also expectant time, especially compared to the couple of years post wedding but BC (before children). In the 9 months we’d decorated a room, bought the baby grows, gone out in the evenings now and then (thinking that wouldn’t happen again for about 5 years) , obtained the car seat, push chair, moses baskets, as well as thought about the change in work hours, income, child benefits. Its funny looking back, now that Anna is 14, and thinking about how much we tried to get ready for her arrival. Got all the practical things ready, items, space and finances, but did we once think about going on parenting training ?  oh no, we just accepted this expectant arrival and made up being a parent as we went along. Its funny, though, because as soon as we got a baby, lots of other people suddenly became the expert in how to react and cope with a baby, from discipline, to rashes, to coughs, to when Anna fell down the stairs. Without meaning to, everyone became the expert. Yet we were the novices, albeit we’d been Uncle and Aunty to neices and nephews. Could this be different?

So, for a few years you’ve been planning to get a youthworker or childrens worker, or community worker into your church, or paid for by your church. You’ve figured out a job description, given your local needs and ambitions, you’ve recruited, obtained funding, policies, an interview panel, maybe even figured out some accommodation, a car, made some links with local schools, or the police, or sports clubs. As importantly you’ve got them a laptop, a phone and an office space, and even a small group of volunteers who have been keen to get involved in youth & children’s & community work, all this at the moment sounds ideal, seems a perfect situation. All going to plan, all items ready, and once the recruitment is over you’ve selected and recruited ‘The Youthworker’ .

‘The Youthworker’ arrives. Their due day happens, everyone is excited. The church, the ministry team, the schools.

You give them an induction, tour of the church, the old sunday school room, a not used but perfectly acceptable office that sometimes people use to photocopy something. Give them a few number of the local schools, a list of volunteer contacts and then promise to meet up a few times that week to chat about plans for the term, for the activities.

So far, so ok. Everyone loves ‘The Youthworker’ thus far. settled in, doing ok.

But you, something is slightly wrong. They need you, the church need you, to be ‘The line manager’ for ‘the youthworker’

What does that mean?  ‘Line manager’

Its a word a bit like other words, for the vicar ; Pastor, Minister, Visionary leader, Teacher – yes these fit into a frame of reference, and they were covered to one degree in Theological training. But ‘Line Manager’ what on earth is that? But the church look to you, and you used to be a sunday school teacher, or you did some youthwork as a curate, in 1987.

So you try to figure it out as you go along, sometimes you have a chat with ‘The Youthworker’  especially early on. You encourage them by saying that the youth group went well, you dont know why it went well, or how it went well, but one of the parents said their child took a friend, so yes be encouraging, you tell them the youth club went well. You spend a while then telling ‘The youthworker’ about some of the families in the church, and some other young people whom the church hasnt seen for a while, after all at least if you tell them then ‘The youthworker’ will be able to come up with a solution to solve this problem, after all youve tried a number of things already. You give ‘the youthworker’ some other pastoral issues arising from a different family, then as you’re about to ask about the youthworkers time off, the phone rings, its the funeral director about Fridays funeral, and you motion to ‘the youthworker’ to leave and that youll see them in a few weeks.

Hmm, not unlike trying to work things out as a parent – but what might it mean to line manage a youthworker?

One of the challenges of youth work in what could be considered the ‘faith-based’ sector is that Line Managers might have little experience of youth work itself as an approach, a philosophy , and not only that the youthworker might feel that they are ‘under managed’ ( Ord J, 2012: 158) (its possibly the reverse to ‘secular’ youthworkers)

So, without just moaning – what might be the solution?

  1. Most accredited JNC Christian youthworkers will have done a module on Youthwork management – so that they are ready to tackle management for themselves should they go on to lead projects. So, use the resource of the youthworker to ask how they would like to be managed. How often, what kind of questions would they like you to ask, might ‘the youthworker’ be able to design a form which you can use. The decide on the schedule, keep to it, and manage in the way that the youthworker requires for you to do. let them help you.
  2.  Have a handle on the work that they do, be present now and then to see them in action, if thats doing detached, or a club or an activity, let them know, but be interested in seeing how things happen with the youthworker, be interested in observing them, because you are also managing them, and will have to do appraisals, or review their probation.
  3. Find out about youthwork, ask the youthworker for materials, books or articles, so that you have an idea of what they’re trying to put into practice, and where you can get them to reflect theologically with you on their practice – after all this could be one of your strengths…
  4. You will need to consider the practicals, such as their holidays, their sickness, their TOIL (yes they should get time off for extra hours worked, even if you’re a workaholic) – and ask them, ensure they take it. Keep these records up to date, its your responsibility, as much as theirs.
  5. Give them opportunities to grow, reflect and create – whether thats retreats, vision days or team building – nothing worse than being the youthworker that isnt important on the staff team..
  6. Ask ‘The youthworker’ for some kind of report, one that isnt just about numbers of people, but progresses, reflections, personal challenges, so you have something you could have a conversation about, that they can share with you.
  7. To help you could form a small management group – consisting of people skilled in like minded professions ( teaching social work etc) which may help in a skills gap. Though youthwork is distinctly different.

If you still feel out of your depth to enable ‘The youthworker’ to professionally grow, after all, you’re not, and never have been a youthworker, then arrange for them to have external supervision, someone who can ask the challenging questions about their practice of groupwork, detached, or clubs.  It may also be that the way ‘the youthworker’ works, and thinks, and delivers activities, and gets young people to think, reflect and explore the tenants of the established faith view of the church is at a tangent to what you had expected or wished for. But yet, the young people love ‘the youthworker’ and the space for expression that they have created, is ‘the youthworker’ being provocative – or is this refreshing in a stable church that finds change and challenge difficult.. How might this challenge be managed and channelled to enable a spiritually flourishing community?  But what happens if you manage a situation like this, dampen down the youthworker and young people – what might be the end result?

Being a parent of a baby, or specifically Anna-Beth was and sometimes still is full of moments where i wish there was a golden handbook of being her parent, all ready to be used in times of emergency, or read and studied in those 9 months. Maybe managing a youthworker as a Vicar is similar, where do you go to learn how to manage someone who might be professional, theologically & theoretically qualified? after all- Management of staff probably didnt figure at Theological college, and NT greek doesnt transfer easily.

Where would you go for training in Youthwork Management – especially if you’re the type who wants to learn the theory. There are some courses out there. The MA in community work and applied theology at ICC would have been one such course, and it may run again in due time. There are others. There are people who may be able to provide training or guidance in this.

Of course it may be said the under management is better than intensive micro-management, yes agreed, but an avoidance of being an extreme alternative does not mean that you default to an invisible or at best a reactive role.  One of the main contributory factors to youth workers leaving their roles in the faith based sector were not young people (it never is), but the organisation context of the work ( ie the management and people/power structures of the church/agency) and lack of understanding of their role as youthworkers (Richards 2005:34). Good supervision, personal fulfillment and supportive colleagues were key contributors to keeping them motivated.

I guess its good to know all this from the outset. So here it is. supervise and manage them well, be supportive and create a environment to help them flourish and feel fulfilled, purposeful, challenged.  Maybe its not too different from parenthood after all.



What makes for a successful night out on detached?

I generally find it really difficult to identify a night out on detached as being anything other than useful in the overall process of detached youthwork in the context of the local community. No moment in many ways is a waste; as it gives the worker opportunity to observe the present nature of the community, the social, economic and physical dynamics and interactions. The opportunity to gain experience in the space, the opportunity to see what power dynamics are in play in the spaces, the regular flow of groups, of people. Nothing is wasted.

Nothing is wasted either in that the community is becoming more aware of the informal presence of the youth worker on the street, not in the club or church, but in the public domain, as an alternative to the ever shrinking police on the beat, or increasing in some places Street pastors – the two way acclimatisation is important, whether its passing adults smoking outside a pub, waiting in a bus stop or in the local chippy, all these connections are worth investing in in the long term, its all part of being accepted locally.

So, if quiet nights can be useful – and they certainly are – what would make for a successful night on detached?

Overcoming the hurdle of a first contact conversation with a group – is a hugely successful moment. One to bottle for the whole evening – but in terms of acceptance and success probably 3-4 star.

A young male disclosing something personal in front of his friends – thats a 5 star success.

An acknowledgement from a leader in a group that wouldnt normally chat to you – thats probably 2-3 stars.

A lengthy chat with a group about any or all of the following; school, sports, evening activities, music & friends – very worthwhile and probably a solid 3-4 star event

Something more detailed, personal from young females – 4-5 star – its just a little more likely than from the males, thats not being sexist, it just is. Boys just dont do ‘personal’.

A young person who youve not seen for a while, tells you about how theyve changed and thought more positively about themselves and wants to thank you for this – yes it happens – at least 5 stars

Building on known , regular relationships where you’re beginning to gain rapport and acceptance in the space and in he group – yup easily 4 stars.

Having to deal with young people being verbally offensive to you – its not nice – but theyre not ignoring you either – so 1-2 stars maybe – definitely something to reflect on and change your own actions, behaviour, and a challenge to get to grips with.

Other things that make for a successful night on detached ;

Young people wanting to share their phone numbers, give you chips or run to talk to you

Positive feedback from others in the community

Reduced verbal abuse, and changes in young people

The team enjoying the experience

When young people are thankful that you’re there and they tell you. In your review sheets, record the feedback you get from young people – +ve and -ve – as all the spontaneous positives you will want to bottle and keep forever.  A young person once told me that “id saved his life” , i thought id only had several conversations with him on the streets, but he was deadly serious.

Maybe, if you’re a detached youth worker, you know all this already, because you feel it and see it every time, you love it as the life of a young person gets thrusted into your uncomfort zone on the streets. Detached is successful because the we generally dont expect anything to happen, we cant control any of it, so when things do, and (thousands of conversations/contacts in 100’s of sessions later they have done for me) we can celebrate the smallest thing as success. We celebrate that the process is occuring in front of us.

These are just individual moments that we can see in the space of the streets, similar to what we see in the space of a youth club, we educate to help young people in conversations which may have a positive effect elsewhere, but only if the young person trusts the guidance, and wants to change through it. And this process, of accepting informal learning from a trusted person (s) makes detached the unpredictable art form that it is, but one splattered with moments of success, progress and rapport throughout.


30 nuggets of practical advice for new detached youthworkers

If i was starting over again on detached, here’s a few pieces of advice id give myself when heading out on the streets, actually some of this I try and remind myself every week…

  1. Have at least 10 ways of responding to the question – so what is a detached youthworker? from young people, parents, your parents, teachers, people in church. If you have at least 10 ways, itll be at least a bit more interesting for you when you respond – youll get asked it at least once a week when you say what you do.
  2. Treat the young adults on the streets like adults.
  3. Stay calm in all circumstances, stay in control of at least yourself when there might be chaos all around.
  4. Its not too defeatist to walk away from a group of young adults. Its your way of not giving them attention if they are acting in a way that makes you uncomfortable
  5. Train and value every volunteer.
  6. Treasure every moment with the young adults, listen and be present in their space, enjoy the welcome.
  7. Dont stop observing, interpreting and listening to the values of the community.
  8. Build a good team, even if its just a team of 2.
  9. Vary your walking routes, vary your speed, and sometimes just stand and wait in the spaces.
  10. Practice reflecting with your team, and encourage the young people to reflect on their situations too
  11. Dont be afraid to ask questions of young people, but do so in a way that doesnt sound like an inquisition.
  12. Be confident, be yourself, you’re in the space of the community you have to be authentic.
  13. Try and give every opportunity for young people to trust you, talk to you and enjoy being with you.
  14. Do read some theory, some books on detached, but once you’ve read 10 you’ve probably read them all.  Though get a copy of Goetchuis and Tash (1967) its gold dust for pioneering UK street based work.
  15. Build good networks, especially with the police, community wardens and other adults around.
  16. Dont be shocked. Thats the game young people are playing with you.
  17. End conversations well with the young people
  18. Have good snacks, hot chocolate before and after, especially in the winter
  19. Enjoy reviewing the evening with your team, compete for numbers of conversations just for fun
  20. You may be the only adult who a young person gets chance to see who is ‘for’ them in their space, its and honour and privaledge, enjoy being their friend, their help, their fun person, their object of ridicule, their game or challenge.
  21. Look after yourself, get support and support from someone who can reflect with you.
  22. Stay safe, remember the policies and procedures, but realise its a different ball game on the streets at times.
  23. Dont be afraid to give away truth, like your real name, but dont expect it back.
  24. Realise that you might be the cause of escalated behaviour, apologise and move on.
  25. Take a hard hat, and bullet proof vests for all the assaults you’re likely to get. *(hopefully not, thats just one of those preconceptions you have to deal with)
  26. Be aware than adults on the streets might have worse, more annoying behaviour than the young adults.
  27. Get yourself a decent pair of walking shoes. and at least 3 pairs of socks in the winter.
  28. Its not your right to criticise a young person for swearing out and about. its not your club. However, treasure when they apologise for it.
  29. The first 7 seconds you have with a young person or group of young people in cold contact could be the most important*, dont give them an opportunity to think you’re judging them. (*if the research about first impressions and job interviews is correct/transferrable)
  30. Enjoy meeting new young people, enjoy meeting the same ones and building rapport, enjoy the deeper conversations, enjoy it all!

Im sure there are many extra to add to this, but these are just a few pieces of advice that might be good to share if you’re about the start being out and about on the streets meeting young people where they’re at.


If church was a Car dealership…

My journey to work, for those who’ve read my previous blogs is usually accompanied by listening to a number of podcasts, one of which is BBC 5 live’s ‘fighting talk’. Its a random collection of people on a panel type show giving comedic & critical responses to the sporting events of the week. The last question in the show is AOB – and each panellist is given a minute or so to describe/moan/raise an issue that is cause of frustration, humour or pougnency, that is non-sporting related.

Last week the panellist raised the thought that – “Why do Car dealerships put balloons on their lamposts? i mean – do 5 year olds buy cars? if I as an adult wanted to buy a car, id go to the garage to buy a car. I wouldnt think, oh look that pretty shop with cars in it has got balloons, ill just pop in and might just on the off chance desire to buy a car, buy a car, and it comes with a free balloon, when actually it doesn’t, as how many people have actually had a balloon from a car dealers anyway!”

Later that day, i was sent a copy of the recent Stewardship magazine in which an article referred to a church which had taken inspiration from a local car dealership, in that the car dealer had ensured that the toilets were as pristine and welcoming as the entrance, as the shiny floor, that attention to detail was important.

So, me and my slightly obscure mind, has thought about the possibilities using the model of a car dealership as a metaphor for church, and how it might shape ministry. So, what about Church as a Car dealership.

  1. If people dont go into car dealerships when there are balloons, huge banners, mega deals – but only when they are thinking about buying a car anyway, is the point of the marketing to attract those already looking in a competitive market, when only 1 car is going to be bought from 1 dealership. What might this say about the church’s advertising techniques?  Are heavy advertising techniques a turn off for those not already looking, and not interested?
  2. Car dealerships have the prettiest, latest, most expensive models, should the churches be arranged so that the prettiest people welcome people at the door, and are those who sit nearest the entrance.
  3. What about different purchasing deals?  Could church offer hire purchase or Minimum future value deals? ie if you havent got a whole life to give to Jesus, try at least monthly sanctification…
  4. Most of the swanky car dealerships are in clusters, and in cities – such as Exmouth road in Exeter, the Mile along Inverness Road in Perth. The independent garages that offer better prices, servicing and have smaller overheads are in the rural areas generally, they keep families in work, and also help to keep petrol pumps and shops in local communities.  Does the church have a role to play in moving back to rural areas and offering less mega church in a crowded space?
  5. Church could offer ongoing servicing and free insurance deals;  prayer for the sick, pastoral help and counselling to service the needs of the community, and an insurance of Hope.
  6. Having bought too many cars in my life, i hate going into a car dealership with all its slickness, shinyness and feeling often powerless to stop the sales process going on around me, from the banter (dripping with lies usually) from the sales person, to the coffee, the flattery, the perceived need for an improved car, the perceived non need of my existing car, however, all of this clearly must work, as people leave car dealers with cars. So lets embrace the non-ethics of these sales techniques in churches; after all as long as people stay, or buy the product of Jesus it wouldn’t matter would it?
  7. Don’t you hate it when you’ve got that lovely car back home, only to find an issue with it? We had a leaky car that water was finding its way in. When we rang the dealer, whom we’d only bought it from a few weeks previously, it was as if they hadn’t seen the car, the sales people had no idea, it was an issue for the servicing, but there was very little coherency between sales and servicing in such a large dealer.  So should there be a church sales team, they could do all the deals, be the front end, glitzy, shiny, persuasive people, and once they have gathered the trust of the people to make a deal, then once the deal its done have other people, less shiny, less persuasive to deal with the problems of the product, or the deal, by then the deal is done, theres no 28 day return policy.
  8. And once you’ve bought the car – isnt it lovely to be told EVERY month with leaflets in the post that my local dealer has a new product, waiting just for me,  or a service deal, or something else car related – they never let me know i can have a free balloon.. And do you know what, i have never gone to garage based on a leaflet through the post, but some people must do. The church should up its marketing game, advertising is for life, not just for Christmas. Dont worry about the waste, the environment, annoying the not interested, non potential purchasers, do it anyway.
  9. Can the church fix -up some kind of part exchange deal? After three years take back your old faith, and have it renewed with a new teaching course, or programme, or small group idea. Keep on being part-exchanged…
  10. Car dealers do have a product that is needed, needed as a status symbol, needed as transportation to places of work to pay for the transportation that is wanted and needed. Millions of cars are sold every year. Millions of people go into car dealerships and buy a car, so they must know how to make a product that can be convincingly sold to people. Whats the best product of the church? how might millions of people need the church? well many already do – from foodbanks, to Messy church, to youthwork, to chaplaincy. I guess the greatest advertisement of a car is its badge, its maker and owner. We dont often look at where it got bought from, but who made it. If being made in the image of the maker is important to a car, then it must be for the church, and its people.

More significantly, to take a model of practice as one from Sales, commercialism and consumerism as a model for church, and take it seriously seems worrying to me. Why not go whole hog and re-model church like one big tescos, or Amazon or Starbucks? Shouldnt the spaces where people interact in a less transactional trading way be a better model – like a monastry, a railway station or a park be a better way of thinking about church. It doesnt have to be slick to be popular, just a space to be, to play and enjoy the space, in conversation with others who are also enjoying the space, who are in conversation with the maker of the space and sharing life together.



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