Personal learning from the streets

The title of this blog page has nearly always been about learning from the streets, sometimes the writing has reflected this, usually its about learning from the actual conversations and reality of meeting young people in their chosen space that causes me to stop, reflect and listen, being attentive to what is going on. As i was out walking the other day, and after a few conversations with people, i started to reflect on what i might have learned about myself, as a person, as a youthworker, from the experiences of being on the streets with young people doing detached youthwork.

Mistakes are inevitable. I make them, we all make them. Trying to be attentive to the conversation, and the person, their tone, humour, challenge or question is difficult. Sometimes im too confident in stating something, sometimes i dont pick up a verbal cue about what a young person wants to talk about. Sometimes i ignore the difficult thing.

I like being needed. This could be obvious and a part of all of us as youthworkers. But i know that if i could try and help a young person, give them some way out of a problem, help them think differently, or challenge the stuff theyre facing head on, then id want to. For their sake, but also because its something id want to feel good about doing with them too.

I havent needed to know everything, sometimes anything, about everything. I remember writing in a reflection at ICC, Glasgow during my training, that it was more important to find young people interesting, than them me. So, theres no need on the streets to be fully knowledgable, or cool, or anything like that ( Thank goodness). Ive learned that young people have all the knowledge they need to know about the cool stuff, they want help at times to navigate the stuff thats not usually as cool. Ive learned not to try and be fully engaged in the space of the young persons culture, leave them to it.

That being accepted in the space of young people is a privalidge. And so sometimes, its good to leave them in their space with a open return ticket, and not having closed that possibility down. Learning to leave well is something really difficult to do, especially if the situation is challenging or the young people are abusive, or theyre about to do something that you might not approve of. In that space they were going to do it anyway. Ive tried to learn to stop myself from acting judgementally. Theres a young person on an estate who called me ‘Dad’ the other month, after id said something in a certain way. It took me by surprise, but it challenged me again to reflect on my tone, and being judgemental. Its a privalidge to be accepted in the space with young people, its important to try and maintain that acceptance.

That every situation is different. I learned fairly early on, especially with young people in Perth, that an in depth personal conversation one week, wasnt a green ticket to having a similar conversation the next, when they were with different people in a different frame of mind, and different situation. This makes sense, but so often in youthwork or in personal relationships id hope to be able to pick up from before. But no, in detached, the moment is in the moment, and its learning to wait for the young person to want to go back into that conversational moment the next time. Learning to be patient, after all its their space.

I am nothing to young people in that space until I’ve become something. It doesnt matter how many years ive been doing detached youthwork, or if i am the centre director of DYFC, being paid to be there, and with a volunteer out on the streets. Status, experience and knowledge mean absolutely nothing in that moment. Its an equalising space in which things i might hold on to are worthless, when what matters is having a conversation with a young person, who is viewing me in their space as an intruder, as entertainment, or someone to ignore. That is what i am in that space. again, because its not mine.  I wonder if thats different in the kind of youth work where young people come to ‘our’ spaces.

These are just a few things i have learned about myself most notably from the many hours on the streets doing detached youthwork. Its a space of many contrasts, the adrenaline highs of conversations, the lows of missed opportunities or not seeing young people for ages. The patience required, the diligence and determination. Being responsive and acting to do something, or deliberately doing nothing either. Its an always ongoing learning experience, both of the young person, the context and also for me.


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