On the morning of Fidel Castro’s death, a possible recount of the votes in one American state and a huge swell of media attention to historic sex offences in football ( top three stories right now on BBC news website), there wont be many column inches spared to the pending closure of the Universal youth provision in Brighton which was announced in the last two days. It is part of a 1.3m savings process for the local council, in which ‘vulnerable young people may be put at risk’ the details are here: http://www.brightonandhovenews.org/2016/11/25/charities-may-close-as-brighton-and-hove-council-prepares-to-scrap-1-3m-youth-services-contract/ and by some accounts was announced to the media as consultations were being organised.
It feels a strange week then, given that ‘Youth worker of the year awards’ were publicised by ‘CYP Now’ this week, and the Christian Youthworker awards were held only 2 weeks ago. Is there much to be celebrated? – well of course given the huge demands on the profession, the people fighting for it and the work that is done to help young people, people delivering youthwork should be heralded more than ever. But it remains a critical time and i didnt hear much from the platforms of people giving prophetic, challenging messages about the state of the profession. You know, a bit like the actresses at the Oscars who know they are making a scene when they challenge gender pay inequality, or when race inequality is also challenged.
Where was the politically charged speech? if there was one it wasnt shared very widely. Maybe the occasion too managed, the funding too precious, sponsorship too seductive, that at gatherings of youth work professionals calls to challenge the pending desolation of the founding identity of practice – the youth club is on its way out. I wonder if there is too much protectionism of the brands and organisations that people represent to challenge the powers and structure that are undermining youth work and in effect young people as people at all.
The reality check is that there were rallied calls in 1967 that less than 50% of young poeple attended youth clubs, and hence why detached youthwork was seen as some sort of response to this (working with unnattached youth, 1967) and 50% was seen as a negative thing back then, figures that youth clubs in the 1980s & 1990s could only dream of. But in a way that isnt the issue, for numbers dont prove anything, what might matter is whether something for and with a young person in a community is done that is as good as it can be. and good doesnt mean high energy, or relevant, but good in terms of virtue, of common good.
Something that might be good for young people is being removed from the country. The opportunity to ask a group of young people – what might we do for you, or what might you like to do- or what do you want to do to change or challenge the local community? has been replaced with programmes where this is done as part of a pre-existing programme, as an opt out, rather than decide together voluntarily piece of community development.
The arguments about NCS will go on long into the night – but spaces where voluntary community development and education are gradually reduced for individual programmes to help young people be job ready. The space to negotiate is reduced, the pre ordained outcome increased. As youth clubs disappear, so do other free social spaces. It is now up to the voluntary and faith groups to provide community development, the kind that might challenge, create and develop spaces with young people and adults so that they hone community skills, and develop community life in proximity with others that will enable them to be ready for life. They get then resources for the future through organisational association, through delegation, through planning and social friendships, a space that is undoubtedly inherently political.
If Kerry Young is right, and youthwork is a philosophy, an art (1999), then what kind of philosophy of life are young people being ‘exposed’ to in current practices, how are they valued, and given the opportunity to reflect on the situation, and the powers that exist in the systems, society and culture that they are part of. But its ok, as long as they can develop resilience to cope with in it, and get a job at the end of it, it doesnt really matter about that sort of thing anymore.