I usually set this exercise in the detached youthwork training that I do with groups, churches and college students – think about detached youthwork compared to ‘centre-based’ work – what advantages are there? Of course, there are disadvantages and I will acknowledge these in a following post. But for a start we should focus on its advantages. After all there must be some, otherwise we wouldn’t persist with it…
In no particular order some of them include:
- We’re likely to meet young people who are unlikely to be in ‘structured’ provision elsewhere. They may not be ‘at risk’ just cant afford, or dont have transport or able to cope in structured youth provision. They may prefer the open informal space of being outside.
- Young people are more at ease in the space, they may act more territorial about it, but they have, in the main chosen to be there, and so are more at ease with being in it.
- There are certain roles of youthwork we dont have to fulfil – like caretaker of the space, or entertainer, the space takes care of this, we can focus on the conversation, the activities already happening and not be distracted by building management
- It is cheap. Pay for me or someone to do some training, and it can be done with few resources.
- It can be flexible, establishing patterns for being on the streets is good, but it can vary week by week depending on what is discovered in the observations, of where young people are likely to be, and how often volunteers are available. It is not a club that has to be open every week, same time.
- It focuses on Young people as the primary reason for being in the space, they are, with maybe only deliberate informality, the reason for being there.
- It gives the opportunity to see young people behaving in their chosen context, and so, outside of establishment control, they may be very different, a powerful leader, but shy at school, someone with resources, who is said to lack resilience. It may help us build a different picture.
- Young people can make the decision to accept of reject us. Unlike forced other provision or services, we know that they may choose to opt out, and that is fine. It is up to them to do so, when they know what might be on offer.
- It helps us to youth work without buildings, programmes, numbers, targets, and gets it back to the pure stuff of meeting young people, of valuing them in their community, and discovering and learning with and from them, and building something new that they can participate in its emergence.
- It is political. By giving young people a space to be listened to and heard, by valuing them, by responding and creating with them, goes against the dominant narratives, it challenges that young people have worth in society. It is political.
- It can help solve community problems, with young people as identifiers of the need and participating in the solution. They are treated as contributors and creators.
- We see something real. And meet the young people in the midst of the drama. They cant, though they might pretend not to be smoking or drinking, but in the midst of the drama we are there. They dont find us or are sent to us to deal with stuff. We meet it head on and in the space. It is a conversation and interaction of reality, we see how they are in the community of the public space.
I am sure, if you have been involved in detached youthwork a while you will be able to add to this, but as I was training a group this evening I thought, again, about what the advantages are to meeting young people in the public spaces of their choosing. Yes it requires us, especially as churches and projects, to be vulnerable, to make ourselves available in the public sphere, and it requires a physicality of walking, and determination. But from our, and from the young peoples perspective it has a number of advantages.
If getting out on the streets and connecting with young people is what you, your church or organisation are about to embark on, why not also invest in some training to give you, practice through role plays, hints and tips and other helpful tools for your kit bag as you head out. Please do contact me for details in the menu above.
What might you add?