Why practice supervision should be an essential for youth and community work/ministry roles

I sometimes think I just get paid to drink coffee. But I dont. Well, actually I do.

Actually I get paid to be a practice supervisor with community and youth practitioners and do this mostly in coffee shops around the north.

And sometimes I think i’m the only person that’s doing this, or thankfully working with organisations (or self employed) who also value this. Though im probably not… but..

In the main, usually, I supervise practitioners on a 6/8 weekly basis, and I hope, at least, I think, that this is deemed valuable for those who receive it.

For those of us who have had a high regard for practice supervision, that its deemed a luxury can be a tragedy, and real inhibitor to the encouragement of good practice, why?

Well, because supervision that’s non managerial, helps a person look at what they do, with an outside view, gives them the opportunity to describe to someone else what it is they’re doing, what their ideas are, what the issues might be, what the challenges or joys are – and in good supervision be reframing this as they talk.

Be already working out the response the issue, without much input.

Other times, the story, the situation provokes a question from me

On other occasions I might refer to a theory, a book or the example of someone else – so that the practitioner connects with another

Or they’ll talk, and ill listen, and ill just let the conversation keep going, until the practitioner has worn themselves out… and the issue isn’t the issue at all.. its something else, and we got there in the end…

I might ask : ‘so.. what are you learning?’

or ‘are you sure?’  or

‘is there anything else going on?’

or just ‘ keep talking..’

‘what theory might this remind you of’

or

‘how might your theology inspire you here, where are the resonances’ (to the faith based practitioner)

The whole aim of supervision, in this way, is to encourage, to affirm, to help the practitioner reflect, to give them space to realise the new themselves – and I know sometimes I might want to share an idea, and I probably do too much, but am learning to stay quieter for longer.

I do despair that so often this kind of reflective space in supervision isn’t deemed essential for roles – sometimes management is barely adequate to be honest, sometimes practice reflection might highlight the need for better management…

But if management is about helping a person set and then meet designated goals, then supervision, for me, if the roles are separate, is more open, set by the practitioner, with subjects, content in what they want to talk about – reflect on, share – and yes the conversation might wander…It’s the space of the practitioner, and this, I think is the crucial bit. And it is safe. It is a place to do real if need be, if it needs to be a space of wallowing, of heartache, then it might need to be – but then it is also a place where the rebuild might occur, through the conversation.

Because its tough out there in ministry, community work, youth ministry – isn’t it?  really tough.. pulled in all directions, managing up and downwards, delivering and planning practice, trying new things..pressure to keep organisations going, worry, stress.. and so, whilst supervision might not be the only answer… its a place to step out and reflect. To breathe….

are you telling me that this isn’t essential?  no though not…

I have had to be manager/supervisor to a few people, and id almost have to pre empt a change in style to go between the two saying ; ‘you know im not often like this, but,  I will say that you need to do_____’ – and be more directive in that moment- when the rest of the time I might be more reflective.

Its as if they are improvisatory conversations, within which there’s reminders of the tools already available, reminders of the resources that are within grasp and reminders that the person genuinely isn’t alone.

And its great, in the main, to hear of the progress of a project,  the learning of an individual, the change a person might make from one supervision to another, and not everything happens to plan, ever, and not everything even happens at all – but if its taken seriously, then the process can be valuable, I hope through reading this you can tell that is.

So church – if you value your youth workers, clergy even – creating and purposefully including non managerial supervision (and its different from spiritual director/retreats/management) as part of their role might be the best thing you could do for them.

So, yeah, I get paid to have coffee, on one hand. Maybe I get paid to increase the longevity, creativity, support, learning, awareness of community and youth workers, and do this through conversation- helping community and youth workers discover that they can do this themselves..and that they’re ok…  Though I might need shares in the many local coffee shops in the north….

‘How was your experience of youth group today?’ Evaluating Youth work in an evaluation culture

‘How was your experience in Tescos today’

‘please tell us how you feel about the cleanliness of the toilets today’

‘share your experiences of the airport security today’

‘your opinion matters to us’

How satisfied were you with your experience today?

In case you haven’t noticed, its as if we’re living in a culture where opinions and where evaluation is all around us. I was travelling to Canada last week, and at each airport (3, Newcastle, Heathrow, Montreal) I had the option to rate the toilets, the security, the check in experience, and virtually in real time on screens I could see the current percentage of how people felt about their toilet/security/check in experience. It’s the same with Google maps, though I do quite enjoy rating my restaurant or hotel experiences, maybe on the hope of getting free food or hotels, but its good to share a photo or comment where its due. And if you want a laugh, some of the google reviews of churches are funny. But they’re often short.

Image result for how was your experience

But it really does feel as though we’re living in an age that’s saturated by evaluation. Our opinion matters.

But it wasn’t ever the same was it, and certainly not real time push button evaluations.

So the questions this pose for me are; what does it feel like when so much of culture is open to evaluation – when some isn’t, and secondly – what might it be like to grow up as a young person in a culture that is almost at evaluation saturation?

Please rate your experience of church today’

‘your youth group really appreciates your views- do give us a rtating’

‘share how the youth club made you feel and leave a comment so that we can improve our service to you’  

These sound awful in a way. And we might baulk at churches, youth groups or clubs aligning themselves in a service provision/entertainment way – but when a lot of the time, relevancy and attraction (rather than meaning/sacred/participation) are the drivers for an attendance, then it could be easy to forgive those who attend for thinking theyre being short changed because they aren’t given an opportunity to rate the sermon/games/activities/coffee/chat/atmosphere/friendliness – in a way that the same people can give an opinion on their travel, school or shop experiences. Yet Evaluation culture is all around, and whilst for some people it might be a relief not to have to give an opinion of everything – having no mechanism for giving an opinion, that is validated and sought for, means that there is no response, no way of sharing reflection, that doesn’t seem like wingeing in the coffee time, or over lunch a few hours later. Having no mechanism, apart from not being present – ie walking with your feet – seems to be reactionary and possibly avoidable.

I once made the mistake in one youthgroup a number of years ago, of giving out a 3 page end of term questionnaire. Don’t do this. It really wasn’t a good idea, but I was full of the dreams and ideals of a college course. And trying to see what young people thought of their youth group sessions of 3 months previous really wasn’t a good idea, and I took too seriously the requirmnent to do an evaluation for an essay, too much. I guess that’s why they have push button instant evaluation in the airport toilets, no one really wants to fill in a survey then. Evaluation has to be appropriate. And not having any – is that really an option?

But what does it say when an organisation doesn’t have any mechanism for this, when so many others do, and are open for it- peoples opinions are valued in airport toilets – but not in churches – is sanitation a place where peoples opinions are more important than sacred?

I am about to run a session on developing evaluation in detached youthwork, and it crossed my mind, the extent to which young people have grown up in an evaluation culture – where so many things in their lives have   an opportunity to give an opinion. Though, if shops, cinema, travel, toilets (!) are all open for evaluation – do young people have the same afforded to them when it comes to things that matter? Can they rate the maths lesson as they leave, or the careers talk, or even, rating how uncomfortable parents evening was for them – however there are other aspects of a young persons life that are important, such as faith, as voluntary groups – and these can offer scant opportunities for a response or opinion. It could be argued that young peoples attendance and achievement is more important than whether they enjoy what they’re doing at church, swimming club or scouts – but if google is valuing young peoples opinions (for whatever reason) then surely it makes some sense that if evaluation culture is part of a young persons life then the youth organisations might acknowledge and realise this so that they can hear from young people to. And, don’t use an end of term survey… a few tips for evaluating:

  1. Make it relevant to the audience and appropriate to the group
  2. Keep it concise and easy to do – single words/emoticons/post its – and – especially in conversations – note any feedback or comments there too!
  3. Realise the power dynamic – young people won’t want to be honest to offend you or challenge the relationship – so bear this in mind
  4. Use the information for reflection and to have a conversation with young people – to create new from within- and not just kept in a cupboard or filed away.
  5. Its an opportunity for young people voice to be heard, value and treasure it!

Mental Health and Young people in the Church – Guest Post by Jenni Osborn

Mental Health and Young People in the Church

If you were to send a message to your younger self to reassure or encourage them or even to tell them something that you think they need to know: what would you say?

I start my training with this question because it’s important to look back at the way life was when we were a young person and remember just how uncertain and chaotic that time was for all of us, even if we didn’t have additional struggles with our mental health at the time!

Scientists define adolescence as the period of life that starts with the biological, physical and hormonal changes of puberty and ends at the stage when an individual attains a stable independent role in society. We often define adolescence as roughly 11 -18 but this definition makes a good case for including ages up to roughly 25!

There’s a lot happening in the teenage body and brain. It used to be thought that our brains were fully developed before adolescence kicked in but since the use of functioning MRI scans (that is the ability to scan the brain whilst performing various functions) we are finding out more about the adolescent brain in particular, discovering that there are significant differences in the functions of the adult brain. It used to be thought that the reason teenagers didn’t weigh up risk or pay much attention to another person’s point of view was because of a flood of hormones, now we know that the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain which helps adults make decisions, plan for the future, inhibiting ant-social or inappropriate behaviour or speech and take another person’s point of view into consideration, is not yet fully developed in the adolescent brain meaning they are simply unable to do these things. Adolescents have to rely more on impulse and pleasure seeking because these are the functions of the parts of the brain – the limbic system and the amygdala – which ARE fully functioning.

Throwing these challenges of brain function together with hormonal surges and the keen feeling of peer pressure, we begin to see the unique challenge that adolescents have to deal with.

Add to that the backdrop of the 24-7 news cycle, environmental issues that threaten natural life as we know it, increased awareness of the need to live healthily whilst being presented almost daily with contradicting messages about how to do this, the distorting lens of social media and the pressure to maintain an online presence, global political upheaval including the rise of the far right, the Austerity agenda which has led to family chaos, increased reliance on foodbanks and a whole host of other factors and it’s no wonder we are in the midst of a mental health crisis of epidemic proportions.

The good news is that belonging to a loving, caring community of people is a significant part of the answer for those struggling with their mental health. A church and/or youth group that encourages young people to be open and honest by providing a safe space for them, that discusses emotional health and the impact our emotions can have on our faith and our overall sense of wellbeing, that shows love and care through listening carefully and talking about deep issues of faith and life, these are the spaces our young people need in order to navigate this difficult time of brain development, identity formation, fluctuating hormones and potential poor mental health.

I ran a survey recently asking young people from within church groups what they had to say about their faith and their mental health and it was so interesting to see a really wide range of responses about how their church or youth leader had supported them. Some said their youth leader was amazingly open and honest, encouraging them to talk openly about how they were coping with life. Others said that they hadn’t ever talked to their youth leader about their diagnosed mental health condition because they didn’t feel comfortable enough to be that open or that they had a difficult experience because the church had not tried to understand the problem they faced.

Many of us in churches feel out of our depth when faced with statistics that say 1 in 4 of us will experience mental health struggles in our lifetime and the actual numbers of young people, which is likely to feel like more than 1 in 4, in our care who are either diagnosed with, talking about, or showing signs of a mental illness such as depression or anxiety. We need to equip ourselves to do the best we can to support our young people, recognising that we are not all psychotherapists or counsellors.

I have written a Grove Book with this aim, to help those who work with young people understand a bit more about mental health and the impact this can have on our young people. You can order copies on the Grove Book website here.

I also offer training in a number of areas of youth work, mental health is one area that is particularly popular at the moment and my latest training session on Mental Health and Young People is in East Sussex on Thursday 14th November. You can buy tickets for this here. If you’d like me to deliver training to your church or organisation then get in touch in the comments.

If you’d like to read the story of someone who struggled with depression and anxiety as a teenager then I can recommend Rachael Newham’s ‘Learning to Breathe’.

If you’d like a resource book which gives you, the youth leader, a set of sessions you can run with your young people on emotional health then I can recommend Liz Edge’s ‘Exploring Emotional Health’. (in the north east a copy of this is in the Religious resources centre)

Thank you to Jenni for writing this piece for this blog, If you have a burning issue, a challenge, a question or a reflection you would like to share, please do so using the details above. Youth work week is upcoming, so if you have something youd like to tell with the regular audience of this blog, then please do get in touch.

12 of the inhibiting myths that prevent churches from starting to work with young people

These still kick about a bit, so maybe its worth stating them, once for all, getting them out in the open and realising not only how ridiculous some of these are, but more damaging how inhibiting they are, for churches, congregations to work with young people.

None of these are true, and if you think they are, think about what you’re trying to say about young people;

  1. The building is a barrier for young people coming into the church – no it isnt, its that people from inside the building havent created a welcoming atmosphere, or that its only open for things that young people havent created or wanted.
  2. If only someone could play a guitar, and do modern worship songs, that will bring young people in to the church. Heard this one recently, not going to respond. Might implode.
  3. No one here is young anymore, young people wont want to talk to us – actually they will if you find a way to be interested in them, and create a place that is welcoming, supportive and for them.
  4. We’ll never get young people, theyll all go to the big mega trendy church with lights and guitars. Really, all the young people in your town go there? you mean, the few christians will go, theres more than those 6 though isnt there.
  5. Therell be a safeguarding nightmare working with young people – no more so than any other group
  6. We used to have young people here but they trashed the place. Shame then that a different group of young people 30 years later are being tarred with the brush of their grandparents. Maybe reflecting on new approaches might do it
  7. Theres no material to work with young people like the ones in our town. Agreed, but the resource of being yourself, listening and asking positive questions may be all you need. Or questions like ‘were from the local church, and have no idea about working with young people, can you help us out, what would you like to happen for young people here?’
  8. Were too busy. Only if young people arent a priority.
  9. Its a job for a youthworker. Nope. See point 7.
  10. Attraction is greater than significance and meaning. Because a facade of entertainment wont eventually wear off. It’s not just millennials that crave authenticity, every young person in the history of young people does.
  11. They just need a simple message; strangely young people might be up for being challenged, involved and co creators of their faith journey. Challenge and risk are needed more than ever.
  12. We dont have the space to do it. Create an environment where people are loving and interested, and young people participate and are respected. Then the venue is irrelevant. (Unless ministry with young people is still considered as entertainment)

Theres also the ‘we dont know what they’re into… ‘ myth.. it’s as if young people are a real mystery.

Its only because I still hear these being said that I thought I’d put them together, so yes, this is unashamedly passive aggressive, I admit it. But there are two factors in play that mean that the church is needed more than ever to develop working with young people. The demise of statutory youth services, and the general acceptance that there are less church family young people in churches or staying per generation. The opportunity and determination should or could be there – but the opportunity is written off before the adventure even starts…

Church, you have the resources, the people and the connections with local communities, you can make this happen, if you really want to.

What makes a good conversation with young people?

In the past I have given many hints and tips on how to have a good conversation with young people, I have also reflected sociologically and theologically about conversations, and suggested ways of valuing them (Ie ensure they feature in review sheets) but I wonder;

‘What makes a good conversation?’

Think about for a moment, whether you were in a pub, a coffee shop, in your home, out walking the dog even, walking in the countryside or at a beach.. what was it that made the conversation you had with someone.. a good one?

A sense of sharing?

Time flying, yet every moment being precious?

Personal disclosure?

Humour?

Good body language and eye contact?

Shared understanding?

Trust?

No fixed ending?

Equal power dynamics? Or at least awareness of these but respecting each other through it with boundaries..?

What might you add?

And whether we’re 14 or 41, 30 or 60, we sort of know intuitively when we’ve had a good conversation with someone, we felt it, we learned something, we gave something away, maybe there was a spark of life, of hope and of support or care. But we just know.

So, thinking about the dynamics of the youth group setting, the club, the school group or street..

How can spaces, become places of good conversation?

The responsibility is on us, the practitioner, the volunteer to make it so.

Though we might meet a friend in a coffee shop – the conversation with a young person might be less deliberate.. only that they might be looking for the moment

Though we might pass a conversation off as insignificant (we have loads in every session..) young people might have treasured them, or felt an emptiness without one.

The culture and setting is important for conversations. I remember that the best place for conversations was on the door of the open music night, where the young people were smoking. Inside was too loud and dark.. yet, outside was good for conversation because it was an extension of the informal space inside. How might conversation be had in the space of your setting.. I’ve seen homework clubs recently where the leaders have some great conversations with the young people, whilst they’re doing their homework. But also seen very stilted conversations with young people about a theme not of their choosing. When I say I’ve seen, it’s because I led them. When urgency to educate overrides participatory culture that is for young people.

Trust. Agreed, not only being trusted people, but as Jeffs and Smith also say, trusting in conversations themselves. Investing emotionally, in the connections, relying on the conversations for learning, for themes if any to emerge, to let tangents happen, to trust in ourselves as practitioners and volunteers to hold on in conversations, to listen and ask, not try and direct or shape..

Then again, whilst we might want to fixate on the good conversations, we might do well to treasure all the conversations and interactions we have whether it’s banter or chat, or something deeper, all are important. When doing detached work I used to have different categories of the interaction, from ‘acknowledgement'(a quick hi and bye) , a social conversation (about the local context, evenings activities) , a detailed conversation (about a subject in depth) or even a personal one (where disclosure occurred or a personal opinion shared) .. these helped us to value the nature of conversations and recognise that all had value and occurred at different points of a detached evening.. the same group might have a social chat early on or an acknowledgement and later it’s more of a detailed one, once they have found a space to settle in.

I guess if we value conversations, we might do well to recognise their variety, the changes, and their nature. But what makes them good?

And whilst we might have an idea.. sometimes the most naturally good conversations are the ones that just well, happen. We just have to create the right kind of space where young people feel at home and safe.

Can detached youthwork be ‘asset based’ and develop young peoples gifts?

We’ll not speak to those young people – they’ve not got alcohol on them

They appear to be ok, we’ll leave them alone

I doubt if its them who are causing the anti social behaviour calls

These are all phrases I have used on detached youthwork. Its that thing where you go out, of an evening, to try and talk with young people on the streets, develop contact and relationship, and all of sudden in the heat of the moment, a whole load of baggage arises to the surface that kind of stops me from doing what i might be meant to be doing.

In a busy environment like a city centre where i did detached youth work a few years ago, it may have been possible to make those filter judgements because it was always busy. On a smaller community estate where there might only be a few groups of young people having this in built filter might mean it could be a quiet evening.  At least quiet because all the young people we see are being normal decent young people, playing in parks, kicking a ball around, and not really need us. More importantly, that we in those moments dont see that they are worth working with.

Because they dont display needs

Because they dont show us in their actions that they fulfil funding criteria

Because they seem sorted

Because we might not be able to tick boxes in working with them

Because its not what we’re about.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of delivering detached youthwork training to a group of sessional staff just north of Inverness. The feedback from them was really positive and it was a great 2 days. One of things that shaped the planning of these sessions for me was how focussed on ‘needs’ the teams, and communities were in relation to developing detached youthwork. There were kids playing near railways (single track lines with one train per 2 hours- not intercity lines, ((and even the intercity line has 2 trains per hour, hardly busy.. however) , young people starting to gather near to some town centres, vandalism and stone throwing. Whilst none of these issues are in any way pleasant, positive and they cause significant harm, and fear and isues about safety, of course. Often detached youthwork starts off from a perspective of need. Though to be fair also, much reactionary youthwork in buildings has done the same .

Conversations about moving from needs to gifts have occured in community development practice, and in youth work generally.  Peter Harts article in Youth and Policy 117  does identify that asset and needs based approaches do run concurrently in youthwork at times, he argues that

However, I would argue that as a general framework in which to understand the differences in
approach to out-of-hours work with young people between secular and Christian organisations is
through their occupational paradigm, model of youth work and assumptions about young people,
approach to risk, and dominant philosophy of ethics. (Hart, 2015, Youth and Policy 115)

Saying that needs and gifts are both part of the equation.

One of the recent new books I have been given for free from the North East Resources centre  is the following one : ‘Dont Shoot I’m a detached youthworker’ by Inez and Mike Burgess. Im reading the first few pages and see the following:

  • The service we provide is ‘needs‘ led (page 8)
  • identify groups of young people in patch and record any relevant dialogue linked toissues and needs…….(page 10)
  • listen carefully to young peoples thoughts allows a good detached youthworker to develop a while range of dialogue, as well as gaining information about the basic picture of young persons needs (page 12)

Now,  this is one of the few recent detached youthwork books that i hadnt read, and its why i lapped up a free copy. However, I am acutely aware of how influential this book is. I am also aware that issues and needs get youth workers to the streets  (i feel its like fascists bring citizens with milkshakes to the high streets) . And Peter Hart may be on to something, and my experiences, not just in Inverness but with FYT are that detached youthwork that is not primarily funding or community police set up can have a more positive footing.  It meant that to talk about young people and their gifts, their assets and use detached youthwork to focus on their was refreshing and powerful to the group of workers in Inverness.

Yet, I wouldnt be sticking my neck out too far to say that developing detached youthwork on the basis of the gifts of young people might be rare. To start with viewing young people with more dignity and humanity. To start by enabling young people to be part of the decision making process about any youthwork provision, to have conversations with them about their passions, their dreams, their abilities and how they might contribute to enable these to occur. And that could be all young people.

Somehow sadly, detached youthwork may be stuck in a needs orientated paradigm, created by those who need it a soft way of addressing community fears ( by the police) and this, as Peter says above, will shape the approach, or at least be the guiding lenses within which to develop practice into. Have predetermined issues, discover needs and then bam!, problem solved. But it isnt is it.

It is almost as if detached youthwork really isnt caught between the two stools of assets and needs, more that it is caught between a rock of funding and reaction – or none at all. Because of this, the many young people who are just being around, who are still victims in a society which has cut services to them by a staggering amount, are even likely to be given opportunities to thrive, to participate and to be decision makers in their own provision.

I wonder if it is more difficult to do ‘asset based’ detached youthwork out on the streets, because the setting is already so politicised and deemed ‘anti-social’, ‘frightening’ – that its difficult to see past all of this when trying to talk with young people. This may be different to when young people are in buildings that are youth orientated, its only a guess or a thought. Can young people show their gifts on the streets – of course they can – it is just up to us to look and maybe intentially look and find them.

Maybe any detached youthwork in the UK is better than none, and it wouldnt take a university study to reveal how decimated detached youth work has been in the last 10 years. But, if detached youthwork is to come back – and there are signs it might do – can those of us who develop it do their level best to shape it in a way that is about not identifying groups and problems, but discovering the gifts, abilities and good things about young people, and enabling them to explore their dreams, potential and how they want to make a difference. In this case, we have to sort out our langauge, our questions, and how we start from scratch. What if detached youthwork could enable young people to develop their gifts?  What might asset based detached youthwork look like?  (and im sure its happening, please if you do this, share details below)

In Praise of Youth works influential (often invisible) Women

A few weeks ago, there was a bit of a discussion, may be caused by me, on the number of women in youth ministry who have been able to or been involved in publishing theological or theoretical books, and whether Youth Ministry is too American and too male. Whether publishing is the way to influence, or whether there are many many reasons is a piece for another day. Not to mention ‘what youth ministry’ actually is. But it is a Friday. The end of a long week.

And this week, on a similar theme, I have been reading the following book, another free one as it was being cleared out from the Religious resources centre in the north east, they’re fabulous as they keep me a pile of any youth work books that theyre about to throw out (might start my own library)..

The best thing about books is learning something new, or in equal measure in the case of this one, learning about someone new.

And , to be quite honest with you, in this book I found a new hero. I fell in love.

I fell in love with a lady called Josephine Macalister Brew.

A woman, who I confess, I had never heard of, until i read chapter 13 of the above book. A woman who was one of many who was highly influential in the development of youthwork in the 1940’s-1960’s. A woman who was an educationalist, who was thoughtful, who it was said had a lightness of touch in her writing and yes was critical, and who held onto faith.

If we are not in youth work because of our love of our fellow men we have no business there at all. This burning love of humanity always meets with response, though not always in the ways we most care for, but nowadays as much youth work is ruined by too much restraint as by too much exuberance. Fear to exert undue influence, fear to assert authority when necessary, conscientious scruples about this and that – are all contributory factors. But young people want to know where they are and they need the friendship of those who have confidence and faith. (Brew 1957: 112-3)

I need to read more of her work to do her justice, and I’m grateful that you can read more about her in this piece: Josephine Brew and Informal education so that you can be as inspired and bathe in her profound, compassionate, yet passionate insights into youthwork. I was interested to read that the much heralded ‘Informal education’ by Jeffs and Smith (1999) was a cover.. and that Josephine Brew had already written a book with that title.. read the link and find it for yourself…

But this got me thinking, I hadn’t heard of Josephine Macalister Brew. Who else haven’t I heard of? and…. if I hadn’t heard of her, are there other significantly influential women who have shaped youthwork practice in the UK that others may not have done?

So, starting with Brew, above, here is my list of 5 other significant women who have influenced me in the history of UK youthwork, from their action that inspires, their writing and their influence, some you may not have heard of, others you might.

1 & 2. Maude Stanley and Ellen Ranyard : For anyone who has thought through the history of detached youthwork, these two women feature heavily. It was they who began, in one form or another to provide non building related health services to people in London in the 1860’s on wards. Today we might call them community nurses or matrons, they used the term district nursing, or Bible nursing, and whilst we might find issue with some of the ethics of their practices, what cannot be questioned is their dedication and heart for the poorest, most infirm in society, and the dedication to get out of the cosy building and meet people in their homes.

ellen ranyard, 'bible women' and informal education

For more on Maude Stanley and her setting up of girls clubs in soho, see this link : Maude Stanley On Ellen Ranyard, see here: Bible Nursing

3. Hannah More. If you think about the history of Sunday Schools in the UK, you might mostly think Robert Raikes, and this is pretty accurate given his role in developing them. However, you would do well to include the name of Hannah More in the development of them too. For reasons explained in this article , Hannah More used her knowledge and power, and influence within the church (albeit controversial at times, how things have changed…) and fought to encourage the expansion of Sunday schools in the UK.

Hannah More - Wikimedia Commons. Images by unknown engravers, and thus are PD due to age, per the relevant British legislation.

Her desire for them, was based upon the compassion she experienced in situations like this:

… we found more than 2,000 people in the parish, almost all very poor—no gentry, a dozen wealthy farmers, bard, brutal and ignorant.. . . We went to every house in the place, and found every house a scene of the greatest vice and ignorance. We saw but one Bible in all the parish, and that was used to prop a flower-pot. No clergyman had resided in it for forty years. One rode over from Wells to preach once each Sunday. No sick were visited, and children were often buried without any funeral service. (from H. Thompson, (1838) Life of Hannah More quoted by Young and Ashton 1956: 237-8)

In describing the nature of More, and the Sunday school she set up in cheddar, Mark Smith writes: ‘ The significance of Hannah and Martha More’s activities with regard to Sunday schooling lay in the pedagogy they developed; the range of activities they became involved in; and the extent to which publicity concerning their activities encouraged others to develop initiatives. Hannah and Martha More attempted to make school sessions entertaining and varied. We can see this from the outline of her methods published in Hints on how to run a Sunday School (and reported in Roberts 1834). Programmes had to be planned and suited to the level of the students; there needed to be variety; and classes had to be as entertaining as possible (she advised using singing when energy and attention was waning). She also argued that it was possible to get the best out of children if their affections ‘were engaged by kindness’. Furthermore, she made the case that terror did not pay (Young and Ashton 1956: 239). However, she still believed it was a ‘fundamental error to consider children as innocent beings’ rather than as beings of ‘a corrupt nature and evil dispositions’ (More 1799: 44, quoted by Thompson 1968: 441)’

Hannah More, known by Wilberforce and part of the group demanding change in the Anglican church towards social justice, and putting it into practice in Cheddar gorge.

4. Joan Tash

For me Joan Tash is one half of the dynamic 1960s duo, Goetschius and Tash, who wrote up their experiences of developing a detached youthwork/ outreach project in a london borough by the YWCA. Working with Unnattached Youth (1967) is that book, for me its virtually the Bible of detached youthwork, though I may now revise giving Tash all my hero status, (now that I have found Brew). But Joan Tash, (and George Goetschius) writing in that book alone, has i my opinion been barely superceded, in terms of detail, insight and thought in regard to the issues, challenges and scenarios of detached youthwork faced by them over the course of 5 years. They pioneered thinking about groups, values, community, supervision (ill get to that later), faith, training, and power, relationships in youthwork. When i say pioneered, it is as much that so much of what they said may not have been new, but written down in this book, with such evidence of practice included in such a painstaking, detailed way is hugely important. Many of their ideas have been used since (such as Heather Smiths work on Relationships), or values in community work developed elsewhere. Tash, like Brew, became significantly influential in the early development of the youth service. Working with the unattached is still i believe under valued in the history of youth work, and also in the field of christian faith based work.

As an educator, Tash lectured and was senior tutor at the YMCA college, and her extensive work on the supervision of youthworkers has influenced so many since. I can only imagine that 5 years of detached youthwork gave her the insight into the importance of it… im sure those who heard her lectures might agree…

Do have a read of Joan Tash, again, Mark Smith has written of her in this fascinating piece

5. The following Women, are to my knowledge all still alive. And so, their names have not yet been written up into youthwork legend status. Some of them, I know personally, some i dont so well. I have found their writing influential in my thinking about young people and youthwork, and so I hope that you might do too, there are no links for these women, just a hope that you might give their work some time and invest in it.

Johanna Wyn (& Rob White) ‘ Rethinking Youth’, 1999. If you are in any way serious about young people and thinking about them especially in culture. (Youth ministry colleagues especially, its all about youth culture, isnt it..) then to get a different view on much that is taken for granted about young people and culture, give this book a read. I implore you.

Kerry YoungThe Art of Youthwork’ 1999 & 2006. A book so influential in youthwork it has now had 2 editions. Nuff said. A must read. Its a must read every year. Covers everything from values, virtues, philosophy and ethics. Just read it.

Annette Coburn (and David Wallace) ‘Youth work in Communities and schools’ (2011) As Allan Clyne and I agree, this is one of the few books recently that has started to frame youth work in a constructive way (and not just moan about its status or give the rose tinted specs of the past) . Her definitions are helpful and theres a fair inclusion of detached youthwork in this piece as well as schools and community work generally, so, whilst Scottish based (and this makes it less relevant for some) it is definitely worth reflecting on.

Heather Smith – On relationships in Youthwork. During my honours writing a few years ago on mentoring relationships i encountered Heather smiths pieces on Infed, and then her chapter on youthwork relationships in ‘Engaging in Conversation’ in Jeffs & Smith (2011). She understandably credits Goetschius and Tash for original insight, but i use her writing on relationships and conversation alot in helping others think through these things when i deliver detached youthwork training. So, for me, influential. This article on seeking out authenticity in youthwork relationships is one to reflect on over a coffee today… go on…

There may be a number of women I have missed, there will be, and creditable mention to Tania de st Croix, Naomi Thompson and Sally Nash who have influenced me in a number of ways, in my youthwork vocation, and friends such as Helen Gatenby and Gemma Dunning who have inspired me alot in the last 5 years. This isnt a roll call necessarily and its not to embarass or annoy anyone, and thats the problem with starting a piece like this, there will be names I might miss out. Maybe thats always going to happen, I just know who the people are who have influenced my practice, their writing and their support, encouragement and it is these i give credit to. And i hope that some of these women are as inspiring and influential to you, i hope like Brew for me, one or two surprise you.