You know you’re a detached youthworker when.. (35 experiences you may have had)

Just before Christmas I penned the 35 experiences every youthworker has probably done  which included the line that ‘everyone has done detached youthwork once’ and this may or may not be the case. Earlier in the week, I put together an A-Z on detached youthwork which is proving to be quite a popular post (thank you) . I thought for the end of this week I would zone in on the specific and compile a list of experiences that its almost certainly likely that as a detached youthworker you may have experienced , get ready, oh and this does carry a health warning for anyone eating food right now… especially the friday night takeaway:

  1. You take delight in not being told to ‘F’ off
  2. One conversation with a group of young people is celebrated as much as the beginning of spring or the reduction in chocolate prices
  3. You develop weather proof toes and fingers
  4. Youve had to ponder how the duty of care guidelines work when the drunk young people you’re talking to starting running across the road and climbing up traffic lights.
  5. Youve told one group where another young person is, only for them to go off, hunt them down and beat them up.
  6. Youve taken out shares in a Hot chocolate company for the after session drink
  7. You have used up the years equipment budget on pairs of shoes alone.
  8. Nothing in the evening phases you anymore, so you’re the one that goes and gets the late night pint of milk or chocolate bar, or walks the dog. Evenings are your environment.
  9. You have had a young person say that you ‘saved their life’ even though you may have only walked them to the nearest bus stop
  10. You have tried to find a million different alternatives to ‘detached youthwork’ just to try and encourage trusts to fund it.
  11. You complained on the quiet nights, but then thought a busy night of conversation was also just a bit quiet too.
  12. You tried to split up a fight
  13. Youve been asked for directions from the general public
  14. You have been mistaken for the Police
  15. Youve been asked ‘ why are you here?’ – by young people
  16. You build rapport and start developing connections with a group of young people – only to never see them again Image result for detached youth work
  17. You have had ‘that’ moment. There is an epiphany moment for every new volunteer – it is all going swimmingly and pleasantly – until ‘that night/session’ – a moment of drama, unpredicted, challenge, – an accident, a fall, a very large group – something that takes it all up a notch.
  18. You just wish you were out on the streets talking to young people – and not now stuck in buildings because of funding restrictions…
  19. You love the general public, sorry, I mean, you learn how to react to the general public in the many situations, such as the shouty getting off the bus ones, those near their front gates, the ultra right wing dog walkers who forget their own privilege, those just smoking outside the social club. Ahh bless them all. Its when you get more abuse from this lot than any young people, and realise how challenging the environment is for young people to be themselves in with this much judgement scorned down upon them.Image result for youthwork dave walker
  20. You have the beautiful moments to treasure like:
    1. The young male who opens up and discloses stuff
    2. The positive feedback
    3. The in depth random conversations
    4. The young people who do think about their futures
  21. But not only that, the beautiful moments, where as youthworkers and volunteers the change, revelation and learning is happening two way. And i know this should happen everywhere, but taking volunteers from the beginning of training (where they fear young people) to a point of learning of them and being changed in the conversations is a real joy.
  22. You write up a session and it takes 2 hours to remember all the conversations- ;-
  23. You have no idea what to do after becoming a detached youthworker, loving it and then scrambling around to try and find the same kind of role elsewhere, that gives you the same joys, challenges, feelings and delights. (This may just be me. )
  24. You feel the pain of young people because you see the reality of stuff as it happens. Its not just that they tell you afterwards.
  25. You discover that many policies for building related youth work, just arent suitable. The grey areas ethically are cavenous.
  26. You wish that some seasons of detached work never end – theres groups, conversations etc- others cant end soon enough.
  27. You have left the building without your ID and had to walk/drive back to get it…
  28. You discover an art of wearing layers upon layers just to have the pretence of staying warm.Image result for detached youth work
  29. You have been put off take away food for life by the continual avoiding of the ‘remains’ of it splattered across pavements in pretty orange and pale pink colours. (sorry) Even though the smell of the chip shop makes you hungry every late friday night on the streets…
  30. You’ve tried to second, third, fourth and fifth guess why a young person might just be crossing the road. (usually just to get to the other side)
  31. You can rest easy knowing that challenging behaviour is less likely, and relatively easy to spot and walk away from.
  32. You cant lose young people, theyre not yours to lose, though you might spend a while trying to find them
  33. Youve have responded to urgent calls by police, organisations and the media, and when you turn up and walk around. There is no young people there at all.
  34. You get to be good at discovering ‘young people lenses’ as you’re looking for them all the time.
  35. You have said the wrong thing, asked the wrong question or missed an opportunity – kicked yourself for it, but often this has been forgiven easily by the young person, especially accompanied by continual presence and an apology.


So there we are – 35 experiences, that, i think, many a detached youthworker might agree with as those that have happened to them, especially if they have made a good go of it, doing it for over 3-4 years in places.

I do hope I didnt put you off your tea on number 29.

Please do support my ongoing writing through donating (using the link above, or the paypal link on the right) or through becoming a patron via my other site (again link above)

Further resources for detached youthwork are in the menu, and I would be very happy to help you start the adventure of getting out on to the streets to feel the magic and have conversations with young people, meeting them where theyre at. Do get in touch.


12 key advantages of starting and developing detached youthwork in a community

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:

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. It is cheap. Pay for me or someone to do some training, and it can be done with few resources.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.Image result for federation detached youth work
  11. 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.
  12. 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 uImage result for detached youth works 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?

12 elements of a successful detached youthwork session

At the recent Federation of Detached youth work conference, one of the key conversation topics on the floor was that of measuring and recording the interactions and success/goodness of detached youthwork. This was discussed in relation to commissioning, to targets and to outcomes, which are all tied up with a neo liberal agenda. The other thing alluded to was that detached youthwork was measured for effectiveness in the same way that centre based work was, or alternatively it was ‘reduced’ to an outreach or signposting service. In fact detached youthwork needs its own measuring and evaluation framework to fit its own nature, and purpose. One that fits with its practice.

And for the record these are aspects that should be included. In fact detached youthwork sessions need a whole new points system based on the following…

  1.  Numbers of times young people actively ignored you, closed down the conversation or walked away. Young people activating their choice – award yourself 5 points per time.
  2. How many times did you escalate their peaceful evening with humourous or insensitive comments, or polite banter that was misinterpreted, thus causing conflict that wasnt there in the first place? -5 for every escalation you caused.
  3.  Number of times you didnt look shocked when a young person tried to test boundaries by asking you about your alcohol life or by using swearwords.  award points for stoicism.
  4. A ‘miles walked’ to ‘conversations had’ ratio.  If under 3 miles to 1 conversation then, yup this is a good session
  5. Was it under 0 degrees, raining or a bit icy – count every conversation as double.
  6. If all the team and volunteers are back to the base without some form of emotional or physical scarring caused by young people, then this is a failed session, give this one zero points.
  7. Being out when theres no young people – this is a straight 10 points for determination.
  8. Conversations only with people that arent young people – dog walkers, waiters for buses, off license shoppers – this is good definately points awarded for this.
  9. Any quality conversation with a young person that is a personal opinion, cry for help or gives something away from them- 15 points, if you get this honest from a male – 20 points, and 100 points if you get honesty from a male when theyre in a group of other males.
  10. A session when you lose something that young people have stolen because they want it, again, 10-15 points. Its as sign of acceptance – ie your id badge, water, a ball or a resource.
  11. Young People want you to stay and talk further or walk with them – no points, but feel that deep glow.
  12. It takes about an hour to write up the session review because you have learned alot, been involved in conversations, seen moments of change, recognized young peoples gifts/strengths and offered support, education & guidance – over an hour 20 points, under 10..

Whats the criteria – anything above 100 points? 😉

There probably an element of truth in some of these, some sessions if were honest are a hanging in there survival game, and the scoring sheet is different, others are quiet, almost too quiet – yet in the middle and worth the extremes are the sessions of quality conversations, of reflecting with young people, of learning about their groups, and being accepted in their space as someone they genuinely accept and show this in a variety of ways. How do we measure the success of a detached youthwork session, we just know thats all.

Because it is genuinely difficult to measure of the good that detached youthwork is, it can be notoriously difficult to fund in an era when funding is from external sources such as grants or commission, and so whilst its easier to be comedic about a good session, its still an ongoing challenge. If you can contribute financially to projects like DYFC (see link above) or Frontier Youth Trust ( who are active in doing detached youthwork across the UK, then please do so. 

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.


Entering the 10th Year

14th December 2006, that was the day I did my first detached youthwork session for the Sidewalk Project in Perth. Aside from a couple of observation sessions around the town with Allan Clyne two years previous, and one or two outreach ones for Perth Council, that was my first dip into the world, the vocation of detached youthwork. It wasn’t until the end of the January 2007 that the team of us actually spoke to young people on the streets

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Although i took this picture only 3 months ago, Perth City Centre 10 years ago, looked fairly similar to this, Just near Christmas, dark, wet, and i remember pretty cold for several weeks in a row. Just perfect for breaking in to the world of detached youthwork .

Last night, it was our first night out on detached after the Christmas and new year break. Not in Perth, but in Sherburn Village, which amusingly was the place i lived in before heading up to Perth in 2004. So on a cold foggy evening this evening i started my 10th year out on the streets, almost every week since 2006. If you’d have asked me even 3 months before this journey started id have thought you were crazy that id do detached and love it for this long, and what might you say is there to love? The main thing , aside from the unpredictability, is the freedom because of not having to make controlling decisions about the young people. You can just walk away.

And the fact that they wonder why you’re there, unlike school or state functions they don’t know why someone would spend time with them.

And that you walk the same path as them, not just in their shoes but in their time.

That the relationships are truly voluntary and negotiated

That it happens, truly in the borders in between the regular functions of the young person ( home, school, work)

I have got a lot to be thankful for what has occurred since, even to mention all the learning, and reflecting that all the young people, volunteers and organisations have given me. Since then I have had the privilege of sharing the joy of detached with quite a few volunteers, trained 50 volunteers or students, delivered the BAYCWAT module on Detached & outreach for ICC (now SCCM), been involved at the FDYW, and got to know the most determined, passionate, artistic people at FYT/Streetspace who deliver 52 detached projects in the UK, and been able to write up some of the reflections from Perth and other materials in the ‘Here be Dragons’ book.   So I have an awful to be thankful for in the last 10 years, thankful to the amazing volunteers, students and young people for those 5 years in Perth, and the dedication of staff here in Durham for their work here too.

So, i bet you’re asking, what happened this evening? anything to remember my 9th into 10th year by? – well no, a very quiet evening, not surprising, its -1, foggy and damp. Young people were too smart to be out where only mad detached youth workers dare to walk.





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.


10 moments when you know you’re a detached youthworker

These are just a few of the moments over the last 10 years that have enabled me to realise that i am a detached youthworker, quite aside from the fact that at least two people before id ever done it once knew that i would be, these are possibly some of the reasons that i feel that the space on the streets is a place of life for me as a youthworker.

  1. Club based youthwork seems boring in comparison. Its not boring for the young person, but it takes a bit of deliberate attempting for it to feel alive.
  2. Not being scared of dark nights, dark streets, the evenings or being out and about anywhere.
  3. Hoping that a group of young people are going to walk around the corner, just to be able to meet them.
  4. Wishing that when i walk my dog, im wearing my ID so i could speak to young people in a different town or park.
  5. Talking about it and writing blogs about it endlessly.
  6. Finding every which way possible to say that a night on detached has been successful.
  7. Hopefully being able to train other people in detached youthwork passionately.
  8. Assuming that this is the best place to start any decent youthwork, or church or community project. After all it is pure youthwork….
  9. Trying to work out that every situation that Jesus met people in the outside could be deemed a detached moment of conversation, not to mention Emmaus or Gaza road in Acts.
  10. Have a deep desire to be doing detached more than just once a week, (this is only precluded by extensive management hours)

I am sure, if you are a detached youth worker you might be able to add to these or understand what i mean when i say them, once the bug of it has bitten it doesn’t seem to be cured.  Seeing the world of young people at their chosen time in their space is an honour and privaledge, and to have moments to have conversations of meaning, and help to reflect a new reality with them is incredible, a place to be in natural spaces and start respectful conversations.