Visualising Paulo Freire’s world

With my Christmas book vouchers I have purchased a number of titles, one or two linked to youthwork management, a few others, and one or two written by Paulo Freire, including the one in this picture2016-01-11 23.42.28

Most of it is like refreshing water on the dry one track educational method soul of some theology or management reading, lengthy discussions on dialogue, freedom, faith and hope. Just wonderful. However, I was getting a bit bogged down with his descriptions of the state of oppression in Brazil, and not wanting to make light of the challenges in that context, I needed something to relate it to. All the talk of oppressive structures, people as objects, limitations of freedoms, and I was struggling.. then I realised…

what about The current Tory Government- if I picture them as the  oppressors – but who shall be the oppressed?

Well first i thought of people in Hartlepool. A place shafted because, well it just gets shafted.

Then people in the North in general. Northern Powerhouse, my arse.

And Junior Doctors -theyre on strike today.

And anyone in the NHS in fact. some of which who can strike, others who cant.

Or public sector workforce having reduced pensions, pay and redundancies in the last 6 years.

Young people- yes young people, theyre oppressed too, reduced housing benefits, costs of university, decimation of youth services, ore services for them, unable to vote, but can still be prosecuted.

in fact anyone who works with young people, youthworkers, mental health workers, social workers, teachers, special needs teachers, careers advisers (who dont exist) anyone who has relied on funding from the government to work with young people – will have experienced something like policy that has shaped influence or working practice, or reduced funding, and their job changed not for the benefit of young people – but for an ideological view that influences practice.

What about those in families that are deemed ‘Broken’ by the government? – nice use of language to determine power, normativity and oppression there Dave..

Or British Muslims, or Muslims at all, and if you’re a young British Muslim, then triple whammy.  If youve fled war, hatred or oppression, only to find it here.

If you’re out of work, not sure the stacks are in your favour either, with sanctions which cost the government more to enforce than save money at all.

for the rest of the time reading the book, contextualising oppression might not be too much of a challenge. Ill just exchange oppressors or Brazilian government for  ‘Current British Government’ or Neo-liberal agenda. And for oppression,  Ill settle for young person, or youthworker, as its closest to hand. Maybe ill visualise a young person in Hartlepool, or a young british born muslim person who lives in Hartlepool with a Dad out of work and mum in Prison. Thatll do.

But it could be any one of the above.

The challenge is for the people seeking to transform the world where people are oppressed is to not maintain the oppression that others have already placed upon them. The oppression created by narratives that as Freire argues sub-merge people in a reality, and dullen the critical to challenge the oppressors. Liberation might not just be through education but a form of education that is awakens the consciousness, and seeks freedom, to be creative, to make and to be active subject. (p11)

Thanks Current government, youve given me a glimmer of insight into Freires world.





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.





Detached youthworkers; being present when no one else is

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Levi-Strauss in his book ‘Myth and Meaning’ considers the view that as humans alive on this planet of earth that we, per generation, use less and less of our sensory perceptions. Recalling the story of the ancient tribe who could see the planet Venus on a clear day from a desert, unbelievable nowadays, but not just a myth, but a reality for that tribe who trained their senses in the world to engage with the world in this deep mythological sensory way.

Detached youthwork starts off on the streets with a retraining experience. No longer are the streets no-go areas, you’re in them. No longer are they a space to drive through, to walk through to get to the chippy, they are a space to be present in, and stay. Because of this the retraining is to become acclimatised using our senses to the space. To view the streetlights, and shop fronts as glaring interruptions of light on dark nights, to listen for the distant obvious sounds of groups of young people, with slightly higher, fearful/loud/shrieky voices (than adults), the smells of food, take aways, car fumes (depending how busy the roads are). These are all important sensory experiences, and because of our intention, to be in the space, maybe its only detached youthworkers, who become regular, who become attuned to the space take in these things, maybe more than others.

Levi-Strauss may have a point, but in his book he talks about the skills required , instead of looking for venus, we now turn on the Radio or television, and we are able to make technology such as cars safer, but the personal sensory interaction has shifted somewhat in the less used direction. However, as i watched the GBBO final this evening, it was, not unlike lots of of popular TV or Sport, the TV is now only the sideshow to the online community of commentators of it, all who glance up and down at the TV, just so they can write tweets about it, myself included. The community gathering in separate homes is as much the attraction as the object of the attention itself. The Twitter generation clearly is craving community, and is it using TV as a means to share that experience. So what does that mean for being on the streets?

Well, because of our own guidelines of practice, and personal safety, we, as detached youthworkers are likely to be seldom on our phones, we are present in the space, as i said above, we have one task in mind, one focus, and generally, aside from the team banter, want to give young people our full presentness. Which is likely to be very different to everyone else who a young person is going to encounter, or even the young persons own motivation for being there. No one else in that space is likely to be present focussing solely on the space; it a jogger with headphones on, a dog walker listening to a podcast and picking up poo, people going to shops. The space to everyone else is to travel through, and if anything to be as ignored as possible. Even for the young adult, their focus may not be their actual friends in the space either, they might be all away from the space itself connecting with those not present. Not always, but sometimes & often. And so young people are so likely to wonder why we are actually present in the space, being there in the actual moment, not as distracted (maybe sometimes), and valuing the presentness of being conversation in the space with people face to face might almost be a rarity, a valued and never to be underestimated rarity. One that requires many senses, one that requires being very present.

(Levi-Strauss ‘Myth and Meaning’ 1978)

What are the biggest influences in (your) youthwork?

Its the time of the year for the Summer festivals, some to take young people to, some camping, some creative, some evangelical, some like big fun church services, some a creative space of energy, art and politics.

All appearing after an academic year full of conferences, network weekends, gatherings and summits, most of which have been disseminated in 140 characters to on twitter or less to the wider public, some independent, some aligned to affiliations, some academic.

And then there are books, not alot, but a few that have been published this year, youthwork magazines, journals, and articles, as well as blogs, online articles and news.

But what are the biggest influences in your youthwork?  – is it any of these at all?  and can ‘general’ information disseminated to a wide, and thus anonymous audience be directly influential to you, in your particular space, with your particular young people?

Does the universal – ie conference, network, and resource – help to act as a benchmark, or model to copy and follow but does this cause us to relate the young people in their group who we work with to expectations we create for them based on others? (i wish we could be as creative as so and so, or as musical etc)

If the large corporate is setting the tone- creating the narrative and shaping the discussion around a national space for youthwork/youth ministry – then what might that cause the small, isolated group to feel if its not got access to or able to challenge this. Its as isolating as it might be ignorant. I guess at the summer festival this year, think about who isnt here, and what kind of voice is being represented in terms of youth ministry.

One of the challenges of youth work is that the local is often the driver, the motivation, it sets the scope of the project or work, employs the worker or trains the volunteers, and also has shaped the theology & ministry of the local church in which the youthwork occurs. This is all hugely influential. Its is not dissimilar to the ‘ecumenical projects’ which can be borne within /or counter to, the prevailing culture in which they sit – but are influenced by it none the less.

In the same way does the conference for the youthwork act in a similar way to the large gathering/festival for the young person? does it have the potential to give the young person an amazing summer experience , almost holiday romance with Jesus, which causes the rest of their year, and the rest of your work with them to seem invalid, boring and like the longest break up until the next summer. I know, I grew up evangelical and did Spring Harvest and soul survivor..twice. So, is it influential? should it be so influential?

But what are the biggest influences on your youthwork and ministry?

And how influential are the large-scale, universal resources, publications, events and festivals – maybe not directly, but significantly indirectly too?

It would be really boring if these resources included sections on doing good youthwork method, or a ‘what is the theory of youth ministry’ session at soul survivor, or – how to do mission in contexts that your local church cant cope with like, ethnic minority young people, LGBTQ young people or sofa surfing young people, or dare i say it – the people who cant afford to go to the festival itself. Yet the problem with the diversity of contexts of youth ministry and i, and the influences of local theologies upon the context is that youth ministry is locally defined and thus there is no ‘one method’ or ‘theory’ for it – its just been morphologically translated into a variety of spaces – with some influence, maybe from a visionary person, some academia, some local research, maybe even the needs of the community. And because of its limited definition, everyone is able to shape it as they like – from putting evangelism/social action/discipleship back into youth ministry it has no argument against itself to defend it.

Should we have the space to critically interpret the influences on the life and ministry of the church, and the youthwork that sits within or in the margins of this influence, and at the same time make an active choice whether to accept, reject, choose or use the culture created by the national players in determining its culture – who have an influence on youthworkers, ministers, churches alike.

So, is the local – or the national that has the biggest influence on your youth ministry? – honestly- deep down?

And how does the culture of a ministry affect its local performance?

In the 1960’s and 1970’s there were lots more case study story books in youth work, from ‘working with unnattached’ (1967), to Jude Wilds tales of detached work in Toxteth, Liverpool. In those episodes, the local was celebrated and given the space to be celebrated as a process – in a way those case studies was something we had hoped to put into the ‘Here be Dragons’ book – but they didnt have the length or narrative feel, or give the fuller pictures that some of those more ancient texts did. In an age of wanting instant success, models that work, and something universal, the story from the local context, the small group, the pioneering worker, has been lost somewhat in the universal theory on one hand or how to resources on the other.

What does influence your youthwork, or your young people the most, within the practice of youthwork that you facilitate?

how might you go about channelling, challenging, reflecting, or navigating your way through those influences to enable young people to explore life, faith and hope, interdependently together in community?

And anyway, the correct answer is Jesus, or Jeffs & Smith, or The Shawshank Redemption.


Shaping church for the non church likers – why not ask people?

I like yoghurt. I do. Its a small confession, but I each quite a lot of it. Especially the fruity corner, or light toffee ones. I even like the natural yoghurt, or greek and honey stuff. As I was eating a particular type of yoghurt the other day, one where it was greek in style, and had a layer of fruit on top, it struck me about how many varieties there are, and how many times the combination of fruit puree has moved from a side compartment, to below the yoghurt, to above it, and that the product designers must be running out of options soon, i mean, how many different ways are there to rearrange yoghurt (low/fat/greek/flavoured) with fruit , and yet carefully marketed and publicised and on offer – ill buy it every time.

I bet the product designers for that particular yoghurt company have a field day soon they be trying to put the fruit in the middle, or line it up vertically. Just anything so it can have a new name, a new catch, a new variety, and convince yoghurt lovers like me to continue to appreciate their yoghurty goodness.

Do you think they ever ask people who dont like yoghurt, what kind of yoghurt would you like to eat?  – thats probably not their main customer – oh no- thatll be the yoghurt lover like me, keep them happy- and for the unconvinced of the fruit variety- stick a load of chocolate in it, in small flakes, thatll soften the low-fat blow that is creamy yoghurt.

There doesnt seem to be a day go by without one of those – why dont people go to church type articles, or why are (especially millenials) leaving the church (this was todays; Yet without being too obvious about it – has anyone actually asked people who dont go to church why don’t they go? And what type of church might they like to be part of?

Can we have some actual research please into this? not just some guess work based on sociology, or generalisations of generationisms- (millenials, Gen x/y etc) , whether they are well attested theories of social demographics. Yes we can structure churches in the most perfect way for a certain generalisation of a generation – but does the average generalisation of person actually exist within walking distance of the local church?  I know – why doesnt each church do a survey of people who live in the 1 mile radius around it and find out what people would like to go to in their local church, or why they dont go – and then seek to address these local concerns, relationships, needs and interests. Every context is different, and church needs to learn and listen from the current non-church likers in their community. The danger of the generationalisms is that we provide material for an ideal generation type – not real people, in real communities.

What might be peoples responses? i dont actually know – why dont you ask people?

One way to get people to start liking yoghurt would be to have an event where people come to a yoghurt tasting show where the yoghurt is especially creamy, more fruity or chocololatey – or its just a tiny bit of yogurt on a chocolate bar – that way people get to see a special yoghurt, and hear from the yoghurty evangelist about the benefits of yoghurt in their lives. It wouldnt help if they were allergic, or lactose intolerant, or if they knew that they wouldnt like yoghurt so why even go to the event anyway. But isnt that what we often do – try and work out a way of rearranging or attractifying the substance of church – with no connection with people who have made a judgement about it already. Unlike us, They dont like church.

But have we given up on them too easily or given them the excuses- stating that sunday trading, sunday papers and sunday football is all in the way – well it might be – so if the people who we need to act towards have changed their sunday habits – then who needs to adapt to change?

There’s much research to say (see Phil Rankin 2007, or Passmore 2013) and we have found in conversations on detached, that young people are open to thinking about Spiritual things, and develop faith in local contextual communities, and that they dont grow up hating God or being completely antagonistic to church. But has any one actually asked/surveyed people (adults) about what they think about church, what theyd like about church (if they went to one) and what would encourage them to be part of one? and lets base the future shape of the church, and the connections people have of it in actual, in real life terms, not suppositions- until then we can re-allign the fruit and the yoghurt as much as we want to, but if we don’t know if people like yoghurt or not, and why theyre not already buying yoghurt,  then it seems a futile strategy. Well not be able to get people to like church if we dont know why they dont like it in the first place. Seems obvious doesnt it?

In ‘Church beyond the fourth wall’ Lugi (2012) states that “critical reflection on guest responses can produce creative methods of contextualising the story, relational connection with guests, thereby removing any unnecessary barriers to ecclesial mission” and i ask does the church engage with actual critical reflection with its guests, its supposed audience, and if it did- would that cause reflection internally to adapt, not dumb down, the method of audience participation into the performative drama?

Taking our cue from the context (2) learning to improvise like Philip

“Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked “Do you understand what you are reading?”

This exchange occurs in Acts 9 (v30). At first reading i presumed that Philip could see that the Man was reading something, but now, the Man, an Ethiopian, was clearly reading out loud. Maybe thats what they did in their chariots in the desert, or maybe he was reading it to his servants in the chariot itself.

Two disciples were walking down the road, as they walked along they were talking about the miraculous things that had happened, as they spoke Jesus suddenly appeared to them, and asked “what are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”  This is the first exchange in the conversation between the disciples on the Emmaus road, as recollected by the disciples in Luke 24.

Previously i wrote about taking our cues from the Context , and this was more of a discussion of the political, structural settings of detached work, in theatrical terms, what could be called the conditions of the stage on which to perform. Yet once on that stage we have an obligation to perform – but how?

In taking seriously a call to improvise beyond the fourth wall, where do we start? well – yet again, we start by taking a cue from those already involved in the action. If someone is reading, ask them about it, thats what Philip did, if people are talking already – ask them to describe it, or reflect on it- thats what Jesus did with the two disciples.  A starting point is to hear the conditions and concerns of those already in that environment. Its not about gaining trust, more about finding young peoples concerns interesting, and validating them, and their perspective of them.

When we want to be liked, and sometimes entertaining we, as detached workers, can forget this, but at least we put ourselves out there to hear the real beating of the heart of the young people, their real questions, their real struggles, each one different, each perspective a version  of truth.

In going back to Philip in Acts 9 – the response of the Ethiopian to Philips question is “How can i unless some instructs me?” and he urged Philip to go and sit in the carriage.

It was only at that point that the Ethiopian was ready to be taught and guided about what he was reading, it was at that point where he invited Philip into his personal space, but Philip was out of his comfort zone, in the carriage of Ethiopian, being ready to try and guide. This was only brought about because of Philips original concern, the shaping and tone of the original question – the question that gave meaning to the activity of the ethiopian, and desire to meet him in thought in that same space, to see what he was thinking not just reading.

If we are to be authentic performers on the stage of the world, our first question with people might need to reflect Philip (and Jesus on the Emmaus road) – in the context of the street, the world – we take our cues from the streets, and we then need to improvise with what it is that young people are thinking or doing.

Philip becomes the instructor, or the guide – but still it is the Ethiopian that shapes the subject, in the question he asks. from ‘How can I understand?- to Tell me who was the prophet talking about himself’ (v34)

Over the last few weeks, a group of young people have asked us repeatedly – “Do we believe in Gays and Lesbians?” – which is a question that could be taken a number of ways – but behind it isnt the issue of belief in their existence, or whether we think that being gay or lesbian is acceptable – but more obviously the young persons thinking about personal concerns and sexual identity. By being there we get to hear that young persons thinking in their own space, in a space where our duty is to enable them to be able to express their thoughts, opinion and judgements.

Coincidently the Ethiopian in the story was also struggling with his own religious identity and belonging because of his publically known sexual condition- he was a Eunuch. Yet though he hadnt found acceptance in the space of the religious festival which he had gone to and was returning from – not because of race, but more likely because of sexuality – the authentic words and the inclusive acts of Jesus as described by Philip enabled the Ethiopian to find community and acceptance.

Improvising in the stage of the street might be a place where people find acceptance and love – despite of their own experiences of religious or educational structures previously. To improvise is to hear, to be asked to guide, to be invited, to realise that this one person, in this one place needs me to be listening to them and validate them as they are there, in that space on that day.

Improvising for Philip wasnt just to ask the right question, appropriate to the immediate context, but also, as he would have known about Jesus’ appearance on the Emmaus road from the other disciples, he didnt copy Jesus ver batum, the two opening questions are different, but they carry the same essence ; I am here, I am interested in what you’re thinking, can i ease your confusion by being available to listen, trust me to try and be able to. Philip re-enacted appropriately the same opening moments, it wasnt a scripted copy, but an authentic performance in a new context, learning from the essence of his master.


Detached youthwork : taking our cue from the context

If every single moment with every young person is a new moment, a different moment, then what are the cues that we take into that encounter?

One thing ive realised, that, different to the club or centre based work, is that the context of that space is hugely significant. I found especially recently, even in one area of Durham, that doing detached youthwork in a neutral open space like the skate park, has a vastly different feel to it that in a park surrounded by houses, or in and amongst the streets between those houses. Maybe that’s a reflection on how i feel about the space – but i dont think its far off the mark to say that encountering young people in a space they’ve chosen to go to to have their own activity away from their homes, is different to when we encounter young people within 20m of their front doors, and when parents may be in the front garden watching, or looking through the kitchen window. its not a neutral space, chosen by a young person, its only where they’re allowed to go and within eyesight.  Being aware that the detached youthwork is taking place in the heart of the community is due reason to have greater diligence in terms of the performance of the detached work, it would be truly accountable to the community, who may be watching on, and also being ready to be introduced to parents and relatives who could be introduced to.

It also brings up the awkward question of speaking to young people, not only when they might be in their front gardens, but also if they are with their parents? my usual thought would be to ‘ignore’ family groups on detached – but that might be discretionary – and only count in the ‘neutral’ spaces of public parks, not just outside young peoples houses, where it might seem odd not to.

Over the last few years i have done or tried to do detached youthwork in two very similar sized small towns/large villages, and if you were looking at population size, local amenities and proximity to larger town/city – they wouldnt too different.  Yet trying to do detached youthwork in a more middle class area, such as East Devon – where almost young people dont need you or on the contrary expect huge amounts of stuff – seems vastly different to East Durham villages where young people are intrigued, ask questions, are happy to chat, in comparision they seem grateful. They also, in comparison with the same age young poeple have a greater confidence in the space of the small town, they grew up in, that the city-based young people who are in a pecking order for territorial influence, on estates where larger groups of 15-6’s roam around like packs on the pride. Surveys in the Guardian, based on the Census results also showed that in this same East Durham Village there was a higher proportion of people who identified with a faith tradition/community – this again has been reflected in the oppenness of the young people to share and have questions about an aspect of their life they are familiar with even if they dont attend the village parish church.

So, in exploring the land, in encountering young people in their chosen context, we are to be aware of the nature of the land that we are exploring, not who it belongs to per se, but how the land has an effect on the young people – what it means to them in that space? how safe is it for them? how chosen is it? and what does our presence do in that space on the occasions we are there, and what about the times we’re not?

Does it make a difference if we observe and be part of the young persons activity? ie football or skateboarding, or if we are the activity – when theyre bored and we are the entertainment- there are differences to us and how we are with them, and how they interact with us.  What if we’re to be with them during activity that they dont want us to be with them – ie drinking?  or if the entertainment they want from us is to be publically racist/sexist and endorse their way of thinking. Does the context have an impact on this – well i guess it does- if their language and endorsed values stand up in a small community- seperate to family- then it might be that these are easier to break down and encourage reflection, but if this positon is held in proximity to a larger closer knit family community – then it becomes a significantly different ball game.

Just a few more reflections about the context of detached and how being part of this space causes us to think about the kind of space it is for the young people and the kind of space we’re creating by being there.




Beyond Relational Youthwork – or at least, what shall we call it?

So to think about going beyond the term relational youthwork, as Various people here  have begun to talk and think about. If the term Incarnational is too ‘christian’ , and the term ‘relational’ is too vague or much of a misnoma, given that every interaction between a young person and youthworker should seek to be nurturing some kind of relationship (Goetschius & Tash 1967: 136-149). Its kind of what we do, well at least it should be. Being relational is probably a natural expression of the embodiment of the values and ‘withness’ that The Incarnation shows us. A being with, that seeks to become with, understand, learn from and live amongst, in terms of values, attitudes or actions. An embodiment of a message of hope, of love and faith.

So what of the alternatives?   Coburn and Wallace in Youthwork in schools and communities (2010) begin a conversation whereby thematically youthwork moves fluidly between the characters of Liberation, of Functionality and being Critical- and positioning Youthwork as a border pedagogy, a space of learning that draws from, and yet critiques the space between the establishments of school, of Family , of health and dare i say it Church.  Maybe this places youthwork in too much of an ‘in between’ space, but it could be helpful in attempting to determining something of the ‘younger brother’ element to the profession and its often critical stance in the wake of the political or social forces that are placed upon it. Yet, its not great for helping to name youthwork as a positive transformational agency in the life of young people – being a ‘border pedagogy’?  is it…

I wonder whether the longevity of youthwork and its position in  young peoples lives, in a transformational way, gives us license to call it ‘Narrative Youthwork’, whereby we help to be part of the story of young peoples lives, being of significance, that we are a new character, whom they can draw support and encouragement from, that we shape their story by creating the space to encourage many options through learning and reflection, and that we encourage their human flourishing in the way that we are with them.  I guess we often ask them how the story will end – ie ‘what would you like to do when you leave school’  or ‘if you did ____, what might happen?’ and so maybe like ‘relational’ , ‘narrative’ is as vague, or all-embracing, or obvious. Yet drawing from ‘story telling’ and Narrative theology  and consider the young people as parts of the Christian narrative….

I guess Artistic youthwork is the same, yet youthwork as a thing of beauty is something that we would all agree with, when we encourage new life, new hope and transformation – does it matter what we call it? ….



One step with

If you can allow me to digress and generalise just a little bit… Over the last few weeks, mostly whilst training either youthworkers or volunteers i have posed the question – What are the advantages or disadvantages to doing detached/outreach work compared to Centre based work in youth clubs/churches.  The usual comes back, with the obvious disadvantage being the weather, lack of control, resources, and the advantages being the freedom in the public space, meeting ‘unnattached’ young people and also meeting them in a place that they ultimately choose. However, i was wondering, and thinking about the advantages, as well as the thought that as a detached worker its rare that we would ever stop observing or researching the area a.k.a learning from the young people, from the community as i am with them.

And so i wonder whether one of the advantages is that detached work provides the worker with a constancy, or a plumb line, that he/she does not travel too far behind the young person, or jumps ahead. Given that the young person controls their reaction in that setting and their response to us. I guess it also means that by listening and learning with them that we draw resources from them in a collaborative way, rather than need to try and keep up or predict their level.

what i am trying to say is that because as a detached youthworker we are involved in the culture of the young person, and with them as this changes around them, as they develop, adapt, challenge or reflect upon it ( Goetschius 1969), then we become ingrained with them in this process.  When we clothe ourselves loosely with the structure of buildings then this distance reduces the withness  of the situation, and the vulnerability of the worker, but also means that the worker is one step removed from learning and living the culture, as seen by the young person. Maybe being detached is not enough, being truly incarnational is?

“in Cultural synthesis, the actors who come from “another world” to the world of people do not do so as invaders. They do not come to teach or to transmit or to give anything, but rather to learn, with the people, about the people world” (Freire 1970)

This withness also keeps us close to being responsive to the needs of young people as we interact with them, their ups and downs, their challenges and celebrations. Rather than impose, dictate or formulate agendas on behalf of them.  Maybe its just about being grounded in the knowledge of unpredictability, of real life young people in their real chosen contexts?

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