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.

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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.

What if our youth practices are the trigger for young peoples challenging behaviour?

When i was delivering detached youthwork a few years ago and develop thinking about young people and their alcohol misuse, i developed (though probably more likely lifted from other similar processes) a diagram which tried to explain it that looked a bit like this : (excuse the quality, its a photo from a power point screen, i didn’t have publisher to develop it originally)

A short note of explanation. We sort of worked backwards.

We saw young people drinking on the streets and asked them why and how they came to do this behaviour. There was often a trigger for it, and at the same time this could coincide (though not always) with a ‘vulnerable time’ that the young person was going through. And some, no, nearly all, the vulnerable times were significant. From anniversary of friends death, family bereavement or exam time. The triggers ranged too. From ‘it being what we always do’ or ‘its friday’ (so same as the adults in town too) , to ‘shit week at school’ . But the two, a trigger, met with a vulnerable time – as well as a combination of collective planning via social media, and the desire for escape, collective social gathering and fun created for them the perfect reasoning for drinking on the streets. That just moving them on wouldnt make much difference.

Image result for challenging behaviour

Yesterday I used this slide – and a number of other similar ones (inserted in this piece) to help youthworkers reflect and help to create responses to challenging behaviour that they might have experienced in a youth club scenario.

Within similar models and processes of thinking about challenging behaviour a number of common questions arise (youll see them on the diagrams)

Image result for challenging behaviour

The questions tend to be:

  1. What is the behaviour – what types are being expressed?
  2. Are there patterns to it? – ie are situations more common
  3. In the situation – what are the moments that trigger the behaviour?
  4. Are there any underlying causes?

And these, as the above shows, often retain in a cycle. One of the things about the alcohol use and challenging behaviour that is different, is that the trigger and vulnerable time happen or during the decision making of then going drinking. So, as youth workers we could work backwards with them knowing that the patterns and triggers where proceeding. Though sometimes drinking could be a trigger for further drinking (again same for everyone..?)

With responding to challenging behaviour in the youth club environment, whilst there is still a very good chance that underlying issues and some community activity prior to the youth club may have been trigger ( ie being bullied, a social media message, family issue) – and this could be met head on at the door (rather than in the club) – there is a more than likely possibility that our youth provision is the trigger for their challenging behaviour.

There is a saying that for many issues in a youth organisation, most can be traced back to the governance.

The challenging behaviour in a youth club expressed by young people, might have some of its cause, and some of the patterns and triggers for it, could similalry be traced back to within the youth club itself.

But for a short moment, Ill scale back a bit and ask – who is the youth provision for? Who is there for the benefit of who?

If young people are the primary client – as per Howard Sercombe’s definition:

Youth work is a professional relationship in which young people are engaged as the primary client in their social context’ (Sercombe 2010:27)

then this means that young people are the people who the youth provision is for, it is they whom we as youth workers serve. It is less the programme, the activity, the building and the funders or trustees – albeit all do have a part to play. If the youth club is a youth venue, then young people, unless they are told differently and given the option of not attending it because it is not about them (ie it is a religious service that they did know about and self opted out). But the open youth club, that seems to be an open space for young people to chat, choose to do activities, create, make and develop purposeful relationships through conversation is intrinsically a space that is for the principle purpose of serving young people. ‘Client’ may be a not very nice word, but if it helps us to think about the practice of youthwork as serving (and empowering and enabling to participate, and valuing young people) then it suffices.

So, in that case – there is an issue if the very spaces that should be about serving young people – are the places where for one reason or another , because human interaction is complex and challenging – might be the very places that are the trigger for the challenging behaviour.

Of course it would be easy to say that its all the young people ‘triggering’ each other… like

  • one of them crushing the table tennis ball
  • someone shouting insults
  • one of them threatening the other
  • and this list might go on…

But what if its not them, or maybe, even if it them doing the above – what is it about the way in which the social space has been created where we as leaders and workers havent attempted better ways of reducing challenging behaviour even between the young people?

The same goes for the challenging behaviour that seems to triggered by our actions.

On one hand, whether through negligence or accident – we did not communicate the codes of behaviour very well, or how the evening was going to be different to ‘normal’, or spent time with a volunteer who was struggling before the session ..and they then said something a bit provocative to a young person… – a myriad of ‘small ish’ things that we could have done differently to aid and create an enironment that may have maintained more calm spaces than ended up. (And it usually is a myriad of small things)

But it is our challenging behaviour if our reflection is ‘weve always done things this way and no one complained before’

or ‘if they dont like it, they can leave

Who has the challenging behaviour then?

And these are more obvious. As one contributor to my session yesterday considered. What if it is the raising of awareness of a different way of being, acting and behaving- that this challenges young people outside their comfort zone? where, the kind of example might be that young people dont know or say they cant ‘no fight back’ in an argument – or are learning a new way of being in situations like group work, open club spaces. So a task we have, in working with them is to create small steps of trying out new behaviours, and rewarding them (probably), with lots of affirmation and encouragement (even if this in itself might be hard to take) .

The obvious triggers for receiving challenging behaviour are easy to spot and possibly do something about (we need to up our game or change it, or stop doing something).

But what if its much deeper than that, what if the different way of conceiving the world – is too outside the norm, too far removed for a young person to want to buy into, or is threatened by? And before you jump in, its not just young people. organisations who dont collaborate as a new way of being, or see a new way but find this too difficult to comprehend may also act as if threatened.

To note, some of this is fairly likely as it will question the young persons internal narrative – how they made sense of the world up to that point made sense to them. By presenting a new way of being this has to be tried, tested, or ignored, disregarded or accepted (Dan McAdams, 1993, 2001) to become part of the young persons narrative identity. An identity they are continually constructing (and so, but it takes a slower time, are we) . Young people are trying to make sense of the world and their part in it, through the receiving of information – our information through conversations may ultimately expand and add to that story in a good way – but there are tension points for them in allowing it to. Then again we should get this… after all we all have beliefs and deep opinions that take a while to change, whether its the acceptance of Female Bishops or the belief that young people aren’t the disobedient lazy oafs the daily mail present them as.

So – in a number of ways – what if we are the key triggers of the young peoples challenging behaviour? – after all we might actually need to be to ultimately help them or support them into thinking more positively about themselves and their futures.

References

Sercombe, Howard Youthwork Ethics, 2010.

MacAdams, Dan The Stories we live by, 1993, another piece i wrote on Narrative identities is here: https://wp.me/p2Az40-LA

Detached youthwork- An A-Z Guide

I have written a number of pieces on detached youthwork, most of which are on the archives on my http://www.jamesballantyneyouthworker.wordpress.com site , many top tips, top tens, and pieces on specific issues. But I have never tried to write an A-Z, and do so with the aim of collating a definitive guide to detached youthwork. Image result for a to z

So, at the beginning of 2019, I have tried, with mixed success on some letters to write one. wondered what an A-Z of detached youthwork would look like. So, here, with a sentence or so for each, is my A-Z of detached youthwork – see what you think:

A. Available. This is one key essence of detached youthwork, that workers and volunteers make themselves available in the spaces where young people are. Its obviously but its key. 

B. Bravery, and courage, is required for detached youthwork. Bravery is required, not because of young people necessarily, most most young people are chatty, lively and amiable. Few aren’t. There’s bravery in being in the public spaces in the evening, often drunk adults or dog walkers can be more abusive than young people. There’s bravery in trying something new. We didnt call the book on detached work ‘Here be Dragons‘ for nothing… 

C. Context is key. Every context shapes detached youthwork, a housing estate with a park causes detached youthwork to feel much different to a city centre, as does a rural space or village environment. All have an impact on the background of young people and their social interactions, it makes every context different and important when it comes to detached.

Another ‘C’ is Cold Contact, this seems to be the key marked difference between detached and other youth provision, and the aspect most likely to provoke fear and trepidation. Its an important aspect of detached – that first meeting with young people, and where you ‘warts n all’ try and engage in conversation with them.

D. Dialogue. I would have said conversation, but i think C should be context. Dialogue is conversation that leads to action. Most times on the streets conversation is the aim, beyond banter, where there might be some disclosure, some amiable chat where a transfer happens.

E. Education. Much youthwork, but i think detached more than most is about constantly learning. Also there is education involved constantly in helping young people understand our role, and the dynamics of this, in the informality of the space of the streets, there is transferal of knowledge. it is an educative experience. (its also why R= research)

F. Freezing cold nights. Its a fact of detached life. Yes there are pleasant spring afternoons, but some of the best chats are at evening, and in autumn, and these can be cold.

G. Groups of young people. Its the meat and drink of detached. Detached is about finding, identifying, listening to, learning from, groups of young people. How they operate, what they do, what they like, the leaders, the core and the purpose. The task of detached is to find a way of gaining rapport and acceptance with that group, to have conversation and develop group work.

H. Hopeful attitude, is what is needed at the beginning of each session, and every conversation, to try and be positive and help young people towards an individual or collective dream, to ask the ‘what if’ question.

I. In their spaces. Detached youthwork happens in the context of young people. it changes the power, responsibility and duty of care issues considerably. It changes the nature of the relationship created. Improvisation is another I that is part of detached work, it involves thinking on your feet.

J. Jousting. Sometimes the conversation is more of a jousting match of random banter. You might just be present whilst young people are in their zone doing their thing communicating with each other in the contextual codes of banter, grunts, comments and expressions. Detached youthwork gives you this insight. It also gives an opportunity to be questioned and be challenged, it can be a joust. But that might be the kind of adult/adult conversation that is possible where the power dynamics are so different.

K. Killing time. Or Keeping up morale on quiet evenings. Quiet nights could be opportunities for doing informal supervision and training with staff, to learn about the context, to take a breather.

K is also the Kit bag. After all: what do you take on the streets with you?  – This could include, games, toys and activities, torches, first aid kits, hand warmers, hats gloves, bottles of water, confidentiality policy, referral sheet, organisation business cards (ie ‘the project’) , spare change,  and probably a few other things besides. All neatly packed away in a small kit bag. That now weighs a ton.

L.Long term. Detached youthwork is a long term game. It requires patience, it is counter cultural to the quick fix mentality operating in much of support services. Detached is a long term venture that when done well requires time, time to learn, identify and work with groups.

M. Money is tight even if the budget is low. Because it can be difficult to get funding in the first place, because although usually very needed and worthy, fitting detached into outcomes and funding requirements is still tricky.

N.New. Even though its been around for 100 years or more. For many people who have orientated their youthwork or ministry around buildings and institutions, detached youthwork always seems new. Strange. 

O. Opportunities. Most youthwork is this to be honest. But detached youthwork gives you opportunities to

  • see young people in their chosen space, doing their chosen activities, with their chosen people
  • to converse with young people where they may be more at ease
  • to be in a place where young people have more opportunities to deny adult engagement & conversation
  • to work with and develop conversation with young people not in other provision (not that there is much other provision)
  • Opportunity to have conversation with young people without worrying about buildings, materials and equipment.

P. Policies. You must have them, even if they need to be specific to detached youthwork. And another P, planning. Detached youthwork still needs it, its different planning, but it involves getting volunteers trained, observing in the local area, identifying which area, contacting and discovering other agencies, creating ID badges, safeguarding, team building, contacting the police (possibly). There is planning involved, it just looks different

Q. Quiet. It can be. But not always.

R. Research & Reflection . Detached youthwork hones the skills in a really good way. Its as if you start to develop young people awareness goggles, trying to observe, listen, and discover them, how they react in the community context, what the community is doing, what might be learned through the context, research is continual as groups change, activities change and communities change. Then of course, from research comes reflection, thinking and asking the critical questions of those observations. R for ‘risk’ also works, young people might be doing ‘risky’ behaviour, young people might provoke us with risky questions, we might push young people to new actions which might be risk taking on their part. Risk is unavoidable – but lets do what we can to minimise actual harm… 

S. Supervision. Either you need it, or you need to give it to your team, volunteers and staff. Some good guidelines and ideas for it are included elsewhere on my other site. 

T. Team work. Even a team of two is a team,attending to the relationships between the team is crucial as you will almost always need to work together and trust each other in decision making large and small. All activities that enhance team are worth it, from before and after session reflection, conversation and debrief , team meetings, end of year dinners out. All build team. And young people see that a team is doing stuff for them. It may reduce dependency. And help young people develop relationships with many supportive adults, not just one.

another T is Training. Some get out there try stuff, and then develop it, some people prefer the before the starting training to allay fears and give staff and volunteers a sense of whats to be expected and how to deal with things, both are valid.

U. Undervalued well yes,  detached may be cheapest, and be often able to reach some of the more difficult young people, but its hard to define, measure and manage, so because of this it gets undervalued and chopped easy.

Its also Unpredictable – and that’s a beautiful part of it. But no youth club night is the same anyway.. is it?

V. Visibility. A detached youthwork team needs to visible (and distinctive) and is different to the general public and other public space adults like police, street pastors or sales people for under age nightclubs..

W. Walking to where theyre at. Not just walking a drive might be needed. Yet alot of walking is often required and repeatedly so. We make the road by walking…

X. Hmm. Poetic licence required.. exit strategies? Detached youthwork is as much about being self aware (like much youth work) as it is being spatially aware, knowing where you are, the dynamics of the route, the cul de sacs, and alley ways are critical for knowing how to leave a situation if it starts to get out of hand and you need to extricate yourselves. Its a strategy and action, not just a reaction, leaving says something about how you might be being treated by a young person, you can leave, and so can they.

Y. Ymca/YWCA If i might be personal for a moment, Perth YMCA was where I cut my mustard as a youthworker doing detached work, and YMCA’s have in the past been good at doing detached work and sticking with it. It was a YWCA where Joan Tash and George Goetschius developed detached youthwork and researched it at the time and wrote ‘Working with the Unattached’ for me the Bible of detached youthwork. A review is here .Other organisations may have done detached work to. But Y standing for the Ymca seems to fit quite well. 

Z. Zealous. Were a zealous bunch at times, us detached youthworkers, making ourselves out to be unique, ‘the only true youthwork left’ and defending the practice of it to the hilt. But then again, if youthwork itself it maligned then detached.. Someone might have to stand up for it..

There you go – an A-Z of detached youthwork… enjoy.. oh and I know that..

Even with a list of 30 or so aspects, this is probably not conclusive, i havent talked about outreach vs detached, or referrals and signposting, about partnership work or schools, about alcohol, sports or specific interest detached work, or faith based detached work. So there are more to add, definitely. Neither have i mentioned the few writers and theorists, like Graham Tiffany, Richard Passmore or the Federation of detached youthwork, or organisations like FYT which do alot of detached work too.

But then again, theres always more to add…

 

10 threats and opportunities for churches as posed by Detached youth work

Recently I was in a conversation with someone who was asking about my working experiences (no it wasn’t a job interview), and having talked a little about my experiences in working in a call centre, then making the leap to begin youthwork and theology training, I then mentioned that I have been involved in detached youthwork for the best part of the last 12 years, in one shape or another, either through coordinating a project, trying to start detached work, or managing and volunteering detached work back in the north east. The person, seeming knowledgeable about detached youthwork (for I didn’t have to explain it, there’s a surprise) said;

Detached youth work, Thats a real threat to the church – isnt it?

Image result for 6 and 9
Picture of image of the number 6 or 9 realised differently depending on how it is viewed

I kind of hadn’t thought of it in this way before. But in the subsequent couple of weeks I have realised that aspects of detached youthwork that are threats to the church, are also aspects that present churches with opportunities. I guess its where it depends on how the threats are viewed, as threats or opportunities.

So, what might these threats/opportunities – or thropportunities be?

  1. Detached youthwork deals with the reality. Countless times I hear about the perceptions of young people in the local community, their behaviours and issues that are occurring. But the reality of being out on the streets is a whole different scenario. Its not always like this, but the reality compared to the perceived reality, or talked about stories is very different. A reality discovered about young people from them, is usually far different to what people who dont know them make it out to be. Especially in terms of situations like ‘boredom’ or ‘alcohol use’. A threat to church is that detached youthwork is about a reality of a situation. Also, it threatens the universalisms of ‘gen x’ and ‘millenial’ thinking for ministry that are used to shape programmes, detached youthwork deals in the local and reality. And this is also an opportunity. An opportunity to learn and listen from the local and real. There are no millenials on the streets of your town, trust me, just young people who want a bit of time and respect, and to be treated for who there are, and not what people expect them to be.
  2. Detached youthwork shifts the big idea. The threat here is that the source of the big ideas about developing work with young people gets shifted from the corridors of power erm ‘youth ministry planning meeting’ which is when adults talk about young people and try and discover an idea to work with them, and shifts the idea making space to the young people themselves. The threat is the loss of power, the opportunity is that young people become invested in and the opportunity for high participation and creativity into the nature, practices and regularity of next provision. Its a threat because the assumed knowledge held in churches gets shifted. ‘Why not find out what young people like, want and could contribute’ is a both an opportunity and a threat, isnt it?
  3. Detached youth work opens up the empty space. The threat here is that pandoras box of the local community may be opened up and the church may feel provoked as hasn’t been as vulnerable or willing to open it before , to experience the reality, or face its own cultural boundaried edges. But this is also an opportunity, of course it is, an opportunity to be provoked into cultural change, an opportunity to listen and respond, an opportunity to realise that the empty space is already a God at work in it space, and therefore an opportunity to join in the party already happening. Image result for empty stage
  4.  Detached youth work makes the relationship ministry. A report the other day suggested that clergy like being clergy because they cant stand being with people, that its a way of being able to stand aloof, now I imagine that might be the same for a number of professions. In youth ministry, with the exception of the summer camp or weekend residentials, there can still be a temptation to the let the game, talk, activity, do all the ‘talking’ and that it not be about personal conversations and educating through them. The Ministry could do all the talking. In detached youthwork, the gloves are off, for, aside from what might be spontaneous activities like a game of football on the park, detached youthwork threatens as it is about personal rapport, personal conversations, and developing a purposeful relationship with a or a group of young people. It is a threat because it asks more than ‘new skills’ but asks that we become closer to who we are with young people, we do the talking (and listening). There is only the possiblilty of relationship that exists in detached work, rather than the offer of a next game, activity or session. Its why young peoples questions on the street, whilst sometimes challenging, are versions of ‘can I trust you?’ Its the young people that are testing us and whether they can trust us in that place. The threat is that ministry doesnt do the talking, and that we as workers and people who are out there do relationship building as ministry. This makes it still an opportunity- doesnt it… ?
  5.  Detached youthwork does not raise any money. Sorry, I had to mention the ‘m’ word. But no its pretty difficult to make detached youthwork pay for itself. Given that its about vulnerability, reality and conversation, its kind of difficult to charge young people for it, unlike subs or tuck shops or other ways in which churches generate small amounts of income from young people in the clubs and groups. But that means that detached youthwork is free at the point of access, and that, makes it an opportunity for young people who cant attend groups, who feel awkward about paying.
  6. Detached youthwork values young peoples group making. Have you ever noticed how group work develops in churches, usually its a mix of people who like an activity, gather together to do it, so the choir, the homegroup, the bible study. In working with young people, often young people have to try and develop group work even though they can be a dispersed group for the rest of the week (not unlike a sunday morning congregation at times) , so any group work is slow because it has only an hour or so a week to occur, and normally most Sunday nights are ‘storming’ events in the group cycle, and only over a weekend residential, or some collective activity does further group work happen. I wonder whether we attribute God to nights when good group work happened… ‘look how they worked well together, im sure God did this’ , it could be more sociology than spirituality as to why a group of young people functioned. Image result for group developmentDetached youthwork meets and tries to work with young people in the groups they have already chosen, spent time with and created for themselves. They are not created groups through a ministry practice, but groups in which young people have already found an identity, role, space and support from, and so detached youthwork if we do it well, forces us to recognise the possibility and strength of this already established group and try ourselves to become accepted as part of it in the way they might want us to be. But detached youthwork values that young people can make their own groups, find sanctuary and space to be in their own groups and as an opportunity to meet and connect in and with them, taking the pain out of trying to force group work upon a gathered group of young people.
  7. Detached youthwork connects churches with the other 95% of young people. (Scripture union suggest that churches are only connecting with 5% of the young people in the UK) I guess that’s the opportunity. It is more of a reality that detached youthwork may help connect churches with the 10% of young people who are out on the streets. It is almost guaranteed that none of these young people are the usual sunday youth fellowship young people. Its also as guaranteed that even if the church is involved in local schools assemblies or groups, there’s likely to be better conversations with young people on the streets, and this is where there’s the greatest likeliest long term ministry to be started from. There are projects in the UK who now have a small number of voluntary and paid leaders who were all the ‘destructive’ kids in school, but who with a dollop of patience, listening and availability for conversation over a long period of time from detached workers have flourished as part of a faith community. Far more than any in the ‘schools groups’. Detached work threatens the church, as it says, young people who no one else hopes for have value. It threatens the church because it asks the church to believe differently about young people and believe differently about the future leadership of the church and where it resides from. Its not the ‘other 95%’ of young people, but the 10% who have been left behind. Detached youthwork can be the standing in the gap people, the borders and margins, the opportunity to lift others and cause them to fly, even with previously clipped wings.
  8. Detached youthwork is a threat, because its unpredictable and open ended. Sadly in a world where the church has opted into ‘value for money’ ministries in which outcomes and outputs have to be tightly negotiated and planned for. Detached youthwork is a threat, for, like chaplaincy, it doesnt play that game. Detached youthwork may be the chaplaincy to young people on the streets, but it is a threat because it challenges the outcomes agenda. Yet it is an opportunity, because it challenges the outcomes agenda. It has the possibility of opening up the space, the empty stage and creating something new, improvised, that wasn’t thought of before, because that’s the tangent that young people trusted us with.  We might want to predict the number of sessions, hope for the number of conversations, plan for recruiting volunteers and measure the training hours, but to know whats going to happen with a group of young people in a period of 6 weeks? hmm… its a threat because it is open ended, but its also a possibility that being open ended might allow a church to follow and not lead, to be responsive and less in control, to challenge ‘value for money’ with values of ministry. It is therefore an opportunity of space creating within existing places instead of planning created spaces of expectations. Its not A + B to make C happen, but A + B and why not C what does…   Being open ended is an opportunity, but its also definitely a threat.
  9. Detached youthwork present a new lens for theology. When we explore, observe and feel the reality of life on the streets, when we’re in conversations and hear stories – we give ourselves a new lens with which to view scripture and the theology we held to. (and I know all experiences will do this) there is something about the fluidity of detached work and the same street occurences that we read about that Jesus and disciples had, that take on a new meaning through the lived experiences of detached work. It is also a lens from reality, from developing new conversations, from being involved in young people where they are, a lens where we ecounter God in the midst of the action, in the dark spaces on the streets. A lens of hope. It makes faith seem a whole load different and different from a Sunday shaped view of buildings, rows and order, or academia, reading and reflection (all valid, just different). Theology from the context of the streets, not just contextual theology for the streets. An opportunity and a threat.
  10. Detached youthwork is everyones game, not just young families and the young leaders. Having bought into the attractional game of youth ministry, where only Mr or Miss trendy can work with young people, detached youthwork is a threat to this. Image result for trendy youth leader

 I want you to think about when you were a young person. seriously. What kind of person did you want to connect with? Someone like you, or someone who liked you, someone who respected you and gave you time, or someone still trying to find themselves, someone who listened, or someone who wanted to only tell their own story?  Did it matter to you what age they were?  Detached youthwork is a threat, because its not for the young leader. No it really isnt. Its for those who are willing to be vulnerable and take a risk. Its for those who are good at talking and listening, for those who have a deep call to hope for young people. It is not a young persons game, because it is not a game, it is real. It is a threat to the gravitational pull to the attractional youth leaders, and an opportunity to take years of experience, life wisdom and patience, and even deep maternal or paternal instincts out onto the streets. It is an opportunity to be surrogate uncle and Auntie, and respected as an adult for being an adult. The best detached youthwork volunteers i ever had – they were in their 40’s and 50’s. And i have had some good 20 year olds too. With churches that are ageing, 50 year olds – come on, do more than be a street pastor once a month, get out and connect with young people on a weekly basis.

So, 10 aspects of detached youthwork, and maybe also open club work and chaplaincy type work, that feel as though they both present threats and opportunities to churches in the current context of missional practice. The good thing about threats is that they cause us to rise to a challenge, to take a risk, and provoke, the mission field of the streets is still pretty much open, and young people are still there. Some of these threats may help to take churches to a new place, should they be vulnerable to go and learn, some may be opportunities to do good in a local community, just being in the place of reality and opening up the streets as a space of opportunity is an opportunity in itself. Its a threat to often how mission has been ordered before, but thats not a bad thing. Surely?

If you’re up for starting this opportunity, and want some training or help with it, let me know, contact me via the menu above. Thank you for reading and sharing, and I apologise for the adverts below:

 

Globally; where does detached youth work happen? (plot yourself on the map)

Who goes out in the coldest weather? Does detached youthwork happen in america? Is any one doing detached in the UK at all?

Have you ever wondered any of these things? or do you think that you’re the only detached youthworkers in your whole country or country for that matter?

Even though much of the field of youthwork has taken a knock in the last 10 years, one reason or another, well austerity policies or another. And usually detached youthwork, historically, has been the hardest to be hit. It fell away in the 80’s when buildings needed replacing, and has nearly always played second fiddle to centre based work. However, this does not mean that detached youthwork is not happening across the UK, or across the world.

I thought it might be a good exercise to see where detached youth work is still happening around the world, it might encourage those of us who feel like it is shrinking in the UK, and also help all of us realise quite how extensive the practice is still. We might find out the answer to all these questions, and a whole lot more.

So, if you meet the following criteria, plot yourself on the following map

  • Your intention is to deliberately meet and connect with young people (under the age of 25) – and not the ‘whole population’ where young people may be part (ie street pastors, street pastors/angels/lights – you do a great job, but please do not add yourself to this map- thank you)
  • You do not have the sole intention of selling to or persuading young people to go to an event
  • You do/could take resources and materials with you, even as large as a bus, or a mobile resource, tent, games, etc
  • It tries to meet young people where theyre at, whether individuals or groups and have conversation with them, that they and you can voluntarily end.
  • The project and delivery happens in public places – parks, streets, outside schools, beaches, under railway bridges, somewhere public and to stay in the public place, unless young people negotiate otherwise.
  • It can be voluntary or done by paid youthworkers
  • It happens at least on 2 sessions per month basis.
  • It can be linked to faith or ‘non’ faith organisations
  • It can be one aspect of your role, ie if you do detached youthwork on two evenings, but other occasions are in schools or a centre. This is just to plot the detached youthwork, not the youth worker, and where detached youthwork takes place.

So, if you can sign up to pretty much these , then plot yourself on the map – link after the instructions:

Heres the instructions – please read

  1. On the left of the map (link below) you will see the different layers depending on the continent that you are in. Click on the continent that applies to you. Ie Europe or Australasia
  2. Then click on the ‘pin’ symbol which is the middle button below the search field
  3. Then zoom into the area your detached youthwork happens, and drop the pin.
  4. You can say who you are and the name of the project if you want to, but that is completely optional.
  5. Click Save
  6. Hopefully your pin is now featured in the layer for the continent that it occurs.
  7. EXIT the MAP. I mean it, it will crash if people stay in for too long watching the pins be uploaded.

Link to Map is here

So if you are doing detached youthwork, for a council, organisation, church please do put yourself on the map, so that we can build up a picture of all the detached youth work still happening across the world.

NB You do not have to name your council, project or centre, just pin where detached youthwork happens.

Likewise, do not pin all the streets that you go to, just ONE pin on ONE town/city/village that the detached youthwork happens. If you go to many villages, or areas over a wide spread, then do add one pin per location if at least 2 sessions a month occur there.

The map is for public view, so if you do not want to locate where your work happens specifically, make a pin on the council building or centre building from where you start/finish from.

I know that Dynamo International, represent and produce resources for detached youthwork across the globe, and produce some excellent materials (link in the blog roll also) , and the federation of detached youthwork in the UK have a whole load of resources, please do check them out.

Image result for detached youth work

Towards the end of 2018, there will be the federation of detached youthwork gathering in the UK, and I am hoping that by then I might be able to share some of the data from this map for interest, conversation and reflection. To give us all as detached youthworkers a sense of where things do happen.

There is more on detached youthwork via the menus on this site. Please do share this post, and map, to try and get as many areas, countries and continents covered as possible.

The work of this site is done for free, if you would like to make a contribution, you can do so via the menu above. Thank you.

10 tips on starting and developing conversations with young people in the youth club

In my recent piece I wrote about how good conversations with young people turn an activity venue into a space of youthwork. Maybe this is a stark claim to a degree, and usually one of the more difficult aspects of working with young people, and frequently asked questions to me is ‘How to developing the conversations?’ , and often that issue resides in us, ie it is our fault young people dont talk to us. Especially if we fear young people or believe the negativity around them.

Whenever I do detached youthwork training for groups and organisations, ‘starting conversations’ in the cold contact moment on the streets is something that we spend ages on. If we’re just setting up activities for young people to do, whilst we stay to one side, or in the kitchen cooking for them, then its no wonder young people leave. On one hand conversations on the streets could be seen as one of the more scary aspects of that type of youthwork, on the other it makes it easy. Why? because Good Conversations happen in an environment where young people feel at home. It is a space that they trust, and we are people they can trust. Young people choose the streets, therefore they’re more likely to feel at home, the youth club or group.. thats a different matter … 

So – in the youth club environment – How do you start conversations with young people?

  1. Good conversations happen when young people feel at home, this includes safety, but it also includes participation, can they treat the place like home, can they make themselves a drink of coffee? Do they trust leaders who stick around (for longer than 6 months)  The environment is key. Giving conversation space is important. How many times do young people ‘just want a space to chat’ whilst we want to make it a space of activity programme and distractions?  What if we heeded this request… what are young people saying..? Image result for conversation
  2. Rely on the context. Starting a conversation with whats in the room and what a young person has brought to the room is a good place. So, What is already happening, what are the young people talking about? Whats the local news, gossip, whats the craze? But also – what might be different about the young person, have they changed their hair? try and notice. The context in the moment is a good key starting point.
  3. Get them involved in a task (not just an activity) and spend time doing that with them, helping set up, deciding on the food, setting out the games, in a club environment the resources themselves can be the setting for the conversation, it helps as it does make it too intrusive or personal.
  4. Opinion Questions;  Try and get an opinion on something – recently this has been easy ‘who do you think will win the world cup’ is an opinion creating question, generating answers and also detailed analysis or a ‘dont care’ – but ‘who do you think’ or ‘what do you think’ type questions are great at getting a response, and giving young people space to share their thoughts and ideas about whatever topic – whether its a local community issue, about an ethical issue, about faith, about future, about something topical. Finding out their opinion and listening to it and using it to reflect on is crucial. Image result for conversation
  5. Dream questions. These are the ‘If you could……..’ type questions. so ‘If you could run the country – what flavour ice cream would be banned’  or ‘if you could have a special power what would you do with it’ or ‘if you could only have cheese or chocolate in the future, which would you keep?’  yes some more open than others, but you see what i mean – questions that pose a possible scenario, or captivate a dream, such as rule making, money spending, world changing – are all positive ways of developing conversations. And hearing about young peoples ideas through these dreams.
  6. Resources can help. The FYT starter cards with pictures and quotations on them might help – used in a way that create conversation and develop thinking. Pip Wilsons blob trees  also work well.
  7. On the Nuture Development site, they have uploaded 25 questions that could be used in a community setting to help develop conversations, these include:

What do you do to have fun?

What would you like to teach others?

if you could start a business what would it be?

Some of these might be more appropriate than others in settings with young people, but I would recommend you have a look at the whole list at this link The good life conversation , there are some good ones like ‘ if you and three friends could do something to improve the lives of others in this area, what would it be’ – and from these types of opinion/dream scenarios the group could develop and make plans.

8. The activities help, of course they do, board games, table tennis and craft are what solid youth clubs have orientated around for decades, all with the triple aims of helping develop competance and achievement, develop skills and social development and also to be a space of conversation in the process.

9. Follow dont lead. Let the tangent happen if thats where the young person has taken it, they might have taken it to that tangent for a reason. Follow it through. If its heading personal and personal for them then thats ok, its being directed by them. If its avoiding issues, then again thats where young people want to go with it. Young people in other settings get used to directed conversations, this may be a space where they can develop their own with adults and be more in control. Let it happen, and then see where it takes. Prepare to improvise, and prepare to listen and hold back. Image result for conversation

10. Phrases like ‘tell me more’ , or ‘describe what that was like’ or ‘you must have been ______ (excited/scared/worried) when that happened’ and other similar ones can be helpful as they take us out of questions, and into listening and trying to give more opportunity for the young person to use the space to talk about something and recognise their feelings in it.

 

So, there we go, much of this stuff is interchangeable from the streets to the clubs, with resources easier in a club setting. Id say that there are a number of things that we may be should try and avoid like, talking about school (if its out of context) , or even talking about ourselves ‘when i was 15 this kind of technology didnt exist’ type of thing as usually young people dont want to talk about school (unless they mention it) or are that bothered about us as adults at all. It takes a bit of guts to really do this conversation thing, because sometimes natural instincts get in the way like ‘how was school today?’ or interrupting or trying to control the conversation, yes maybe avoid subjects unsuitable, but on other occasions following and not leading will help no end.

So, 10 tips to help conversations in youthwork practice- anyone else out there want to add their own for others to share and develop practice? – use the comments below… thank you

 

Other Resources to help:

TED talks on conversation: https://www.ted.com/playlists/211/the_art_of_meaningful_conversa

Valuing conversation in Youthwork; http://www.infed.org

Developing Cold Contact conversations is in two chapters of ‘Here be Dragons’ – Link above.

How to make your ministry more like Jesus? then sit down

Who are the people who sit down in the public spaces of our villages, towns and cities?

Think about it for a little while, do you notice who it is and why they sit? and is there a difference between those who sit because they have to, and those who sit because they choose to?

The first thing we might do after sitting down in our lounge, then sitting in our car, then walking from the car park space is to find another space to sit down and drink a coffee, or its the reward for an hours shopping, the need to sit down. But how many people might we have walked past who are sitting down not in the overpriced coffee house, and just on a random bench, or piece of concrete.

I was intrigued over the weekend by this sentence, its in John 4; 4-6

He (Jesus) had to go through Samaria on the way. Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave his son to Joseph. Jacobs well was there, and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noon-time’ ‘ (John 4: 4-6)

Aside from the observation that Jesus ‘got tired’ and therefore this reveals a reality about his Human fragility, form and nature. What is more fascinating is that he was tired of the journey, and possibly tired of being with the other disciples on that journey (talking with other christians can be so tiring..) so he left them (they re joined him in a later verse)

Jesus finds strength and renewal by sitting down, being away from his own followers, and being served by others. Jesus didnt arrive in a town with a full on ministry team and try an lead from the front, no he sat amongst those who needed a drink at mid day. The way he showed his disciples, was actually not with them at all, he went alone and sat down.

He Sat down.

How many times do we sit down, amongst others in our ministries? What kind of ‘sitting down’ do we do when we arrive in a ‘new’ situation/town/village? Are we even allowed to?

We might not aspire to ‘be Jesus’ but surely theres something in this for us in terms of practices and attitude.

But ministry is barely like this, at times, at least it doesnt always feel like the default position.

When I first arrived in Hartlepool 22 years ago, it was part of a gap year team with The Oasis Trust, and we, like many other groups and teams of young people were keen, enthusiastic, positive, and full of the desire to ‘do ministry’, to ‘save the city’ and put ourselves in positions to be busy, lead and to save local dying churches who had no youth ministry. And, in the most part, the local church complied with this. We were ‘The Oasis Team’ and given space, time and responsibility – and roles, jobs, activities, groups and stuff to do. We were profiled in the newsletter, photos on the wall, food in the donation box, out for lunch every Sunday, we were ‘it’, and ‘it’ looked like ministry.

But Jesus tired from the Journey, sat down.

When we arrived in Hartlepool, we were up front. Right left and centre. Though we expected it.

Not as long ago, I was tasked, and failed, with being a youth and community worker in a small town in Devon. What i wanted to do was put what i knew into practice, I wanted to sit down, I wanted to be a person who didnt arrive announced and expectant, especially in a small ish town. However, at various times in the course of the year, and before I had even arrived, the local press, church parish newsletters had all circulated that I was arriving, and I was going to ‘work with disadvantaged young people’ and I was going to ‘help kids engage with church’. There was no space to sit down, when I arrived in this new town.

Before I had even arrived, the culture and expectations determined the strategy and approach. And I dont bear any blame, because the culture within ministry is to generally act in this was towards new appointments, new roles, new leaders and be excited to want to tell others and share it. Its part of church culture. Time doesnt often allow ‘sitting down’, culture doesnt either. And its tempting to love the limelight. To be the hero. The pull is all around.

Its one thing being a presence in a community, its another being present.

One of the deeply theological practices of detached youthwork, is the ongoing action of observation and being present in the spaces of the community, and learning through the process of being a presence in it. And sitting down can be part of this. In their book, ‘Working with unnattached youth’ George Goetchius and Joan Tash detail how their YWCA mobile youth work project spent 3 years walking around and being part of the community, gathering evidence, sharing observations, learning from and listening to what was going on… 3 years! wow – some youthworkers have burnt out in that time… most detached youthworkers get 3 minutes prep time on google maps…

Its part of sitting down. Its an attitude of sitting down. Its not a standing up attitude, its a sitting down attitude. A process of learning, of reflecting, of listening, of watching, it is slow.

Paulo Friere says this: ‘Always we have to look. Today suddenly a flower is the reason for your surprise. Tomorrow, it may be the same flower, just with a different colour, because of the age of the flower’ 

So, when Jesus arrived at a Village he sat down. He did not lead the marginalised and confused from the front, he sat down. He waited.

When he told his disciples to go to villages, he told them to ‘find a person of peace’ and wait to be served. Ie, have the attitude of sitting down. Go and find, not go and do. Not even go and lead and make a song and dance, but go and find. I remember part of the oasis training was to try and do ‘balloon modelling’ in the streets, so it would attract a crowd, cause a scene, and this would give an opportunity to invite people to an event. (it was the 1990’s dont judge me) Maybe that would be ok in some cities, but Hartlepool? hmmm. Jesus didnt stir up the crowds when he went to a new town, not just for the sake of it.

Some 19 years later Ive moved back to Hartlepool, been back 4 years now. And sat down this time. Lived here, shopped here, walked the dog here, living here. In a way, arrived here tired and weary after some challenging previous experiences (only to find a whole host of new challenging experiences). Not arriving with fanfare, or expectation. More recently, having now not being in work and travelling, I have wanted to be more present, and so walking around the town, sitting in the town centre, being present in the space. When I sat down in the open area a few weeks ago, one of the people who was begging for money, asked ‘why did i look so happy?’ and a conversation followed, and I learned something. And I felt strengthened through the encounter, renewed for the task. And that sounds selfish, but it isnt meant to be. Sat and waited a bit, do I know whats going to happen next, no…

Maybe the pattern of Jesus ministry, to a new place emerged from the experience he had out of necessity at Jacobs well, and where there was time, and not persecution,it was a way of being that the disciples in the early church tried to do; Acts 3, 1-4, though it is more noticeable that Paul spend time with believers and preached the message – rather than sitting and being, Peter very similar (Acts 9; 32-37) they met with believers. It could be dangerous to think that the way of doing ministry is do the same ‘with believers’ as to do in the new context and town.

I wonder if pioneer youthwork, which can often call to question the busy, the activity and the up front stuff – is less pioneering, and more just about trying to do the kind of approach that Jesus adopted when he went to a new community. He sat down. This may be so far from the culture of ministry, that it is regarded as pioneering, so far from an outcomes orientated funded ministry, that it is alien. But for a new person in a new place – sitting down is what was required.

One of my favourite all time songs is this one, in 1991, from James:

I sing myself to sleep
A song from the darkest hour
Secrets I can’t keep
In sight of the day
Swing from high to deep
Extremes of sweet and sour
Hope that God exists
I hope, I pray
Drawn by the undertow
My life is out of control
I believe this wave will bear my weight
So let it flow
Oh sit down
Oh sit down
Oh sit down
Sit down next to me
Sit down, down, down, down, down
In sympathy
Now I’m relieved to hear
That you’ve been to some far out places
It’s hard to carry on
When you feel all alone
Now I’ve swung back down again
And it’s worse than it was before
If I hadn’t seen such riches
I could live with being poor
Oh sit down
Oh sit down
Oh sit down
Sit down next to me
Sit down, down, down, down, down
In sympathy
Those who feel the breath of sadness
Sit down next to me
Those
We are more likely to find Jesus sitting by the roadside and by the well, than standing in front of the crowds. We are more likely to find Jesus in the conversation, and conversation happens when we sit and listen, or are present and take time to listen. Who are the people who sit down in our local towns and cities? The young people, the marginalised, the lost, the waiting, those with little power, or money, (or ok those whove just got their Greggs meal deal)- where does Jesus go and we follow – to sit down with them.  How might we ‘sit’ more in our pioneering, our youthwork, our lives – and learn, and wait and be present? Jesus didnt just make himself lower than the angels (Philippians), he made himself lowest of the low by sitting down when and where others chose to avoid. How might we make time to be amongst and not just fleeting through.
References
Friere, Horton – We make the Road by walking (1990).

Is Mentoring still the ‘silver bullet’ to solve all society’s problems with young people?

There was a time when Mentoring was the deemed to be the silver bullet, the approach and method that would solve the problems that young people were causing society, from the Big Sisters/Brothers schemes in America since the 1900’s to many school and community projects, funded by the US government in the states, to the voluntary and statutory projects here in the UK. Though in a way it has always gone a little bit under the radar. Though they had expanded significantly up until 5 years ago ( McCleod, p101) And its status under the radar might be one of the reasons why its maybe not as talked about as other ways of working with young people, such as open clubs, detached or programmes. At least that might be my own blind spot, and having been involved in mentoring, managed an mentoring project and written an honours thesis on it a few years ago, it would still trigger my attention a little.

One of the issues mentoring has always faced within youthwork is that it has been seen as the gradual process of changing group work and the facilitation of groups and community education, to the narrowing of intentions to individuals, to the point where the group work disappears altogether for the individual mentoring projects, these fears were first realised in Jeffs and Smith’s piece individualisation and youth work and so, many a critique has been written about what mentoring is within a youthwork philosophy, how it could encompass youthwork approaches and values, but that generally ultimately it begins to veer towards an individual therapy approach, aka counselling, guidance or life coaching which is fine, but its not then as easy to quantify as youthwork per se. Its maybe why as a youthworker its dipped below the radar. Though some of the larger mentoring networks have closed down in the last 6 years, victims themselves of the wider financial constrains within youth provision.

That being said, having a mentor can have a profoundly positive and also negative effect on a young person, with much of the research (by Fairbridge group, now Princes Trust) suggesting that the more positive effects occurs after a year of the mentoring relationship, and where the mentoring relationship ended under 6 months or was terminated this had a negative effect, on the whole.

But the mysterious thing about mentoring is how it works at all?

And this is the fun bit. There seems to be no real logic as to how mentoring actually works, it is a mystery. But then it should be, putting two people usually strangers together.

The relationship can occur within the confines of a school, and be about trying to help a young person with attendance issues. Yet the relationship between the two people might have nothing to do with the purpose of the relationship, they are two people who click, sometimes two people with shared interests dont click, sometimes they do.

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One of the pieces of the magic jigsaw, is the how of the interaction.

Commonly known as the process of matching. In one situation i was in i was told that i would be mentoring a young person, they were told that they would have a mentor and then we would meet, week 1 was the initial meeting, and with only 7 meetings afterwards, there was going to be issues, it would feel like trying to rescue the person, and they knew it. In another project, the mentoring, one to one conversations after initially meeting the young people on the streets in detached work, the relationship had already occured, and the young person was opting into the choice referral with a person who they bonded with a little. In another project, the one i used to manage at Durham Youth for Christ, the coordinator would arrange for the mentors and young people to meet each other in a three way meeting with himself and then the two would decide after 2-3 meetings whether they would continue. Often this worked, as it gave both parties to opt in, or out to the relationship (but not being involved in being mentored)

The matching is important then for the magic to occur.

The magic of mentoring is also more likely to occur when the objectives of the relationship are known, and where the young person has the opportunity to shape them, even in a situation where the pressure is on to get ‘results’ the greater pressure on the relationship, the less likely for the relationship to work to its fullest. And its the relationship that the mentor has to attend to and prioritise (Tina Salter, YMCA GW college, Innovations in Youth work, 2014), and the skills required for the mentor are listening, and trying to build rapport and trust, especially if the relationship is going to develop beyond a social status, to increase personal giving away, sharing and any more serious disclosures.

The magic also occurs when the young person has confidence in the relationship.

It is one thing i notice on the streets, theres only so much young people say until they trust the relationship, the purpose and the workers in person. It takes us to give away who we are and our purpose for then young people to know whats going on and make a decision to invest in the relationship. The same for mentoring. This is where time is a factor, for, if young people know its only for a very short term, then its unlikely that they, understandably will invest in it, it will stay functional and practical (despite the best intentions of the mentor to show empathy, the short term nature overrides this, often). If the mentor is promising a better future for the young person, it has to be accompanied by a promise of time for the relationship – ie over a year. So at least the young person knows and is confident that they have space to grow into it and build the relationship.

In the same way a group might undergo ‘storming’- so there is usually boundary testing in the mentoring relationship. Or behaviour that the young person is invoking a reaction, whether sympathy for a situation or shock, or to get an aggressive or disappointed reaction. Or the young person is trying to asses ‘whose side’ the mentor is on, theirs or the school/probation – or neither – and this can make or break. This was always the benefit of being independant from a school in mentoring ( ie who pays for it) but thats not always possible.

An interesting aside to some of this is that in the UK we often assign mentors to young people who are most in need, in the USA many more young people from across the whole spectrum have the opportunity to engage with a mentor. In this way it destigmatises. But also means that the mentor might offer more than coping strategies or support for a problem, it might be support to succeed, or develop critical thinking ( Rhodes, 2002, 46-50). But it means that mentoring has a different focus. And mentoring type relationships do occur in work, apprenticeships and graduate schemes, so its not just about young people in schools.

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But how does it work?

Rutter observed that vulnerable children with one good relationship were less likely to develop behaviour problems than others, deeming that good relationships outside the family have as much positive effect as those within. In another study Werner and Smith concluded that resilient young people sought support more often from non-parent adults. One relationship was often enough. Rhodes discusses that social skill enhancement, dialogue and listening and being a role model are the contributory factors to ensuring that mentoring works, or that the mentors influence the young persons development, but none occur without an emotional bond. And it is that emotional bond that needs honing and developing within the nature of the relationship. A purely functional goal orientated relationship is unliekly to develop these development factors. The active, mysterious ingredient, in a good mentoring relationship is a close trusting connection. No bond, no relationship and then limited positive impacts ( Rhodes, 2002, p37).

Looking at Goffmans presentation of the self in everyday life (1960) there is the sense that each interaction is also a performance of the self presented in a way to others, to gain and receive what each individual wants. Yes it could be selfish as a model, but in a way the presenting of the self and the rules of the game being played all occur within mentoring, from the falseness, to the status, and also the deliberate hiding of truth for an advantage, all aspects that affect a persons performance through their interaction. What is revealed on the front stage ( body language, clothing, speech, make up, hair, content of conversation) that affect the performance as well as the back stage ( the objectives, formality, room, time, finances, style). When broken down like this, the mentoring relationship can be viewed as an ongoing performance of persons, developing rapport as they present to each other, giving away truth, reality and falseness in the process of nurturing or forming a relationship that develops meaning and actions. The conversation is a little piece of theatre, and in mentoring the two persons performing might be ‘forced’ together, or find their way to perform together.

The problem with the silver bullet and rescue approach is that the relationship is highly managed, professionalised and the young person targeted, the magical rapport is going to take a long time. Informality, where it is at all possible, and where the young person has at least some autonomy as to who they are being mentored by, will have some positive bearing on this, as will the promise of time, and the skills of the mentor. There is inevitably, as Gina McCleod writes, a crossover in youth work between different approaches and when we become guides, wise, and supportive, and this can be in informal mentoring in whatever context.

Not unlike much youthwork, being able to ‘bottle’ it when ‘it works’ is great, but its really difficult to replicate it at any time. The most formal mentoring might pair the most suited persons, the least official mentoring and short term volunteer could develop a deep bond quickly. In Mentoring there may at least be some ways of shaping the relationship in its structure, to create more of a possibility for the magic to happen, but again thats also the same for the youth club setting too. There are stages in the relationship, and its a relationship to be finely attended to by its participants with small amounts of external influence where possible, but time pressures and objectives and targets affect the relationship too and its possibilities.

Still, What surprises me is that there arent more schools wanting mentoring projects around the country, or that churches and voluntary groups arent setting even more up, especially given how significant they can be at helping young people with the day to day advice of life, and being a supportive person in the mix, that may help in preventing a Camhs referral or be someone to help with pushing, questioning and encouraging. And whilst young people need this more than ever, may be thats also the kind of person we all need from time to time.

Is youth mentoring the silver bullet? maybe its gone out of fashion as a new thing, but as youth workers do less group work and more individual work, then more and more of what is done is closer to a form of mentoring. Maybe it isnt the silver bullet, there isnt any silver left.

Credit for this piece, goes to a friend of mine, John Ristway, who still runs the mentoring project in Durham, whos dedication to develop as informal and participative youth mentoring programme in schools was a source of great inspiration. This project is still being run by Durham Christian Partnership, please do search them out and make a donation or volunteer.

If you would like to receive training on setting up mentoring in your church or organisation, then please do contact me and click the link in the menu above. Thank you.

References

Goffman, Irving, 1960, The presentation of the self in everyday life.

McLeod, Gina, Advising and Mentoring, in Youthwork Practice, Jeffs and Smith, 2012

Rhodes, Jean 2002, Stand by me, The risks and rewards of mentoring todays youth, Havard

Salter, Tina, 2014, The place and use of mentoring with young people, GW YMCA, Innovations in Youthwork practice.

And theres a piece here : http://www.infed.org/learningmentors/mentoring.htm  on mentoring on the Infed.org page which is a little in need of updating.. but worth a read anyway.

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