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

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

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

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

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

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

Because they dont display needs

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

Because they seem sorted

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

Because its not what we’re about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Young people are just Bored? or 6 other reasons why young people are on the streets.

THEY’VE GOT NOTHING TO DO! 

YOUNG PEOPLE ARE JUST BORED!! 

So goes the common story about why young people might be on the streets. But, aside from those who do detached youthwork, might there be actually other reasons why young people might be there. Even in a much disputed small scale research by YFC recently revealed that a large % of young people liked being on the streets with their friends. And strangely, when I speak to young people about being on the streets, they may say that they’re bored, but this is merely to provoke a conversation about trying to get free activities, especially on meeting them for the first time. It is often just a defence mechansim. watch young people week by week in the same space and its not boredom. The streets have meaning, and are space for more construction, than ‘just because they’re bored’. What it also implies is that other activities are boring to them, and the streets are a chosen space of entertainment to cure boredom. The streets hold danger, creativity, sociability. Why else might young people be on the streets?

  1. A Place of Freedom – to be themselves, without the gaze of adults. It might be the only place they can choose to be.
  2. A place of escape. Beyond the personal choice, young people might find the streets a place of safety to escape from any physical, emotional or intellectual hurt from inside a home, and this needn’t be ‘abuse’ – just family life that causes personal stress and anxiety
  3. A place of power. In this space, albeit usually a public one, young people get to make choices about who, what and when happens, about the resources, activities, and people required, about who is popular, and who is important. About who is in control and makes decisions. It is a power they often don’t get the opportunity to exercise elsewhere. 
  4. A place of Creativity. Where there are possibilities to explore, the encounters with adults, the shops, buses and people around. A place to make up games, to race, chase and play. To make up games, to try new things.
  5. A place of social learning. Where the groups and gatherings form, where people are social (more social than inside).
  6. A place to challenge the social order and to create one. The only space left to make a mark. to gain attention, to cry for help. The public space. Its a place of community where knowledge is shared and community develops that is hidden away.

And these are just 6 reasons. There are at least 6 others. Often young people are more social being on the streets than those inside. They display more sociability that the young people who are transported to sports clubs or training. They use creativity to make things happen, that can often be regarded as disruptive, but only because there are restrictions enforced in the public space like, No ball games, no skateboarding. Yet most of these rules single out young people specifically. Young people grow up ‘not allowed’ and controlled, so the streets might be a space of freedom and place to provoke and challenge, often they are barely enforcebale. just a statement to provoke and discriminate: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/02/no-ball-games-haringey-council-children-play-obesity.    To hide behind a hoodie. To escape being projected on. To create a space where they require power and responsibility within their own chosen group. Sometimes we need to recognise that there is positivity within the space of the streets, that young people might actually benefit from being there. Better to keep them there then, meet them in their space, understand the community they create and recognise the positives it gives them, often contrasting with the rubbish they feel in other areas of their lives.  Moving young people to a building…. nope its not usually what young people want. They want to be free, and free away from them.

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

I usually set this exercise in the detached youthwork training that I do with groups, churches and college students – think about detached youthwork compared to ‘centre-based’ work – what advantages are there? Of course, there are disadvantages and I will acknowledge these in a following post. But for a start we should focus on its advantages. After all there must be some, otherwise we wouldn’t persist with it…

In no particular order some of them include:

Image result for detached youth work

  1. We’re likely to meet young people who are unlikely to be in ‘structured’ provision elsewhere. They may not be ‘at risk’ just cant afford, or dont have transport or able to cope in structured youth provision. They may prefer the open informal space of being outside.
  2. Young people are more at ease in the space, they may act more territorial about it, but they have, in the main chosen to be there, and so are more at ease with being in it.
  3. There are certain roles of youthwork we dont have to fulfil – like caretaker of the space, or entertainer, the space takes care of this, we can focus on the conversation, the activities already happening and not be distracted by building management
  4. It is cheap. Pay for me or someone to do some training, and it can be done with few resources.
  5. It can be flexible, establishing patterns for being on the streets is good, but it can vary week by week depending on what is discovered in the observations, of where young people are likely to be, and how often volunteers are available. It is not a club that has to be open every week, same time.
  6. It focuses on Young people as the primary reason for being in the space, they are, with maybe only deliberate informality, the reason for being there.
  7. It gives the opportunity to see young people behaving in their chosen context, and so, outside of establishment control, they may be very different, a powerful leader, but shy at school, someone with resources, who is said to lack resilience. It may help us build a different picture.
  8. Young people can make the decision to accept of reject us. Unlike forced other provision or services, we know that they may choose to opt out, and that is fine. It is up to them to do so, when they know what might be on offer.
  9. It helps us to youth work without buildings, programmes, numbers, targets, and gets it back to the pure stuff of meeting young people, of valuing them in their community, and discovering and learning with and from them, and building something new that they can participate in its emergence.
  10. It is political. By giving young people a space to be listened to and heard, by valuing them, by responding and creating with them, goes against the dominant narratives, it challenges that young people have worth in society. It is political.Image result for federation detached youth work
  11. It can help solve community problems, with young people as identifiers of the need and participating in the solution. They are treated as contributors and creators.
  12. We see something real. And meet the young people in the midst of the drama. They cant, though they might pretend not to be smoking or drinking, but in the midst of the drama we are there. They dont find us or are sent to uImage result for detached youth works to deal with stuff. We meet it head on and in the space. It is a conversation and interaction of reality, we see how they are in the community of the public space.

I am sure, if you have been involved in detached youthwork a while you will be able to add to this, but as I was training a group this evening I thought, again, about what the advantages are to meeting young people in the public spaces of their choosing. Yes it requires us, especially as churches and projects, to be vulnerable, to make ourselves available in the public sphere, and it requires a physicality of walking, and determination. But from our, and from the young peoples perspective it has a number of advantages.

If getting out on the streets and connecting with young people is what you, your church or organisation are about to embark on, why not also invest in some training to give you, practice through role plays, hints and tips and other helpful tools for your kit bag as you head out. Please do contact me for details in the menu above.

What might you add?

When we meet young people – what do we say to them?

This is one of the most common questions people ask me about working with young people, especially young people who are encountered on the streets or public places.

When I meet young people what do I say?

And it is not just young people on the streets.  When we’re youthworkers in schools, churches, clubs and groups, the most essential aspect of it is the conversations we have with young people.

One of the key arguments in my recent dissertation, basing youth ministry as theatre is that as youthworkers and volunteers we have a responsibility to create the right kind of stage for the drama of interactions to occur. It has to be a healthy place where conversations can happen and are valued. On the streets we might not get chance to create the space, but in reality as young people are in their chosen space it shouldn’t matter. All we need to be is approachable.

What we then say is affected by our intentions and values.

Do we focus on what young people are doing? (That they shouldn’t be)

Or what they could be doing? (That they aren’t)

Are they a tool for our ministry or project?

 Or a person in their own right? 

Is the relationship I want to create just a means for something else? Ie has it become strategic?  

On paper many questions we might ask- even those in this excellent post below by nurture development http://www.nurturedevelopment.org/blog/abcd-practice/good-life-conversation/ can be inappropriate depending on our tone on the setting and how authentic we are. A curious question might be nosy. A young person may be suspicious if we want their ideas. But we persist because we want to listen to their views and give their voice value.

What we say might be nothing. Or just to encourage them to say more so ; ‘that sounds interesting tell me more about…. ” , but its as always an art, a drama of conversation. One that there are many prompts and tangents possible. One where we might do well to actively listen to what young people bring to it, what the context brings to it, and what God prompts we hear in it too.

At least if we have the intention to listen. The intention to focus on young peoples strengths, resources, dreams and possibilities we might be treating them with respect. We continually learn in the conversation as we also give into it. It’s that thing about improvising all over again. And I still think this has value;

On feedback for a recent youth club, a young person said ;”we like coming here because the leaders actually talk with us,  we’ve been to other clubs and they just stay in the kitchen”.  Without conversation our youth ministry is just another activity club. Without conversation that seeks to respect and support young peoples dreams, ideas and learn with them.  It is just another distraction but has limited meaning for them . They know when they’re just a tool being used by us.

What do we say when we meet young people?  Whatever we think might help us understand them more.

How spiritual are young people on the streets?

I have spent the evening putting together some slides for a training session I am leading tomorrow with a group of detached workers in Newcastle. One of the topics they would like me to cover is that of ‘developing spirituality with young people during street based work. A few years ago i posted the following article ‘The Street as a context for Theology -which was quite popular, its here if you would like a read (http://wp.me/p2Az40-5w). But this evening i was reflecting on developing spirituality with young people and it caused me to reflect on a few questions:

Are young people spiritual – and how, as detached youthworkers, would we even know?

Of course the answer is yes, but without the building to be a guide ( ie young people attend a church space, therefore they must be) , being confident that young people are articulating spiritual thoughts, reflections and ideas might only emerge in conversation – or as they react to things happening in the world, such as creation, or loss, or celebration. As i was thinking however, I wonder whether in regard to matters of faith, there needs to be a new typology describing them.

  1. The ‘Opting-outs‘ – these are the young people who have been part of church culture through family links and are ‘mostly in’ but could ‘opt-out’ – and a huge amount of energy is put in to ‘keep’ them in.
  2. The ‘Opting – ins’ – This could be a great number of young people who are ambivalent but could be interested in faith – and they go to open youth clubs, attractive after-school clubs, or messy church type activities – they could ‘opt-in’ and might not need too much convincing if there is a healthy place, positive relationships and they fit within the culture via friendships. Yes, they have friends who are ‘in’ – so these young people might ‘opt in’
  3. ‘Distant Opting-ins‘  – These young people have few faith connections, aside from statutory provision, such as RE in school, and have attended a few ceremonies in churches, their friendship groups have no faith adherents, neither do their family. They may have tried to articulate faith, but haven’t been given a space to do so. To become ‘religious’ they would have to go ‘against’ family and friendship values and would have to explain themselves.

Generally, young people I have ever met on the streets have been in category 3. They are ‘Distant opting in’, not through any fault of their own. Often churches have abandoned the estates they live in (or are only a gathered community in the estate), they have no connection with a local church, or faith community, through even a friend, or family member. The opportunity that detached youthworkers have on the streets is that they get the opportunity to connect with young people who are left aside by most churches, deemed too hard work, or ‘disengaged’ – and so the task is to give ‘distant-opt in’ young people opportunities to opt in. Image result for curiosity quotes

By raising awareness & curiosity, by engaging in conversation, by listening and meeting them in their space, by listening to the faith they already have in the world – such as gambling, or consuming, or competition – what might be their religion already? what do they worship? phones? friends? football? how is it displayed – in clothes, technology or tattoos?

 

Image result for tattoos of spirituality

Christian Smith in ‘Soul Searching’ (2005) says that “The religion and spirituality of most teenagers actually strikes us as very powerfully reflecting the contours, priorities, expectations and structures of the larger adult world in which adolescents are being socialised”

It stand to reason then, that a young persons situation in regard to faith and spirituality is most likely to reflect their parents. It could be presumed that a young person might rebel against these to join a faith community – but if this is what faith communities are encouraging without conversing with parents also, then theres something to reflect on. But if their parents have limited experience or sympathy with faith then its as likely the young person may not either – this isnt rocket science – but as we encounter young people on the streets and begin to explore and raise awareness of spirituality it is worth reflecting on further. But how might this happen? – well none of it happens without creating positive safe supportive relationships with young people – the basics of detached.

It might be possible to rely on the same ‘methods’ used for categories 1 and 2 above – but usually these look like programmes and buildings, and so these are less likely to be successful – they also tend to be packaged with high levels of expectations- ie ‘if you do x, then young people with think y’– so, we might need a whole new tool box of items for spiritual exploring on the streets.

  1. Trust in conversations – Young people will often , if they trust you, and are wanting to, take the conversation to a place where they are comfortable – if this starts to include matters of faith, of personal opinion, of religion, of ceremony – then organically prompt and provoke through questions and listening.
  2. Redeem spaces – Often the case is made to take young people away from their environment to explore faith, the residential, or the ‘event’ to be invited to – alternatively What we can do on detached is to help young people think about faith and spirituality in the space – in the urban landscape. Can we light candles on the footpaths, or create intentional spaces of silence, or something else appropriate to the space. From red lights in the traffic lights, bus shelters or barbed wire – all can be used in conversation to enable reflection on humanity and something about God.  Can we hold open ‘services’ in a place during an evening and see if young people who are also there might opt in.

Whatever we do to help young people to explore spirituality on the streets it will involve us taking a risk. We take a risk by being there in the first place – and to be receivers of young peoples curious or boundary testing questions, it is usually unlikely that faith and spirituality is the first thing on young peoples minds – unless we set the agenda for this- so, its going to take time, patience, listening and also be ready to take or pose an opportunity through a question or conversation, we learn first, and become attuned to young peoples spirituality first.

Developing Spirituality on the Streets – what ideas might you have? Theres more on developing Spirituality with young people on the streets in ‘Here be Dragons’ details of which are the menu above.

Do young people care about youthworkers? (probably not)

I wonder if it is a good premise to start from in youthwork, even youth ministry, even if its a painful realisation to come to.

That young people dont care about youthworkers! 

As youthworkers we might hope that young people actually like us, want to spend time with us, and we hope listen to what we might have to say. But fundamentally they dont actually care about us. 

Looking at this on the basis of street based youthwork this isnt particularly controvertial. At least at first glance it might not be. In most regular discussions about meeting young people where theyre at, in dealing with various forms of conversation, including challenges, questions or humour, boundary testing and provoke that young people give during the conversations – one of the easiest ways to deal with such questions is not to take them personally and to realise that if a young person asks a personal question ; usually a have you ever…..? type question (ie have you ever got drunk, gambled, had sex, that kind of thing) it is not usually a personal enquiry to discover something about the youthworker- it is more to find approval, to find acceptance, to assess consistency and tolerance of the youthworker for the young persons benefit. Fundamentally, even if it was that a young person, or group of young people did ask these types of questions more seriously, the meaning behind the responses, the purpose of sharing a personal give away response – is not usually to reciprocate an element of care – reality yes, authenticity yes – trust also. But not care.

Why might this matter? – In a way it means that the interaction we have with young people becomes less about feeding our ego with personal acceptance, and thinking about the young person, their dreams, interests and being interested in them for who they are – if young people really arent interested in us, then neither in the interaction should we be interested about us too, neither our story, our past, our experience – Young people , especially when we meet them where theyre at, just dont care about us! They care firstly about themselves, their friends and countless other things… 

Young people, especially, want to trust people, the youthworker – they can do this without actually caring about them.

They might care about the youth club – more that the youthworker, the programme that helps them get a job , more that the youthworker, whose job might be on the line because of the end of the programme.

This, i think, isnt a reality check for those of us on the streets – we know young people dont care about us- though when they do- or we give them chance to it can be an incredible moment. If we run the open youth club, the employment programme, the project – again it would be fair to say that the young people have their future prospects, their achievement is a higher priority that building up a real connection with the worker – though they might respect, listen and respond to them.

I wonder if the reality check for this is in the church and youth ministry.

Or if this type of working with young people gives young people more opportunities to actually care about the people that they trust. Is there an assumption in youth ministry situations, or Ministry, that young people default some kind of care or respect to a youth worker in a church setting? , which means that it becomes possible to inspire because young people in a church actually care about what a youthworker says to them in this context.

However, I wonder whether in churches, or in clubs, or on the streets, we can spend alot of time trying to be important and significant with young people and hoping that they might care about what we say because we hope they find us fun, interesting, relevant.

Often we’re imported in to a situation (church/club) in a paid role, and when this is the case we’re the professional come to help, to run the show. As volunteers in the church this might fundamentally be different, it becomes more of the family dynamic, friends of friends helping friends- there might be more intuitive care.

We probably shouldnt want young people to care about us anyway, thats not our role. But how often do we hope young people like us? find us interesting? or hope they follow us because of our likeability? – more so than who we stand for, our views, or our acceptance of them?

If we thought young people actually care about us, we probably need to get over it and realise the care we might have for young people is a one way street. It is probably better that way, after all we wouldn’t want to encourage dependency or favouritism – and even these moments could be determined as young people acting in ways to get what they want rather than to actually care about the youth worker.

When we meet young people for the first time, there is no rapport, there are few commonalities or shared experiences they have no reason to think anything of us at all. So if, as or when, young people give us space in their space to talk and give an opinion this is  semblance of respect – if they still give us that opportunity when they might have got to know us then even better. But in reality, and it is a reality – and it might be hard to take, young people don’t really care about their youth worker and what they say.

We dont do youthwork for young people to care about us – so maybe we should act as though its true that they dont – but continue to be interested, to educate, to inspire and to help them challenge the oppression they face anyway. How we enable young people to care about us to the point of reflecting, thinking and being respectful of what we say and do when we communicate with them is part of the respect building game – our well being is not the young persons game, neither is the respect for our opinion, our past, our story, our beliefs, or hopes – this is earned in stages. Young people, can be very respectful, and generous and considerate to us on the streets – they might even give space for conversation, but in the main, and rightly so, it is often about them.

 

Detached youthwork: Having faith conversations on the streets.

Its one of the main criticisms levelled at detached youthwork from the ‘established’ christian community, or its youth worker contingency – ‘all that detached work is ‘good’ stuff, but when does it produce/become orientated around faith? ‘  and it is a valid question, it has to be a valid question as it gets asked often enough. Behind the question might be the drive that everything a ministry does is to communicate faith, or that every moment must have faith significance. It could be said that at times even in churches that people don’t talk about faith that often, they are talked to about faith, and in detached youthwork, young people are engaged with, in their space, so its rarely a talked to moment, in that classic adult/child psychological way (and if it was adult/child, the young person wouldn’t be listening) n – so in the moments of detached a different approach is probably required.  From the 1000’s of hours of detached youthork hours with/for faith based organisations, here are the most common examples that have arisen for me when faith becomes part of the conversation.

Young people may actually direct the conversation to something about faith when they ask ;

  1. Who do you work for? or Who do you represent?

The response you give might (though not always be) unavoidably – ______ Christian organisation/ group of churches/ YMCA/YFC – and then a description of what that means might be given. 

The young people might then make a comment, sing the YMCA song (as always) or ask a further question.

another one is:

2. Why are you here, you must be mad, paid alot or christians? 

Dont laugh at the back, i have had this very question thrown at me by a young person whilst on the streets. 

Again, a chance to say that probably all three are the case. ( I joke, but 2 out of 3 aint bad)- and then there’s a conversation about faith – one that technically they started…

From this kind of enquiry, I have had conversations where, when the young person has known that i am a Christian,  (which incidentally is a moment of honesty in the disclosure/power game of detached) then the young person may then have given away something of themselves – and these include:

I used to go to a Sunday school but i hated it as they locked me in a cupboard and made me sing songs

I was dragged on to a Jesus bus once with school and people plied us with sweets till we prayed a prayer. 

I dont ________ believe in God. 

My Gran goes to church. 

Because in the real space on the streets, and from a real space of genuine enquiry from a young person, being honest about having faith, is often enough to start a conversation. It may not be always the response you might want, but its to be taken if it is a disclosure of belief, or interest as a positive. Often RE lessons comes up – ie ‘In RE today my teacher said ______’ ;It is in that moment that they have been honest with you about faith. It is a starting point, and one to build on, in that moment – so ask a bit further – from what they’ve said.

I have written before about other questions young people may ask on detached, but the two above are the most common in relation directly to faith, and they can occur as you imagine fairly early on into the interaction when the young people are trying to suss out the workers. Actually, given the sussing out, they could ask the same kind of questions as a challenge:

3. I bet youre all christians just trying to tell us something to believe  or

4. I hope you’re not like those other Christians who made us do something or were ‘false’

These are trickier ones, because obviously the young people have made astute/incorrect/valid interpretations of the behaviour of other Christians, our brothers and sisters, and so, whilst it might be an opportunity to talk about faith, its starting from a point of being slighlty defensive, and apologetic on behalf of them. Its funny how astute young people are when they feel badly treated. The easiest thing is encourage them to talk about the scenario more, and empathise, as well as apologise if necessary.

These incidents above are when young people initiate the conversation, though in a way, it is our presence that has initiated it, as we arrive into their scene, they are merely asking our intention and trying to assess our authenticity in the space.

From the questions they ask- yes responses we can make can take the conversation back to them so we can hear about their faith. But in these initial moments usually only a few things are given away, but as the relationship between the worker and the group changes and develops, the opportunities might emerge. The cry for help from the young person might imply trust. acceptance is occurring, and if they’ve known about your faith from the outset then they have accepted you along with the faith that you have into the space of the group.

Once this does start to occur – what of faith then? 

If its not the response to the question as above – from the young people – then it involves a risk, a risk from us that the relationship is ready for it. Now this could happen in the course of one hour with a young person on an evening, or over a longer period of time drip drip drip feeding the relationship, nothing is the same with any young person. But the risk is to be the one to ask the question about faith, about thinking about faith, or doing something about a scenario that involves faith.

So, offering to pray for a young person and the scenario they describe, asking if a young person prays, or talks to a ‘higher power’ – or ask about them connecting with nature in the activity they are doing. Yes these might be vague spiritual concepts – but if there’s been no inclination of spiritual conversation thus far with them (ie they haven’t even asked one of the above questions) then you’ve got to start broad, or somewhere. Again, RE lessons in school, a ceremony in a church – ie a funeral/wedding, Christmas service are possible starting points, depending on whats been going on locally, faith of their parents, opinion about a faith news article (women bishops) are possible points of interaction.

In a way, faith emerges in the conversation , and involves a commitment to explore with young people their starting point, from a point of honesty that isnt preachy, but is responsive to questions. Remember you might be the only christian that young person has had the chance to ask questions to about faith, in their terms. Remember also the young person might also have experiences of faith, of church and memories that prevent them being of faith that they want to share. Remembering also that you might be a starting point, meeting them where they’re at. Faith from point zero.

There is faith on the streets, its faith that God is in the conversations, faith in leaving the building to go and spend time with young people in the open spaces. Faith in God ahead of us, and ahead in the lives of young people. Its for us to discover God in their lives already. If young people talk about their faith on the streets, or lack of it, its honest and real, no holds barred. Its real and dangerous, its risky for them. They deserve a way of being discipled further from that honesty, curiosity and risk. Where might God meet them as church – where they’re at ?, I wonder… – where, unless you journey with them, in that faithful, relationship you have started.

 

 

 

(For more information about the faith conversations in the process of detached – see ‘Here be dragons’ -details of which are above and you can purchase it fro FYT – thank you)

For detached – why context matters

For 10 years now I’ve been involved in delivering detached youthwork in a number of settings, and not just city, rural and suburb, but also neutral space, community , school and college. For me the two key factors that enable quality conversations to happen are the following;
A. The geographical distance from adults who control the space, and B. The  Aims and intentions of the work.

Let me explain A. Because B is more obvious.

In Perth we as a project delivered street based detached for 3 years before we ventured into the schools, we’d built good relationships with young people and we’re well known.
Our first attempts at detached in what was an old school was pretty successful.  There were plenty of open spaces, grass areas and the playground. Even though young people had limited time and it was their time away from lessons/adults were generally happy to talk.

This all changed when the school updated to a new campus. Young people gathered in tables inside, rooms were locked, only a few young people went outside, and they had a greater desire for their freedom. They frogmarched to asda and back instead of staying in the vicinity of the school. All we could do was walk and wait as they gathered outside the school vicinity. So it was like street detached for about 15 mins when they gathered in groups anti socially to smoke.

Conversations inside the school were almost impossible. Too many allowed spaces, too much control, too many other teachers walking around. We became no different to teachers. The further outside the school the more young people to choose to be there the better the conversation with the detached team.

We tried doing detached in an FE college with similar results. Only young people we knew already would be up for conversation and even then it was rare.
The question is why are young people in the space? There are a myriad of reasons when they’re on the streets in the evening, these are reduced considerably during a school lunchtime. Theyre there to have a break, space away from adults, socialise with friends and unwind from the morning. The space is constructed by adults, for young people have permission to be there. Given a choice they wouldn’t want to be there at all.
Being on the streets at night is more often an active choice and decision.

Some of the same issues may happen in the community as is often the case when we deliver detached near to the houses of young people. There are conversations yes but there can be a reluctance for young people to divulge too much as adults can be around and near the front gardens.

In my experience, and it’s only my experience, where young people have more choice and their own reasons to be in the space then conversations are more likely and more likely to develop & deepen. Where the space is most neutral ie park or space away from adults who are deemed to control it (by the young people, teachers for example) again my experience is that the same benefits occur.

None of this is to say detached doesn’t work in a school. It all depends on the space and the gathering spaces for young people.

Maybe in a more contained space the approach has to change, in a space where young people arent actually bored (they rarely actually are bored on the streets) they need to be entertained to be distracted from their chosen activity, so sometimes the mobile bus, or sport cage, or other lunchtime club could be the thing that creates interest, and conversations can happen in those spaces. But its the thing of interest that attracts and then starts to drive the practice, not just the possibility of conversation, of interaction, that detached is all about.

 

Theatrical Conversations on the streets

“Each conversation is like a small piece of theatre, and within it we acquire a role” (Wardhaugh 1985)

“Theatre happens when someone offers something- word or deed-to another” (Vanhoozer, 2010:43)

I have a small confession to make; over the last 3-4 years i have developed a routine when I train detached youthworkers, volunteers or students even, when it comes to thinking about detached youthwork, especially the aspect of Cold Contact – or the conversation between the detached worker and the group of young people.  In developing the training since starting thinking about detached with the Sidewalk project in Perth in 2007 and the first training session, right through to training a group of volunteers in Byker the other week, I have tended to think slightly scientifically or deconstructively about those conversational moments, and thus I have encouraged discussion on;

The feelings, surroundings and first impressions

The first sentence – what do you say?

All the broken down aspects of a conversation, which we often take for granted, both verbal and non-verbal cues

Different ways of responding to questions, and what those questions may be

Tone, Humour, asking questions

Listening, Empathising and Values

As I’ve thought about the above quotation from Wardheugh, I’ve been challenged to think about whether I have had a tendency to de construct or scientificise natural conversations – and in so doing inhibit the pure theatre of improvised conversations.

Within each conversation – Smith goes on to describe we do embody an acting role. Its often the perceived leaders who make the first moves. Yet roles we can fulfil on the stage of the conversation can be to WD40 the conversation by maintaining the flow, or keep the scene going. We could be someone to illuminate the scene by drawing out the character of the young adult to perform, we could be the scene director who moves the scene to somewhere different – changing the subject, asking a question. Yet what role do the young people play in the scene? – are they merely actors in our performance?  What roles might they play?

In detached – they have the choice to be present in our stages, and choice to act authentically (without hypocracy – a term meaning false acting – cf Vanhoozer) , choice to leave, or perform as the context allows. They provide the context of the play, the focus is determined by them- as the detached youthworkers seek to utilise the context to draw out the improvised script.

Not unlike Jazz, or like interactive theatre, the performance of the conversations is improvised. But unlike either of these, there is skill required to maintain the play of the conversation in such a free space, where both parties can enter or more-so exit at any time.  The skill of the detached youthworker is to encourage the young adult to want to perform in this small space of theatre, to trust the others in the performance, whether each other as friends, or the youthworkers themselves.

Does the metaphor of conversation as theatre help a further artistic creation of detached youthwork performance? – it might do – as in thinking about roles of the scene, the drama that the young adults are encouraged to perform can take centre stage – after all- youthwork is about the young person as primary client in their social context (Sercombe) – maybe it is more like the young persons (s) as primary actors in their co-created stage with adults enabling them to perform.

Not unlike the world of Drama – there are cues, behaviours, actions and skills to rehearse – and thats where the training might still be very much valid, the Jazz musician still needs to know how to play the instrument, just that in the band there is collective improvisation.

After all theatre is a present activity, performance is affected by the audience and actors alike no two performances are ever the same.

 

 

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