I think most people agree that now is a difficult time to be a youth worker. Cuts to youth services are widespread and many in our profession are facing an uncertain future. Whilst the skills of youth workers are recognised by some, the role does not enjoy a high profile and is largely overlooked by politicians.
Against this evolving backdrop the National Youth Agency turns 50. As part of our half century celebrations we wanted to demonstrate the impact of youth work in a celebratory way that illustrates what’s brilliant about youth work. So we asked 50 people ‘what does youth work mean to you?’
Through their own words, youth workers and young people told us why it was important and what it could achieve. A lot of the contributions articulated the difference they could make in a way that was truly inspiring. These were some of the themes which emerged and which struck me with particular resonance.
‘We talk about teachers – we should talk about value of great youth work’
This was a line from Nick Hurd’s entry. It’s great that a mainstream politician believes this – it’s a shame that it requires a stint as minister for youth policy to gain this insight. I hope we can get Brooks Newmark being as supportive. Another contributor referred to youth work as ‘the underdog of education -misunderstood and misrepresented’ which I thought particularly perceptive.
‘Helping young people realise their potential is limitless’
Lots of youth workers mentioned this – and that the ability to offer this support is beneficial to us all, not just the young person. Many mentioned too that it was personally hugely rewarding and a blessing to be part of their journey.
‘Every day is different, every day is an adventure!’
I love the energy and dynamism of young people. Lots of our contributors are enthused by the passion and vigour of young people too.
‘Real local role models’
Several contributors wrote movingly about youth work providing positive role models for young people to look to. Youth workers’ ability to be flexible and tailor activity to an individual’s needs means their relationships can touch young people in a way others can’t.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to our 50 Faces. Despite the challenging environment, our contributors all display a deep commitment to the profession and youth work as a distinctive pedagogy. I challenge anyone to read these 50 entries and not feel heartened, moved and even invigorated by their insight and unswerving belief in the transformative power of youth work.