Whilst ironing the various nations’ flags in readiness for our upcoming Commonwealth Conference on Youth Work, I began to ruminate on the key aims of the event: to celebrate, collaborate and collectively advocate for youth work. 

At its most basic level the event is about sharing learning and celebrating those spearheading new approaches to youth work in order to raise our game as a profession and continue being effective in transforming the lives of young people and their communities.  

I’m delighted that the esteemed Momodou Sallah, Professor of Teaching and Learning at De Montfort University has agreed to set the scene with his opening plenary on the various contexts and challenges for youth work around the world.   

But celebrating great youth work means acknowledging that youth work is as diverse as the young people it serves.  

Step forward Kavya Shree from the Vellore Institute of Technology who will draw upon various case studies from different Commonwealth countries and how youth work can support social and economic development.  

Closer to home, we’ll hear from Colin MacFarlane, National Programme Manager, YMCA Scotland, about the charity’s Community of Impact for Employment and Entrepreneurship, which has fostered a greater understanding of the issues young people are facing (globally) around employment and entrepreneurship.  

Meanwhile Gavin Myers, from the Centre for Voluntary sector Leadership at the Open University, will highlight the youth work strategies employed by community heritage sites to engage and empower young people in dispersed rural and peri-urban communities in Jamaica. 

Delegates can also hear from Jasmine Thomas, Director for the Department of Youth Affairs, Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) on the revitalisation of youth work in the TCI since the inception of the Department of Youth Affairs in 1995, whilst heeding the need for a greater recognition of youth work as a valued profession to ensure its future sustainability.  

Whilst these distinguished speakers come from very different cultural, economic and geographical perspectives, they are united by the collective belief in the critical role youth engagement plays in building sustainable futures across the Commonwealth. And with over 40 expert speakers over the three days, there will be ample food for thought on how this could translate to your practice and opportunities for identifying new collaborations both internationally, and across the UK. 

Seeing all 56 flags on display at the University of Reading will be a moment I will savour, not just as a testimony of my domestic skills, but first and foremost as a symbol of the importance of providing a forum for youth workers from across the commonwealth to celebrate where and how youth work is having an impact. It will also act as a reminder of our responsibility to advocate collectively for youth work to have its rightful place at a national, regional and local policy making level.  

And this year there’s no reason to miss out, as the event is free to join online. Take a look at the full agenda and reserve your place below.

Leigh Middleton, CEO, National Youth Agency

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