The 5th Annual Youth Work Week Summit took place at Portcullis House, Westminster on Monday 13 November. The event brought together a range of inspirational speakers motivated by this year’s theme of youth work in every place and space, providing their views on youth work’s place on the policy agenda and how to bring about greater cross sector working to improve the outcomes of young people.  

Delegates included policymakers, civil servants, representatives from the health, criminal justice and education sectors, as well as youth work organisations and young people, who discussed the impact of youth work in allied professional settings and how we can work collectively to build a more sustainable and integrated youth work offer.  

Keynote speeches 

Opening Remarks: Stuart Andrew MP

In his opening address the Rt Hon Stuart Andrew MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary for DCMS, pledged his commitment to ensuring young people have access to youth services as a priority, citing the updated statutory duty for local authorities and £500 million investment in the National Youth Guarantee, as well as a raft of other investments announced in September to build the quality of and widen access to enrichment activities for young people. 

The impact these trusted relationships with youth workers can provide cannot be underestimated… Youth work has a positive impact on young people’s mental health, wellbeing, their social and emotional skills, confidence, political awareness and citizenship,

Key Note Speech: Janet Daby MP

Shadow Minister, Janet Daby provided a keynote speech, in which she referenced the austerity cuts:  

£1 billion has been taken out of youth services over the last ten years. When our communities are stripped of youth work, crime and anti-social behaviour increases. I am determined to deliver a plan for young people – a new youth programme, a major reform, tackling crime within our communities and most of all listening to and valuing our young people.” 

Key Note Speech: Leigh Middleton

Leigh Middleton, CEO, National Youth Agency, called upon every local authority to fulfil their Statutory Duty drawing upon the standards developed by the NYA to support the delivery of a high-quality local youth work offer. He also explained the rationale for the NYSAB and its recently published Roadmap to a National Youth Strategy, which has helped to create a common language for charities concerned with lobbying for changes in policy and investment in youth provision:

We set up the National Youth Sector Advisory Board to bring together 30-60 organisations from across the sector – including funders, frontline practitioners, national, regional and local organisations, local authorities, the local government association and the DCMS – sitting around the table talking about the issues the sector is facing. The Roadmap sets out a set of consistent messages which all these organisations have signed up to.” 

Panel discussions

Panel 1: Investing in young people’s futures

The opening panel discussion, was chaired by Harrison Humby, Young Representative from the National Youth Agency, and titled Investing in young people’s futures – the case for recognising and funding youth work. The panel brought together youth work leaders, Joe Rich, Head of Youth Voice at The National Lottery Community Fund, and young people who made a powerful case for investment. 

Read more about this discussion ▼ 

Harrison introduced panel speakers and said: “It’s incredibly important, since the disconnect of the pandemic, that we bring young people together in safe spaces where they feel they can not only learn, but achieve.” 

Dan Mobbs, Chief Executive, MAP said, “We all know that in communities where youth work has been stripped out the young people are vulnerable to exploitation.”  

Kevin Franks, CEO Youth Focus Northeast added: “Young people are facing complex issues and youth centres are increasingly becoming emergency services.” 

Donna Hilton, Youth Service Manager, Nottingham University Hospitals Youth Service explained: “There is approximately only one hospital-based youth worker for every 18,000 young people living with a long-term condition….but youth work changes lives… the self-esteem, belonging and essential life skills equip them to manage their own health conditions, attend medical appointments and have a better relationship with their healthcare teams. They are also better equipped to transition to adult services.” 

Rachael Bayley, Director of Membership Services from Girlguiding said: “Long-term and sustained revenue funding is crucial to reach all young people.” 

Teän Warren, young representative from the National Youth Agency closed the panel with her lived experience of youth work: “In Cornwall the youth centre re-opened after the pandemic, and I travelled the one-and-a-half hours to get there and then back because I needed it in my life. I was given a non-judgemental space to evolve, and it really helped me to become a better person.” 

Panel 2: A distinct form of education

The second panel debated A distinct form of education – the value of youth work in formal and informal settings and was chaired by Tim Loughton MP, who said: “Youth work is not an add on luxury – it’s an essential component.”  

Read more about this discussion ▼ 

Dave Parr, CEO of Oasis agreed “Teachers as professionals need to be educated about what youth workers do – both sides of the equation need to understand each other better.”  

Ruth Marvel, CEO, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, added: “Seeing enrichment as a tool for social mobility is even more important for those young people at a disadvantage in the current education system.” 

Jenny Adamson MBE, Alternative Provision Specialist Taskforce, Head Teacher and Project Coordinator, Department for Education, explained: “Our reputation has changed in Croydon because of the pilot scheme. We now have the resources at the hospital to support young people – from a team of mental health experts, a speech and language therapist, a family worker, an assistant psychologist, a representative from the youth justice service and a youth worker. We’ve built strong links with local community organisations so some of the challenges – such as frequent missing episodes during term – due to these partnerships, we then knew where the young people were. We feel that a lot of our young people now have safe spaces in the community outside of school.” 

Precious Odeyemi, a young representative from the National Youth Agency closed the panel with her reflections on the support from her youth workers: “Engaging with my youth workers was a completely different experience to my teachers. They extended their guidance beyond the classroom to support personal growth and help navigating emotions and challenges.”

Panel 3: Preventing negative outcomes for young people

The final panel discussion on Preventing negative outcomes for young people – youth work’s role in the justice system was chaired by Janet Daby MP, Shadow Minister for Youth Justice from the Ministry of Justice and included Lib Peck, Director at the London Violence Reduction Unit, who said: “We work with youth workers in custody suites and reaching those young people at these critical moments is so important and profound in terms of helping them think in a different way.”  

Read more about this discussion ▼ 

Gess Horner-Aird, Chief Executive, Kinetic Youth said: “The youth justice system is just the same for children as it is for adults – this is the biggest challenge for young people, and this is where youth workers can make a huge difference.” 

Keith Fraser, Chair of the Youth Justice Board, added: “We need to treat all children as children regardless of whether they are in the youth justice system – studies show that youth work brings a tangible return on positive outcomes for the youth justice system.” 

Dr Marcellus Baz BEM, Founder and CEO, Switch Up  explained: “The first factor to change young people’s lives and their perceptions is guidance and mentoring, the second factor is education – we need things that are different taking place outside of school, the third thing is counselling and therapy, to help them heal and build resilience and the fourth factor is physical activity which helps young people develop a growth mindset. It’s important we look at the root causes rather than the symptoms” 

Pelumi Fatayo, a young representative from UK Youth, closed the panel by reflecting on being a youth worker himself and warned of the challenges the sector faces in retaining the workforce: “Youth workers are disenfranchised, they are not being galvanised to stay and are leaving.” 

Closing Remarks

Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP

The event was sponsored by MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP, Vice Chairman of the all-party group on Youth Affairs, who provided a rallying call for the sector:

“How do we ensure that youth services are embedded within the future government programme to ensure that young people live full lives? We can throw as much money in mental health on the NHS, but we will never cure the problem through medicalisation, we will only cure these issues through development of youth services. I believe youth work can offer so much and we need to keep making that case.” 

Youth Work Summit Celebratory Reception: Creating one unified voice

The 2023 Youth Work Week activities culminated in a celebratory afternoon tea reception on Monday 13 November, directly after the Summit event, at the House of Commons providing an opportunity for representatives from a range of sectors to network. 

Read more about the Celebratory Reception ▼ 

Tim Loughton MP, the event sponsor, described the importance of this year’s Youth Work Week theme of ‘Youth work in every place and space’ in shining a light on the inspiring work of allied sectors. He called on the government officials and ministers to recognise youth work as a profession, with parity of esteem with teaching and social care, and the vital need to support clear career and progression pathways with education providers to boost the workforce.

Leigh Middleton, National Youth Agency CEO explained how the NYA is committed to amplifying the voices of the sector and reflected on the importance of shared language: “Let’s have one clear voice to government and funders. And that way we’ll make a vast difference.

Minister Mims Davies, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions opened her keynote speech by remarking on the engagement with Youth Work Week by youth clubs across the country. She commended the NYA for helping the government understand the role of youth workers and championing opportunities for young people. She also spoke of the ability of youth work to raise aspirations: “Your postcode does not define your future. Young people don’t get enough opportunities to prepare for the world of work and learn life skills, and youth work provides that social mobility.”

Amira Duale, a young representative from the National Youth Agency, reflected on the event and offered the final speech. She said: “Youth work provides a safe and inclusive environment where young people can become leaders, where we can see other people’s perspective in a safe and nurturing space,” before adding, “nothing is ever perfect, but a balance needs to be struck – every young person should have access in some way to a youth worker.” In the closing remarks the congregation of youth sector policymakers, local government, youth sector practitioners and guest speakers were invited by Aaron Phiri, a Youth Voice Influencer at NYA, to work together in shaping policies, co-designing initiatives and programmes that impact children and young people often with complex needs and young people from diverse backgrounds.

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