As part of our ‘Spotlight on…’ series for Youth Work Week, Lydia in NYA’s Policy team interviewed Jade from HOPE Nottingham, based in Beeston

Lydia: Can you tell me a bit about yourself your role and what HOPE Nottingham is all about? 

Jade: I’m Jade and I’m a Youth and Community Worker for Hope Nottingham. It’s a Christian charity which predominantly runs foodbanks at 12 hubs across Nottingham I work 16 hours a week, planning, managing and delivering all the youth provision.

Lydia: How did you get into youth work?

Jade: When I was growing up, I took on the role of looking after my younger siblings and I always knew that I was good at that.

I was looking at teaching or nursing, but when I got to about the age of 17/18, I discovered what youth work was and I started training.

When I was studying for my youth work degree I did my work placement at HOPE Nottingham in April-May 2017. I wanted to gain experience somewhere where they had connections into the local community and engaged with young people from all backgrounds.

I am mixed race. I grew up in a lower social class and lived in a Council Association Housing. It was important to me to work with young people that might need extra support as I didn’t have that as a young person. I was the darkest person in my whole high school, so I never really felt like I fitted in. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I knew that I wasn’t meant to fit in a box and that it was OK. I wanted to work with young people to help them through their own identity journey, so it did not take them to adulthood to realise this, like I did.

Lydia: How does the youth work you deliver support the young people you work with?

Jade: Since starting my work placement with HOPE Nottingham, it’s been a rollercoaster. At one point, we had a youth club with about 50 young people attending, but due to the challenge of recruiting and retaining volunteers, this couldn’t be maintained, and I set up a club for 9 to 12 year olds focussing on their mental wellbeing providing a safe space where they can talk to us and be heard. We put out board games and craft activities, but we don’t have any electronics so young people can really switch off. We also provide a meal to ensure we’re meeting every need. We all sit down together instead of just grabbing food. I believe that sitting around a table and eating together is so important and the majority of our young people don’t experience that at home. We use reflection exercises at these times to ask, ‘What has been a blessing this week?’ or we play ‘Two truths and a lie’ or ice-breaker conversations to get to know each other and build relationships. We’ve seen confidence, self-esteem and social connections grow from this one small, but important part of our sessions.

Each week we also reflect on the five ways of wellbeing This is so important to me personally, as when I was a teenager, I didn’t really know how bad my mental health was. I was of the generation that weren’t allowed to talk about their feelings. Our club provides a space of reflection and where young people can express themselves openly, without fear of judgement and to have a voice.

As a Christian charity, young people can put a blessing or prayer requests, or anything that they believe in, on to a little tree and they can sit by this and take five minutes for themselves to reflect or meditate at the end of the session. A lot of young people that attend don’t get five minutes by themselves at home with having shared bedrooms with siblings. If they want to, they can join in a prayer at the end, but this isn’t compulsory and is completely their choice. It’s a chance for our young people to think about the week that they’ve had, be thankful for what they’ve got and potentially talk about the events that have annoyed them that week too.

Lydia: What element of your role makes you get up in the morning? 

Jade: Simply put, it’s youth work as a whole and being able to work with young people and their families. I also run a younger sibling and parents’ group as well and provide wider support for the family if there are other needs, like food or clothing.

I feel privileged that I can have these conversations with parents and that they trust me and our organisation. The face-to-face work and being able to make a positive difference is what I love.

Lydia: Are there any myths or misconceptions about youth work you’d like to dispel? 

Jade: It annoys me that there are misconceptions about what youth work entails. You can also burn out really easily if you’re running a group on your own, especially when it comes to standards of safeguarding. Instead of employing only one full-time worker, employers should employ two part time workers or an extra sessional worker who can support with delivering sessions, hearing young people’s needs and planning future sessions alongside young people.

There’s a misconception about youth workers being too ‘soft’ towards young people. I was told that I had too much empathy for young people and that they wouldn’t take me seriously and maybe I hadn’t chosen the right profession! I’m quite a gentle, friendly person so I think they thought I wouldn’t be able to support young people through disruptive behaviour but I can bring a noisy group of young people to silence very quickly. I don’t believe in shouting at young people, I would rather sit next to them and have a conversation about what was going and working through it with them. I don’t think people understand the professional boundaries we set and the neutral power balance we have with young people.

There are also negative misconceptions about young people which prevents people from volunteering. Often anti-social behaviour is a reflection of problems coping at school or home, and by volunteering people can make a real difference in young people’s lives.  

Lydia: What challenges do you believe youth workers and your organisation will encounter in the future?

: The main issues are around a lack of staffing and the lack of volunteers, which comes from the lack of recognition of what youth work is and entails. I would love to be able to offer more groups – to go into schools and work with other agencies, but I’m just one person and I’ve got 16 hours to do that in. Unless we can recruit more volunteers, we will be unable to grow and offer more provision.

The lack of recognition of what youth work is about and its impact will continue to affect my work. I’m always addressing that It’s not about how many people we can get through the doors, but about that one young person that you worked with to enable them to flourish.

I struggle to engage with the local authority and council with my role and we struggle in Nottingham to join up provision especially as our building sits on the local authority boundary line. It can be frustrating when we’re trying to achieve the same goal to benefit young people.

Lydia: What are your hopes for the future for youth work for sector and young people? 

Jade: I really hope there’s a politician that has a massive heart for young people who wants to give them a voice. We need somebody who’s going to actually listen to youth workers, so that we can enable young people to make a difference for themselves and to have a voice in the future.  

Young people and children need consistency, stability and love – they’ve gone through so much recently with lockdowns, the cost of living crisis and our unstable government. The effects on mental health from that alone is huge, whilst young people go through adolescence and are trying to figure out who they are, their identity and their confidence to grow as a person. I really hope that we can get more youth workers and more people in government to fight for young people and children.

I hope that youth work grows in recognition as a profession, especially on how flexible, adaptable, and creative we can be. Youth workers have qualifications and are trained to work with young people. We can go into schools, we can act as mentors, we can set up and deliver open access, we can go out on [detached youth work], we can do so much for young people and communities. Youth work is a great profession that meeting young people’s holistic needs and builds positive relationships of support.

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