As part of our ‘Spotlight on…’ series for Youth Work Week, Lydia in NYA’s Policy team interviewed Louise from KICK, based in Cambridgeshire.

Lydia: Tell us about your role at KICK, and what KICK delivers.

Louise: I’m Louise McCoy and I’m the operations manager. KICK is a youth work charity based in St. Ives in Cambridgeshire. We work with young people aged between 10 and 19 with various projects including our community based work, including a KICKboxing fitness group and open access groups. We also run targeted groups in the community from the referrals we receive from local agencies.

We deliver youth work in schools as an alternative provision provider for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. This supports a small group of young people who aren’t able to access mainstream education for a variety of reasons, as well as going into schools and delivering programmes around confidence, self-esteem and identity. We also run lunchtime clubs and activities in our local secondary school.

Lydia: How did you get into youth work? Did you always want to be youth worker?

Louise: I came to youth work in a roundabout way. I started off as an actor and I worked for a theatre education company. We used to go into schools and do performances and then do workshops with the young people afterwards. A lot of our performances were around issue-based work, for example, bullying, drug awareness and teenage pregnancies.

I used to really enjoy the workshop part of it as well as the acting. I loved getting a class and working with these young people whilst talking to them about their experiences and being able to offer support. When I left the acting world, I really wanted to continue working with young people. I then started work in a secondary school as an inclusion worker. I worked 1:1 with young people who were struggling with mainstream education. I loved the variety of the role, as no young person was the same. The school I was working had KICK delivering in the school and when an opportunity came up for working on their school peer mentoring programme, I jumped at the opportunity and got the job. I ran a peer mentoring programme which trained sixth formers to be mentors to young students in the school. I started delivering other programmes in the same school with KICK, whilst working on a part-time contract. When the role of operations manager presented itself, I went for it and now I’m a full-time worker.

I never thought to myself when I was a teenager “I’m going to be a youth worker” but, I always knew that I wanted to work with young people. It makes sense that I’m now supporting the running of a youth work charity and getting to work with so many young people. I’ve been at KICK now for nine years, working five years as operations manager. 

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

Louise: We work closely with local schools and agencies to get the word out about our open access sessions, which are free of charge. It’s really important for us to make sure that all young people can access our services without financial barriers to attending. Through open access youth work, we’re able to offer young people opportunities that they might not otherwise have, supporting them to see their potential and map their way to fulfilling it. These young people might fall under the radar because they’re not getting the support from other places, as they don’t meet the thresholds.

It’s been really tough on young people coming out of lockdowns in terms of social isolation. We’re able to offer courses to young people for them to gain qualifications and work towards developing new skills.

We’ve recently done a project with the Norris Museum in St. Ives which was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Young people got to work with professional actors, film makers and textiles artists. We saw the young people grow in confidence and self-esteem as they worked with professionals and learnt new skills – I think that’s the crux of it all. Through youth work, we’re able to give young people a boost in personal and career development.

Our work in schools with our group work, alternative provision work and 1:1 work is so important to ensure young people attend school or a type of education provision, otherwise they might not attend anything. We are able to bring about a change in their confidence and self belief that they can achieve with positive thinking and goal setting together.

We’re youth led in our approach and youth voice is fundamental to our work to ensure we’re achieving what young people need. It’s important that we’re listening to them to meet their individual needs in a holistic way.

Lydia: What elements of your role make you get up in the morning?

Louise: Every day at KICK is different. The variety of people that we’re working with, the different groups that we run, the different partnerships that we have and to provide youth work for young people is really exciting!

No two days are the same – you might be going to events or doing particular work with young people where you’ve got people coming in and/or delivering sessions with young people, or young people actually delivering sessions themselves. Then the next week you might be covered in glow sticks!

Overall, it’s the young people that make it. It’s a privilege to be on young people’s journey with them, being able to support them, build on those relationships as a trusted, trained adult in their life and know that they are enjoy engaging in activities through voluntary engagement.

I love my job, I enjoy it so much!

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

Louise: One thing that I’m really keen to get across to people that we’re not ‘just’ a youth worker. Sometimes I think youth work can be seen as a bit of a soft option and it’s just a club that’s open and that’s all it is. But it’s so much more than that.

We do run a club, but people are surprised that we go into schools and that we’re able to offer young people qualifications. We can run courses in alternative provision, but we can also run courses as part of open access sessions.

There’s also the holistic approach youth work abides by. The contextual safeguarding work that youth work centres itself on is missed by a lot of people who are not in the sector. They’re not aware that we’re working with young people and understanding what’s happening around them on a wider scale in their communities and daily life. We have conversations with parents and with other agencies to make sure that we are working together towards the best outcomes for young people.

I would love for youth workers to be recognised as key to young people’s support systems. We receive funding from schools, the police, and other funders so youth work is recognised by some organisations and agencies as being an important asset. However, the wider public do not always recognise the sector in the way they should.

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

Louise: I think it was a really challenging time coming out of lockdown as it took a while to build up numbers as there was fear amongst our young people and the local community of coming back face to face.

Now, we’ve got the cost of living crisis and even with free groups, there are access barriers with parents working two jobs and not being able to drop off their children at youth group.

Even with public transport, some young people can’t afford to get a bus or the bus timetable in rural areas is limited. Ensuring our groups are still accessible and inclusive is going to be a challenge for us going forwards. Transport poverty can sometimes be hard to see.

Cambridgeshire is seen as being an affluent area which can be difficult when bidding for funding. The pockets of deprivation are not highlighted and it can be hard to highlight the issues young people and their families are going through.

Additionally, staffing is a challenge. We don’t have enough core funding to sustain full time youth workers so we recruit part-time roles, but the majority of people are looking for stable, full time employment. However, a few years ago, we had a lot of people wanting to take on part-time roles. Our funding is restricted to what we’ve applied for so it can be difficult to be innovative and grow. I’ve spoken to other organisations about this and everyone is in the same boat. It’s also restricting people entering and growing the youth work profession.

Lydia: And what are your hopes for the future – the youth work sector and young people?

Louise: I hope the youth work sector gets the recognition it deserves. I think that this is beginning to happen, and that amazing work is starting to be highlighted that goes on across the country because there’s so many great organisations out there of various sizes.

I hope the sector grows so that we can have access to youth work as a viable career for everyone. We’ve got some youth volunteers that currently come to our youth club who attended our youth provision when they were younger; to see them progress into a youth work career would be amazing. We also have hopes for young trustees and we’re currently developing a youth panel.

We hope to strengthen and expand our relationships within our local community. We have amazing partnerships with our local community and we’ve been very well supported. We’re appreciative of all our partnerships and hope to continue these going forward.

We want to ensure that we can expand over the next few years and recruit people that are passionate about supporting young people. I hope this happens for the sector too. My hope for youth work is that it continues, grows and gets the recognition that it deserves so that young people are able to access the support they need to reach their aspirations and their goals.

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