Youth work practitioners, academics and policymakers from across the Commonwealth are coming together at the University of Reading, UK, and virtually, for the 4th Commonwealth Conference on Youth Work, being held under the theme, The Power of Youth Work: Forging a sustainable and peaceful common future.  

Youth work helps and supports young people with their personal, social and educational development using educational processes as well as care and leisure approaches.  

The event from 10-12 July is being hosted by the National Youth Agency (NYA), on behalf of the Commonwealth Secretariat, with the Commonwealth Alliance of Youth of Youth Workers’ Associations (CAWYA) and supported by the UK Government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The NYA has organised the conference in collaboration with national youth work partners in the UK countries of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Registration to view the three-day conference is free and can be accessed via the conference website

The Power of Youth Work conference will explore the youth work theory and practice that supports the education and development of young people worldwide. It will consider how youth workers can learn, innovate and build networks to grow youth work across the globe. 

Leigh Middleton, Chief Executive, National Youth Agency, said: “We’re delighted to be hosting this year’s Commonwealth Conference for Youth Work, which will showcase a range of esteemed leaders and innovators in youth work. The breadth of expertise and innovation being showcased demonstrates how youth work intersects with political, economic and social policies and its essential role in building more tolerant and sustainable communities.” 

Over 40 esteemed youth practitioners and researchers from across the Commonwealth are set to deliver a variety of presentations and interactive breakout sessions that will inspire, equip and empower delegates to improve their practice.  

Layne Robinson, Head of Social Policy Development at the Commonwealth Secretariat, said: “This year’s conference coincides with 50 years of the Youth Programme at the Commonwealth Secretariat and 2023 is being celebrated as the Year of the Youth. We see young people as strong assets to ensure a better future for the planet and they deserve comprehensive support to help them reach their full potential. We are therefore happy to partner with the NYA to highlight the transformative power of youth work.” 

Professor Momodou Sallah, Professor of Teaching and Learning at De Montfort University, will give the opening plenary on the contexts and challenges for youth work around the world, drawing upon his international research, experience of connecting the global to local realities, and enriching young people’s lives. Professor Sallah is involved in a range of international and community development work including leading a £1.5 million World Bank-funded initiative to create The University of Applied Science, Engineering and Technology (USET) in Gambia, drawing upon the expertise of De Montford University.   

Delegates will also hear a special address from the Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, who will speak about the collective efforts during the Year of Youth activities to renew and strengthen youth work, engagement and empowerment. 

Topics covered throughout the conference include youth participation and leadership; the economic and social value of youth work; health wellbeing and youth work; youth led research; youth work for marginalised communities; gender and equality; and youth and peacebuilding. 

On the theme of inclusivity, Liz Johnson – who spent 18 years in British Para Swimming Team scooping gold medals in the Paralympics, European Championship and World Championships – will provide an insight into her work as an athlete mentor for the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust. Liz is passionate about seeing disability role models in every sector and co-founded ‘The Ability People’ to address discrimination by employers and supports organisations with their inclusion strategies.  

A key focus will be on exploring the role that youth work can play in promoting social justice and easing conflict.  

Yahye Abdi, Project Coordinator at The Somali Community and Parents Association (SOCOPA), will describe the work of the Hope Collective, a partnership of organisations that work together to bring about change for young people and communities. The Hope Collective was created to support the 20-year legacy campaign for Damilola Taylor, who was killed in south London.  

A number of presentations by members of the Professional Association of Lecturers in Youth and Community Work (PALYCW) will highlight the role of academics, educators and researchers in the field of youth and community work.  

Perspectives on building a skilled and qualified workforce through partnerships with the voluntary sector, universities and other organisations will also be provided by contributors from across the Commonwealth, including TanYa Merrick, Convener and Director of Professional Support and Development, Jamaica Professional Youth Workers Association. 

A number of presentations will highlight youth participation models that bring about improved outcomes for young people and support strategies for peacebuilding and sustainability, including a paper delivered by Te Hilla Maloney, on the youth participatory action research undertaken by the Caribbean Regional Youth Council, which reinforces that programmes developed in partnership with young people are more likely to be effective at engaging the population and, therefore, to have a greater impact. Delegates can also participate in a workshop delivered by Georgia Graham, Youth Participation Officer, NYA, with young people to discuss the positive impacts of employing younger workers, including the impact on them and the organisation.  

Delegates will be invited to explore the purpose, nature and challenges of the youth work sector working collaboratively, both internationally and across the UK and the wider Commonwealth. 

The conference presentations are free to view online and the majority of sessions can also be accessed virtually, with recordings available for a period following the event. 

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