Blogging for and about Youth Work and Young People

The other evening I was out at a local youth centre to do a quality inspection. It was an interesting visit as I hadn’t seen the centre since it had been built however I had been involved in at the very early stages when the plans had been drawn up for the building. As is usual nowadays there was limited funding and various amounts of competition for space from other community users. This meant that there was a considerable amount of compromise and I was frequently advising against building it over two floors and looking for where we could add in more storage space, outside play area etc.

It was therefore interesting to see the bricks and mortar in situ and the design translated into reality. The really positive news was that the young people had developed a lot of ownership of the youth centre and looked really comfortable and ‘at home’ in the upstairs part of the centre. It was definately thriving and fulfilling a need. The disappointing part was the difficulty in opening the downstairs level due to staffing numbers and problems in supervising it. This was quite frustrating as there is a lot of music equipment stored down there and ambitions to develop this side of the club. We’re working on solutions and as the evenings get lighter I can see the group slowly gravitating to the downstairs area however my frustration is more in knowing that this would be the case early on in the planning and not having succeeded on being influential enough in getting more floor space. I was even more frustrated to see the “NO BALL GAMES” signs 😦 fixed to the outside of the building in prime open space with no area being designated for this.

This frustration is echoed in the redevelopment of many of the schools that is happening across the area at the moment. We have quite a few Youth Wings (youth buildings on school sites) and as they are looking to gain Academy status or further funding for development the Youth Wings are frequently getting overlooked and actually disappearing from plans. Part of my job is to ensure that we maintain the profile of the youth service and continually advocate for ‘places to go’ for young people however with schools and their finances being outside of our service and there being limited joined up working in this aspect I always feel like the poor relation however well I try to influence etc.

However (back to the positive) the work at the new centre above has been recognised by various agencies and noticably there have been less reports of young people hanging around (not an issue for me but it is in for people in many of our villages in the area) and the crime figures are down (I’m not sure how related these are to the centre being open however this is being highlighted as the reason for it!). We’ve also managed to secure short term funding to pilot an information, advice and support session which is proving successful as it is more accessible than the nearest town which is difficult to reach due to limited public transport.


Comments on: "Buildings for Youth Work" (6)

  1. Your post raised something I’ve been thinking for a long time about the relationship between the formal & informal education worlds.

    Nearly all our courses start with a kind of community audit where we get young people (and adults) to map out their area and identify potential resources. Its very telling just how few regard the local school as a resource – despite the fact that even if there is a local youth centre almost certainly the school has much better facilities.

    When we challenge this a very frequent response by youth workers is that young people don’t want to use the school because its seen in a negative regard (+ the assumption that the school wouldn’t allow them to use the facilities which always makes me wonder if anyone has ever asked).

    I completely understand the thinking of school being thought of negatively (it was for me) – but I also think this is a mindset that really needs to change in the youth work world.

    It relates to another thing I’m thinking increasingly to do with the current ‘accreditation culture’ – for this I think if we really want to help young people we need to do everything we can to get them doing well within the formal education system and able to achieve in recognised qualifications (not obscure ones that really only the youth work world understands).

    I think these two things need an incredible mindshift by a great many people in both formal education and the youth work sector. I think you’re very right that youth work is nearly always the poor relation – but at the same time I think theres also a kind of snobbery by many youth workers that their work outside of school is somehow more ‘real’ and there ends up being a bizarre kind of competitiveness.

    If it was instead possible to get schools happy to let youth services use their facilities, and for youth workers to make efforts to provide young people with positive experiences within school facilities but out of school time I think this could have huge value and also make better use of what should really be regarded as community resources.

  2. billybean said:

    I agree – in the era of integrated services one would hope that formal education would be one of the players however in my experience so far they are still very independent and each working to their own agendas.

    There is a variety of practice throughout the area and where it works well we (as in the Youth Service / Youth Worker on site) have a very good relationship with the school and there is a clear understanding of what each party brings to the table.

    I am keen to work with schools and look to share each areas expertise there are however a number of challenges we face:-

    1. Virtually all the schools I work with charge for the use of school premises (whereas youth buildings on school sites are funded within our bugets). We have to work very hard to get them to let us use the facilities at no cost (and yes, we do ask!!)

    2. Schools / governors being concerned about what happens on school premises. For instance we have had occasions where young people have been refused access to the youth wing as there have been complaints re young people being noisey leaving / smoking etc. These sort of decisions are often taken unilaterally and not in any discussion with the Youth Service.

    3. The bizarre competitiveness you mention is very real. With some schools there is the approach that these are ‘their’ children / young people and they can come across very authoritarian, although I accept that this is also an area I often have to challenge youth workers about when they refer to ‘my young people’. An example of this is a school where we have a youth wing which runs the Duke of Edinburghs Award Scheme. They don’t have enough staff to run it after Silver so the school have set up a unit for those interested in doing Gold. This unit however is ONLY for pupils that atttend the school, even though the youth wing has an open access policy.

    I hope that somehow we can overcome some (and more) of these issues as I totally agree that we all should be working together to improve services for young people and maximising what should be community facilities. It’s ironic in a way as I initially trained as a Teacher!

    Your comments re the ‘accreditation culture’ are also very interesting. I will be posting on this area soon but one thing that we are trying to develop is an integrated way of working with schools on accreditation through the ASDAN awards as some of their qualications also count as points towards GCSE and means that schools are more interested in using them, particularly the Certificate of Personal Effectiveness.

  3. well I think its quite inspiring to hear that – very often when I have similar conversations with people those things are so deep rooted that people just accept them.

    I’ve drafted & redrafted (but never published) quite a few posts on my thoughts about accreditation – its a bit sensitive because we’re a training organisation plus I do find my thoughts changing & evolving. I’m really interested in the soft skills concept at the moment though and trying to help young people become aware of them and especially aware of their potential to develop them through informal education stuff – I think I’m going to have a busy time working on this!

  4. Some really interesting reflections.

    I’ve been to three different youth centres in the last fortnight – and have been struck by how different they have all been – and how much the design of space (and ability to invest in it) makes a real difference.

    I’m thinking we perhaps need a bit of a photo project for youth workers. Could we get everyone to take a photo of their centre and to upload it to a photo-sharing websites so we build up a picture of Youth Centres in the UK and help in the debate about youth centre provision…

  5. billybean said:

    Hmmm – think I can take this one on board and see if we can get it started over here. I know that it would prompt an interesting debate just across our region!

  6. billybean said:

    Just an update – we’re going to get each of our centres to send in 3 photos (both inside and out) and our aim is then to upload them to Flickr.

    There’s a 2 fold reason for this, one is that our website currently doesn’t have much in the way of visuals and the second is so that we can show the differences around the county. Oh – and to build on what Tim suggested earlier.

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