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On Youth Training and Provision

In this week’s blog, Patrick Ambrose reflects on his youth work training and explores the differences and similarities in youth provision since then.

I realised this week that it is almost exactly 40 years ago that I first qualified as a youth worker. Back in 1977, shortly after the last of the Bessey youth work training courses had been delivered, which were set up and rolled out in response to the Bessey Report, I was taken on and trained by Calderdale Youth Service and YAHFHE and then let loose into the world of young people to practice my new calling.

It was a time of massive change and development. The Albemarle Report estimated that “one in three young people are attracted to the youth service” at that time. Extrapolate that to now in 2017 and it would equate to 183,000 young people between the ages of 11 and 19 in the Yorkshire and Humber region engaging with the various forms of provision. “The voluntary organisations (many of whom are grant-aided) attract a higher proportion at all ages”.

Brand new purpose-built Youth Centres were springing up everywhere. Youth Wings were being added to schools and there was a strong sense of momentum and growth. New youth work posts were being created to stimulate development and deal with the demand. Attendances at open youth work provision were very high, with many venues regularly attracting over 100 participants per session. It felt like there was a Youth Centre on every corner.

The type and amount of provision available to young people in 2017 is very different and, in many ways, that’s absolutely fine. We are working with a completely different generation with different needs and wants. The type of model where Local Authorities acted as gate-keepers of resources, re-distributing funding to voluntary organisations in the form of (usually small) grants is over. Voluntary Organisations are much more likely nowadays to be contracted to deliver work and much of it will look like provision that was formally delivered in-house by the Council. The relationship is therefore very different.

There are certain activities which can still be funded well. Participation work (in old money) gave birth to youth voice, which is still sexy enough to be one of the areas of work which in most areas has survived – or even grown – long after other work has ceased.

Other provision is funded through innovative means. I am currently a trustee of a charity in our region which operates from a full commercial working garage. OnTrak, in Bradford, trains young people who are NEET to service cars. They help to prepare vehicles for the MOT; they restore and sell classic cars, and they run a bicycle recycling project which last year gave over 4,000 re-furbished bikes to students from local schools. The charity, which is a community enterprise, uses profits from the garage work to fund activities and provide other services to and for the community in which it is based. The organisation has not received, nor asked for, any grants in its five year history, but survives solely on NEET contracts and income from the business. With a turnover approaching half a million pounds, it is hopefully a sustainable model. More importantly, over 90% of NEET participants go onto positive outcomes.

One thing has not changed. When I received my training all those years ago, at the end of it, I had to prove one thing: that I could make, sustain, and maintain relationships with individual young people and groups and by encouraging, motivating, and challenging them bring about positive outcomes for the young people with whom I was working. For me that is the essence of youth work, whatever the circumstances or settings or even the date on which the provision is made.

Patrick Ambrose, Youth Work Unit – Yorkshire & Humber

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