Network of Regional Youth Work Units England blog

A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.

The cult of the individual

“There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.”

This is among Margaret Thatcher’s most memorable quotes from her time as Prime Minister, and like many of the comments and actions she made in her lifetime, it’s laced with controversy.

Thatcher’s policies led to the demise of traditional working class communities, with swathes of closures across heavy industry – with the North bearing the brunt of this cull. Free market reforms, and the right-to-buy scheme presented tantalising opportunities, but this was offset by cuts to public spending and the sale of state owned assets. Arguably, Thatcher’s policies divided the very society she claimed did not exist.

In this past week we’ve seen the north-south divide rear its ugly head again, with the country reflecting on the Iron Lady’s legacy on our country. And as Britain’s longest serving Prime Minister was finally laid to rest, here at the RYWU-NE we also took some time to reflect on Thatcher’s ‘society’ and how it relates to the work we do.

The sum of its parts

Thatcher advocated the importance of the individual; selfishness was a trait that we could unapologetically strive towards because it was ‘good’ and a way for people to better themselves without relying on the state.

But we disagree with this wholeheartedly.

The individual is important but as Aristotle rightly said: ‘the whole is greater than the sum of all its parts’. It’s only by working together that we can accomplish great things and make a real difference, and this is reflected in all the work that we do here at the Unit.

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Bridging the generational divide

For example, in our Truth About Youth – North East programme, we’ve introduced new Local Challenge Events that bring together young and older people, a community group and a Co-operative business to identify an issue affecting their locality, and they will then work together to address this. And over the next two years the programme will be taking an intergenerational slant, bridging the gap between generations and breaking down barriers and pre-misconceptions to instil change within and, crucially, between individuals.

Peer-to-peer skills development

The pilot of our Reducing the Skills Gap training programme has been in full swing this month. The programme is based on employability skills, whereby unemployed young people participate in five training sessions which address six key skills that employers have identified as lacking in some young people today. The participants’ progress is tracked via a skills questionnaire and each young person attends an interview with an employer at the start and the end of the programme. They also undertake a work experience placement for one week.

The training itself is delivered by young people and, in order to make the programme happen, we’ve forged new relationships with local training providers and employers. This collaborative approach is already making a difference, with participants noting improvements across all six key skill areas.  As highlighted by this work – sometimes an individual needs a helping hand along the way and, as they embark on this journey, there’s a mutual benefit to all parties involved.

Better services for all

Our Young People’s Charter for Arts and Culture is another prime example of how young people from a diverse range of backgrounds and ages have worked together in a bid to make a difference that will impact on them and their peers.

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The YPCAC advocates the involvement of young people as equal partners and collaborators within the arts and cultural sector in the North East, striving to ensure they have choice and influence over the development and delivery of high quality services.

A caring approach

When it comes to adopting a selfish attitude in life, or at work, it’s a ruthless, isolating and unrewarding track to tread on. The youth sector is underpinned by the opposite – that we care about young people and want to work with them to unlock their potential; the contribution they can make to their own community; and the positive changes they can initiate and undertake in our wider society. It’s by assisting young people to discover who they are, and preparing them for adulthood, that we can help shape society in the future, which is the sum of you, me and every other individual out there.

Admittedly, it may be in a fragile, sometimes polarised and fragmented state but, Baroness Thatcher, there is such a thing as society.

Regional Youth Work Unit – North East

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