A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.
This year, the Regional Youth Work Unit at Learning South West promoted National Youth Work Week through a daily e-bulletin publicising events and activities planned by youth work organisations in the South West.(see enclosed PDF)
I’ve been impressed by the variety and creativity of the events offered by organisations from right across the youth sector. It’s comforting to think that despite the challenges faced by young people and the youth sector, organisations and individuals continue to innovate and use ever-decreasing resources carefully to co-create positive experiences with young people.
It’s also encouraging to find that individuals and organisations are perhaps more inclined to share information and work collaboratively with others in the region and beyond, in order to enhance their offer to young people. Here at the Regional Youth Work Unit we are seeing an ever broader range of organisations engaging with our training, networks and conferences, suggesting that the concept of youth work continues to be relevant and important to those working with young people in many different settings.
Our Annual Conference, to be held later this month, is called ‘Slotting the Pieces Together: new roles for youth work’ and explores some of the areas where youth work is expanding – in schools and alternative education; faith organisations, health and housing, and seeks to identify the ‘architecture’ required to hold it together – workforce development, quality standards and identifiable outcomes for young people perhaps?
Depletion of resources
There is a real danger that with local authorities moving away from delivering open access youth work towards focusing their resources on work with vulnerable young people, while simultaneously reducing grant aid to voluntary sector infrastructure organisations, the professional support which is so valued by local youth organisations will be seriously depleted.
One area where this has been recently highlighted for us has been with Parish & Town Councils who increasingly support local youth provision. Many parish/town councillors who attended a recent event we ran felt their efforts were hampered by lack of ready access to support, guidance and training for their volunteers and paid youth workers. Obviously the Regional Youth Work Unit can help with this, but in such a large region, we can’t always be there to visit new projects and support them individually.
A local authority view
My plea to local authorities, faced with really difficult decisions about what to cut and what to save, is to ensure that providers of youth work in their areas have access to consistent professional support and guidance as they strive to meet the needs of young people with considerably fewer resources.
There are some good examples of local authorities providing this support themselves, or contracting with a local or regional organisation to provide the support required. In those areas, despite substantial cuts in budgets, the basics of local youth provision have continued, and new organisations have been able to set up youth provision, confident that they can meet required standards and access appropriate training.
While there do seem to be some alternative ways of funding youth work provision, many youth sector infrastructure bodies are clinging on by their fingertips. And this is at a time when lots of new provider organisations are springing up, and organisations without much youth work experience are employing individual youth workers who may be isolated from traditional support networks.
Forms of support need to change to reflect the different settings and environment for youth work, but there still remains a need for consistent professional support and guidance. There are no obvious charitable funding sources for infrastructure provision that could replace local authority funding, and we risk losing much of the current goodwill amongst organisations such as Town Councils if they can’t find a local source of professional support for new youth projects.
Regional Youth Work Unit at Learning South West