A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.
As she prepares to bow out of her role at the Youth Work Unit for Yorkshire and the Humber, Miriam Jackson reflects on her career in the youth work sector and what the future may hold for the profession.
On 1 May 2000 I started my work with the Youth Work Unit (YWU) for Yorkshire and the Humber. Fourteen years later I am fast approaching the end of my time here and indeed the end of a 40-year youth work career.
It is, naturally, not without some sadness that I approach my retirement, but I have hugely enjoyed all my youth work roles. From working directly with young people at four youth centres – to posts with national and regional organisations – I have met some exceptional people, had lots of fun, learned a great deal and been given some wonderful opportunities. I introduced portfolio-based training and set up the RAMPs – Regional Accreditation and Moderation Panels – back in the mid-1980s and was around at the establishment of the National Youth Agency.
Support and development has been the dual focus of my work at the YWU. It has included the introduction of a regional Quality Assurance Moderation scheme, a shared workforce development strategy, co-ordinating extensive support networks and meetings, sharing information via our ‘In the Loop’ bulletin, facilitating dialogue and discussion via conferences and seminars, and publishing reports and resource packs.
Partnership working has been another key element. This has included developing and piloting the Young Roots programme with the Heritage Lottery Fund; establishing a range of Transforming Youth Work initiatives with Government Office; supporting and promoting youth arts with the Arts Council; staging European exchanges and projects with the British Council; and, more recently, raising the profile and voice of young people with British Youth Council.
Visits to China, Israel and Macedonia were welcome highlights – the latter involving over 100 young people from Y&H to train, plan and then deliver joint developmental projects with young people from south east European countries such as Albania, Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia. Last year’s Votes at 16 rally in London plus the high-quality House of Commons UKYP debates to choose the annual campaign are also memorable.
Of course, things are not quite so exciting at the current time.
Funding cuts are badly affecting both Local Authority (LA) and voluntary sector youth work provision – and indeed the YWU itself – while open access and universal youth work has been replaced by targeted working. But I remain convinced of the positive, transformative effect of youth work and youth work relationships on young people’s lives. The focus on the whole young person, on their wellbeing, personal development, social education and autonomy lie at the heart of good youth work. No other service has that explicit focus. The Government has, in some way, recognised this through its funding of the flagship National Citizenship Service, but youth work needs to claim more strenuously and explicitly – as well as actively demonstrate – the similar positive impact it has in preparing young people for life and adulthood.
I do hope that those LAs who have not yet abandoned their statutory duty ‘to secure services and activities for young people aged 13–19 to improve their well-being’ will consider carefully what is meant by meeting their statutory duty in today’s financial climate.
In the past LAs and VCS organisations have often operated alongside each other, but not worked together to plan, develop and deliver. This has often led to a lack of co-ordination, wasteful effort and duplication. Now is the time, more than ever, for collaborative and joint planning and for each partner to be clear and up front about their roles, resources and responsibilities.
The YWU remains committed to helping youth work practitioners with their various roles: planning, training, quality assurance and youth voice activities. I wish the Board and my successors all the best in securing and developing the valuable role the YWU plays in supporting the lives of the region’s 500,000 young people.
Miriam Jackson, CEO Youth Work Unit – Yorkshire and the Humber