A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.
The events of the past two weeks, and the focus on extremism, has got me thinking about the role of youth work in challenging extremism of all types. As a youth worker, I take it as read that we’ll play an important role in what I know as the PREVENT agenda. It’s occurred to me, though, that I don’t hear much about work to challenge extremism and to promote community cohesion. I’ve seen a hardening of attitudes among young people and a reduction in tolerance and, when I canvased youth work colleagues in the region on the work they did, it would appear there’s an emphasis on the work of the police and enforcement, but not on education and prevention. With the disappearance of youth services and a move to targeted work, many great programmes like ‘Fusion’ in Oldham and Rochdale no longer happen.
Back in 2009, the North West Regional Youth Work Unit worked with ACPO, UKYP and youth services to develop Project Safe Space North West. It was originally a conference for young people from across the North West aiming to give them a safe space to talk about violent extremism and terrorism. It was designed and delivered by young people who identified themselves as being from predominantly “White British” or “Muslim British” backgrounds working with support from workers from youth services across the North West. From the conference came a pack, a set of resources designed to create a ‘safe space’ to talk about the prejudice and stereotypes created by violent extremism and terrorism.
Since that project we’ve done very little. Maybe it’s time to talk about it again. There are concerns about ‘Trojan horses’ in Birmingham, about young men and women going to Syria and Iraq, about ‘home grown’ terrorists, and about the EDL and other far right groups. Other than schools and childcare providers being tasked with teaching “fundamental British values” in an age-appropriate way (such as challenging negative attitudes and stereotypes) and learning right from wrong as well as universities being asked to ban societies and report students, it’s difficult to find a coherent approach.
When I look on the DCLG website for information on work with young people, I’m directed to Youth United. I‘m not sure our colleagues in the uniformed organisations, who form Youth United, know they’re the bulwark against extremism and are expected to create ‘strong communities’. It’s hard to find any definitive information or any plans beyond the duties of schools and child care providers.
More than ever, young people need the opportunity to explore ideas, to learn about each other and to be challenged, and supported, to question. The world’s changed so much in those intervening five years; not least the infrastructure of youth services. It’s shrunk and is disappearing. Who’s providing the challenge, who’s bringing young people together to learn about each other’s cultures and religions?
I do hope someone will let me know that there IS great work going on out there. I suspect there is, but there’s no co-ordination and no learning from each other.