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.

Beyond the Magic: how does youth work ‘work’?


In this week’s blog post, Gill Millar from the Regional Youth Work Unit at Learning South West explores what it is that makes youth work ‘work’.

I had a really interesting meeting yesterday with the youth work managers in one of the South West local authorities. We were discussing the development of the Centre for Youth Impact and the need to provide a better evidence base for the impact of youth work interventions, and decided that we could do some work to pin down what it is about youth work that makes the difference to young people’s lives.

While other sectors and countries have invested considerable resources in examining the inputs and evaluating the outcomes of their services, the youth sector has not had either the money, or perhaps the incentive, to establish robust evaluations. So we don’t really know what aspects of youth work are effective, and can’t confidently replicate projects in the knowledge that what works in one place will work in another.

Youth workers and young people cite different elements of the youth work process that make a difference. These include:

  • Positive mutually respectful relationships between young people and youth workers
  • The voluntary nature of young people’s participation
  • Basing youth work on issues that matter to young people
  • Involving young people in design and development of projects
  • An ethos of education
  • Being available in the evenings and when young people want support
  • Working with groups rather than individuals
  • Exciting and challenging activities
  • Workers with a broad range of knowledge and expertise
  • Accessible buildings in community settings

Wouldn’t it be great if we knew which of these made the most difference, and indeed whether there are other factors, such as frequency of contact, which also have a bearing on the impact on young people. If we could invest in research to drill down into successful youth work projects and be clear about the recipe that works, we would be much more likely to attract investment in a process that could provide real value for money as part of an early intervention strategy.

At our meeting yesterday we got quite excited about trying to do some research in this area. The Regional Youth Work Unit at Learning South West is well-placed to pull a project together, drawing on the experience across our region, and through our links with the other RYWUs and national organisations, especially National Youth Agency and Centre for Youth Impact. I’m looking forward to developing a project proposal and taking this forward in 2015. I’d welcome the views of others on (a) what you think makes youth work ‘work’ and (b) spotlight any particularly good youth work projects where we can demonstrate the impact on young people’s development.

Answers on a postcard please!

Gill Millar – Learning South West




One comment on “Beyond the Magic: how does youth work ‘work’?

  1. Jon Boagey
    February 5, 2015

    Gill, thanks for an interesting blog. On your list of things that make a difference it would be interesting to add:

    a) money – how much investment makes a difference, for how long and on what?
    b) young people’s individual circumstances and needs
    c) the level of training/ experience of youth workers themselves.

    I’m interested in this work – wouldwelcome the chance to discuss more….


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This entry was posted on January 23, 2015 by in Regional Youth Work Unit at Learning South West and tagged .
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