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.

Filling the Vacuum

Leadership Vacuum

In this week’s blog, Patrick Ambrose from Youth Work Unit at Yorkshire and Humber explores the current leadership vacuum in the sector and how not effectively communicating at a strategic level is damaging the sector.

Part one: The leadership vacuum

Did you notice the effect of centripetal forces when you woke up this morning as the world around you slowly contracted?

For most of the 20th Century, and a good part of the 21st, the forces acting upon the provision of Youth and Community services, and lots of other services, both statutory and voluntary, have been developmental or centrifugal in nature. They have, on the whole, involved growth and expansion; diversification; experimentation and the adoption of new strategies and modes of delivery. Because funding was fairly stable and well spread, organisations were not afraid of taking risks or spending money on new ventures. Training was delivered on the assumption that the world would need brand new, shiny, happy, qualified youth workers to deliver a wide range of interventions and services in a wide range of settings for a long time into the future. People talked to each other and visited each other (I think we used to call it cross-fertilisation).

However, whether we like it or not, we are now living in a world of contraction. In order to survive, organisations, big and small, have moved [are moving] in the opposite direction. Like a hedgehog under threat, they strain to make themselves into the tiniest ball they can achieve, in order to wait for a time when the threat has diminished and they can come out and play again. Concentration, Centralisation, Specialisation, and Survival are the new watchwords. The development of a relatively small number of Youth Work Supercentres has allowed for the closure of anything that looks like satellite provision. Some other forms of provision are what we used to call fire-fighting/policing and ambulance-chasing, dealing with problems as they arise, with little long term effect.

Bear with me.

Many of the organisations delivering youth work have become very inward-looking, and you can’t blame them for that. There is comparatively little communication between providers at a strategic level. Some of the national organisations have become ineffective after losing their own staff. They have to fight their own battles to survive. One of the consequences of the current circumstances is that the direction of travel organisations are choosing is very different, diverse and random. The shape of services is very different in each local authority area and the provision young people enjoy is very much based on expediency. Nationally; regionally; locally, there is a leadership vacuum.

Unashamed plug:

On 22nd September, in Central Leeds, we will be discussing the lack of leadership in the Youth Sector and looking for solutions. Should be an interesting day:

Filling the Vacuum – Leadership and the Youth Sector


Part two: Let’s cheer up – the good news

One of the positive consequences of the current state of national finances is that a small number of entrepreneurial charitable organisations have been looking at ways of developing new funding models for the delivery of services to young people. One such is the OnTrak Community Initiative, which is unique in being the only charity in the country, of which we are aware, which operates from a (not for profit) fully commercial working garage, which last year had a turnover of £320,000.

The garage is staffed by a mixture of qualified mechanical engineers and qualified youth and community workers. The organisation works with NEET young people, preparing them for the world of work or training, by facilitating hands on experience of performing real tasks in a very real work environment. They worked with 230 NEET students last year 91% of whom received accreditation and 80% progressed into employment or training. This in a city where the average is 14% for young people exiting NEET programmes. The organisation also works with local PRUs and schools.

Young people are taught how to service cars, prepare cars for the MOT test, panel-beating, paint-spraying and classic car restoration. They also run a bicycle re-cycling project, which so far this year, has handed out over 1,000 free bikes to young people across the city. In one of the neighbouring schools, every single child in the school was given a bike at Christmas. Building go karts for the use of young people with disabilities is another recent project.

OnTrak is one of those organisations with a very charismatic leader, who is the public face of the organisation, working with very large numbers of young people with very complex needs.

How much did OnTrak draw down in grants last year? £0.

Patrick Ambrose, Youth Work Unit Yorkshire and Humber


One comment on “Filling the Vacuum

  1. Tony Taylor
    September 1, 2015

    Patrick – Have shared your blog and link on the IDYW site, Facebook and Twitter. Hope you have a purposeful and challenging day.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on September 1, 2015 by in Youth Work Unit – Yorkshire & the Humber and tagged , , , , , , , .
%d bloggers like this: