A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.
In this week’s blog, Gill Millar from Regional Youth Work Unit at Learning South West looks at leadership challenges in the youth sector and making sure decisions are made with young people in mind.
[This blog post was originally posted on Friday 13 November]
Today I’ll be glued to BBC Parliament to watch the members of UK Youth Parliament hold their annual debate in the House of Commons. As they decide what their main campaigns will be – choosing from improving mental health services, working together to combat racism and religious discrimination, more accessible and cheaper public transport, a curriculum for life, and everyone receiving at least the living wage – the youth sector seems to have begun a consultation on how organisations can work more collaboratively to support services for young people.
Like several other professions, including teaching, there are a number of bodies who claim to represent and speak for the youth sector, but are often seen to be in competition with each other for limited resources to support the ‘architecture’ of youth work. Civil servants and Ministers tell us that the voice of the sector is weakened by having such a range of voices speaking for it, with different views and priorities depending on the part of the sector they represent, and the specific priorities of the individuals involved. Apparently this contributes to the extent to which the sector is ignored when it comes to policy direction and funding for its work unless, that is, a particular organisation has particularly good relationships with politicians and the media, in which case, special arrangements can be made…
If, as a result of the current consultation, we see a reduction in the numbers of national organisations and a more coherent message, I hope it focuses minds on the consistent requests from young people to save their local services. Young people don’t all live near ‘flagship hubs’ and most couldn’t get to them if they did – which is why the campaign for more accessible public transport comes up again and again for Youth Parliament. They want to be able to get involved in youth clubs and projects in their villages and towns, they want skilled and enthusiastic youth workers who can work with them in a holistic way, providing opportunities for learning, support, challenge and fun. Some of them will also benefit from pathways that enable them to get involved in projects outside their immediate area, and to have a voice in wider decision making, but to stay rooted in their own communities and to influence and be influenced by their locality.
In the South West, Youth Parliament has become the main platform for young people to have a say locally, regionally and nationally. The House of Commons debate is the tip of a very large iceberg of young people and youth workers who enable their elected MYPs to speak passionately and convincingly about issues that are close to their hearts and the hearts of their peers and communities. Most members of Youth Parliament don’t appear out of nowhere fully confident and able to take part in national debates; usually they have been working with youth workers for years leading up to their election, and are supported both by youth workers and their local youth councils/cabinets to develop their arguments and campaigns at a local level.
Along the way, these young people have developed strong opinions on what makes a good youth worker, and a good youth service, and maybe the sector should stop and think before throwing ourselves into a consultation about collaboration: what do young people want from the youth service (in its widest sense)? How can sector organisations ensure that young people’s views stay central to the representation they make to Government? And how can we protect what young people think is important about youth work so future generations can benefit from it?
No easy answers, but we have to try.
And good luck to Team South West at the House of Commons today – let’s have some great speeches leading to campaigns that will make a real difference to young people’s lives.
Gill Millar, Regional Youth Work Unit at Learning South West