Youth Work Week 2017
Restless and unable to sleep earlier this week, I turned on my Mac and watched the first ever episodes of the long running police soap, The Bill one .
Too young to have watched it properly first time around, I was amused by the fashions, warmed by the sight of an old Evening Standard van and generally loving the location shots of an East End I knew well before the gentrification started.
The reason I'm saying all this is that the action in episode three revolves around the future of a youth club on a local housing estate. Purpose built in the 1960's, now battered and run down, the youth club faces closure after complaints about local youths running amok and causing criminal damage.
The residents of the estate have divided views. Some are putting pressure on the council to provide more youth services and others are complaining to the police about 'troublemakers' and demanding the return of National Service.
'But there will be nothing for them to do on the estate if it closes,' bemoans one young officer, 'it is the 1980's you know; kids need something to keep them occupied!'
He wasn't wrong, then or now. In soap-land everything is resolved by the end of the episode; the local MP gets involved, the value of the youth club is recognised and the real villains are caught with the help of the plucky teenagers who turned out not to be hooligans after all. In fictional Sun Hill it didn't seem too hard to prove the worth of the youth club and its workers, but fast-forward to 2017, where hundreds of youth projects are still under threat, and we really need a few forward thinking MPs to step forward and offer their support.
With huge budget cuts, buildings sold off to cover rising costs and in some places the total destruction of youth services, young people are quite simply being sold short.
Yet in my opinion the need for the skills and expertise of youth workers has never been greater. What other professionals are equipped to support and educate young people on everything from the meaning of sexual consent to online safety, from how to cook on a budget to raising awareness about the risks of extremism?
Committed to bringing about positive change and rooted in the community, youth workers encourage young people to aspire and set achievable goals, whilst acknowledging that success looks different to everybody. The relationships that youth workers build with young people, especially those most vulnerable to risk, are unique in building self-esteem and the confidence to make positive choices.
So this Youth Work Week (6-12 November) let's raise awareness and celebrate the work of youth organisations, youth workers and young people everywhere. Youth work today is relevant, meaningful and has a vital role to play in supporting young people to have their voice heard in an ever-changing Britain. Whether you are a national organisation, a local authority youth club or one of the thousands of voluntary organisations supporting young people up and down the country, this is the week to celebrate achievements and blow your own trumpet loud and clear.
Good youth work helps build the emotional, social and political foundations of the next generation, keeping them informed, empowered and enabled. And that matters, to all of us.