Over the years I have been doing youth work, I have had the privilege of connecting with a many other workers doing a wide variety of excellent things! I have asked a few of these individuals to write about their experiences of working with young people in their particular context.
This post is written by Emily Hewson;Â a Christian who is also a youth worker and increasingly finding it difficult to pinhole exactly what her job title ought to be, as she increasingly works outside and inside the church context. She has been a youth worker for ten years, mostly in Local Authority settings and is now currently setting up a new youth project with two other youth workers, as they respond to the disproportionate cuts to youth provision facing young people in Stockport. She enjoys initiating ideas and encouraging others to move forward.
Standing on the Bridge with arms wide open
So what is the bridge? We often think of bridging the gap between â€˜rich & poorâ€™, â€˜working & non-workingâ€™ but what about bridging the gap between sacred and secular?Â This is the place where I see myself. In fact Debra Green (Redeeming Our Communities) said to me one Sunday morning recently, â€œYouâ€™re strategic in that with your experience, you bridge the gapâ€.
That experience is 10 years of youth work in a variety of settings, but mostly in Local Authorities. Â I have worked for 3 different local authorities in Greater Manchester, and when I started, I worked for a small voluntary sector project which was commissioned to do some work for Manchester City Council. Over the years I applied for jobs with churches and was unsuccessful, but doors opened for me to pursue youth work in a local authority setting. From this experience, I saw how I was often in a place where church youth work didnâ€™t always reach those young people, and that somehow I was there bridging the gap, being a light in some really dark places.
Hereâ€™s a thought: if we as Christian youth workers spend all our time within the church, who is going to reach those young people who are very far removed from the church context? Those who donâ€™t have any Christian friends to bring them to church, who maybe donâ€™t know what all the fuss is about, and generally steer clear of school so miss out on Christian schools work as well? There is a need some youth workers to be outreach-minded.
I know that within the youth work community a few of us watched the BBCâ€™s â€œPoor Kidsâ€ documentary, and saw the abject poverty some children and young people are born into and forced to endure.Â Many of the communities I have worked in over the last ten years have fallen within the bottom 15% on the Index of Deprivation. Within the toughest, most disadvantaged areas, there arenâ€™t always churches that can afford full-time youth workers, or even Christian youth projects with youth workers reaching these young people. Maybe we need to broaden our horizons and learn to work more in partnership with secular youth projects to provide safe places and good role models. Maybe then through â€œordinaryâ€ youth provision the way we conduct ourselves and the way we behave, may rub off on people and shine that light in a different way.
Twitter has allowed us bridge these two worlds in a seamless fashion, connecting people up who we can see are doing similar things, but often in two different worlds. Itâ€™s challenging to change the way weâ€™ve always worked before and work together, but I think there is room for it to happenâ€¦
You can connect with Emily on Twitter: @emilyhewson