Guest Post: Emily Hewson

8 July 2011 — 3 Comments

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; 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 ‘rich & poor’, ‘working & non-working’ but what about bridging the gap between sacred and secular?  This is the place where I see myself. In fact Debra Green (Redeeming Our Communities) said to me one Sunday morning recently, “You’re strategic in that with your experience, you bridge the gap”.

That experience is 10 years of youth work in a variety of settings, but mostly in Local Authorities.  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 didn’t always reach those young people, and that somehow I was there bridging the gap, being a light in some really dark places.

Here’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 don’t have any Christian friends to bring them to church, who maybe don’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 BBC’s “Poor Kids” documentary, and saw the abject poverty some children and young people are born into and forced to endure.  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 aren’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 “ordinary” 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. It’s challenging to change the way we’ve always worked before and work together, but I think there is room for it to happen…


You can connect with Emily on Twitter: @emilyhewson


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I am a qualified youth worker, writer and consultant based in Littlehampton, UK. I've worked in the voluntary youth sector for over 12 years, am married to Kirsty and we have two daughters named Hope and Eloise. Check out 'Journeying Together: Growing Youth Work and Youth Workers in Local Communities' and read my opening chapter.

3 responses to Guest Post: Emily Hewson

  1. Good article Emily and a valid question!

    Each one of us have different contexts of how we operate with young people. I dont engage as much with kids/youth seriously disadvantaged backgrounds due to the area I live & work in, but they are there!
    My big beef, is that youth workers are seen as this bridge and once employed then it’s your job to do it!
    Has the rest of the church gone to sleep? It takes a village to raise a child!
    Mentality of churches has to change! Youthworkers aren’t there to do the job, I believe they are there to support, encourage and work with the church family to reach & disciple!

    Hope that’s helpful?


    • Good point Gary, one of the things I’ve noticed recently is a shift to employing professionally qualified workers as coordinators/managers. In this kind of role, they have a better oversight and opportunity to engage with the wider church family.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your vision Emily! I think working together with secular organizations is a perfectly valid way of doing ministry. After all, you can’t really share the gospel until people have food in their bellies and clothes on their back. We have to take care of people first, and maybe that’s the best way we can be witnesses of Jesus.

    A thought I had that there’s a task for ‘missional organizations’ here as well. The mission field may be a lot closer than we think and if churches in these disadvantaged areas can’t afford youth workers, maybe some churches in more affluent areas should send ‘missionary youth workers’. If money is the only thing that’s keeping youth workers from making a difference, we’re doing something wrong as ‘the church’.

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