New Opportunities

20 February 2012 — 10 Comments

If you’re involved in youth work in the UK, you can’t fail to have noticed the systematic destruction of statutory youth services over the past few years. Government spending cuts have hit youth services particularly hard as they are not protected by law. Across the country brilliant youth programmes have closed, and some areas now have no coordinated youth provision so young people have no support or places to go. But there may be the beginnings of a small silver lining to this huge rain cloud…

Back in October 2009, I posted about a talk Tony Jeffs gave where he likened statutory youth work to a tree dying from the inside out. I wrote:

Given the current economic crisis and the postponement of public spending cuts until after the election, Tony predicted that over the next few years Government funded youth work would bare the brunt of these soaring costs and would see most of their budgets gone. He suggests that this will decimate the statutory youth sector and leave youth work in difficult position nationally.

The hope, he suggests, is that voluntary agencies will once again have the space to grow and flourish in local settings as they once did. These organisations will become the ‘youth service’ for the majority of the UK, running creative and localised activities that meet the needs of their communities.

Just over two years later and it seems Tony’s predictions were spot on regarding the death of state-funded youth work. I am now also seeing signs that voluntary agencies may be beginning to flourish. I wrote about the potential for this in November’s Youthwork Magazine:

…the Big Society agenda is pushing youth provision back to the third sector. For the first time in decades, voluntary youth services and charities are being asked to lead the way forward on their own terms rather than jump through the convoluted hoops of ‘targeted and accredited outcomes’ to justify their existence.

As a tangible example of this very thing, this week we’re reopening Rustington Youth Centre to young people. The Youth Centre, which is owned by Rustington Parish Council, has been closed for teenagers since May 2011 when cuts at West Sussex County Council meant the Youth Service had to withdraw from running activities there. Since then, the Parish Council have been working hard to get the Centre open again and we’re now working alongside them one night a week as a trial until the summer. It is very unlikely this would have happened a year ago because the youth service held the monopoly on delivering youth work (that’s not a criticism, but an observation).

To their immense credit, the Parish Council have been very bold to step forward and make something happen with a church, and they have also been surprisingly positive and forward thinking. I’m genuinely excited about this partnership as it has a lot of synergy with what we’re already doing in our local community. As a result, the partnership has raised a great deal of interest elsewhere and I’ve since had meetings and conversations with numerous councils and churches about ways in which they might go about working together. I’m hoping the lessons we learn here can be applied more widely to allow other organisations to do similar things and start to allow more creative and locally-focused youth work to thrive.

What do you think? Is this a trend you are seeing in your area? Do voluntary orgs have capacity to become a new ‘youth service’? Let us know in the comments!


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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.

10 responses to New Opportunities

  1. Jon, I couldn’t agree more. I think it is just possible Youth Work (as opposed to work with young people) could find it’s voice again going back to the core values that made lots of this work so effective in the late eighties to mid nineties.

    We took the decision to take back our local provision last summer and it went quite well until December. We are about to go again having sorted out a couple of problems but our programmes can be diverse and adapt quickly to local needs.

    Good luck with what you are doing and who knows, if enough of these smaller groups take off they could eventually work together to deliver a series of universal services. Now that could really be ‘Big Society’ and ‘Localism’ at it’s best in spite of the current Government.

  2. Through this are we, the voluntary sector, in danger of just doing the work for the local authority instead of following young people’s dreams, visions and hopes for the future.

    If we take the government’s money we have to hit their targets, achieve aims and objectives that may not be in line with our own organisation.

    Surely if as you are saying, the voluntary sector is becoming stronger we should be in a position to play hard ball and get the money to do the work that we know needs doing, not because we are sat in offices deciding what young people need based up on what we have read in this week’s Daily Mail but because we are working with young people on a daily basis.

    I absolutely believe and agree with the Tony Jeff’s article and Jon’s subsequent piece, I just think that we need to be careful to look at the bigger picture, and wonder that if we have a change a of government we may have a change of policy and then we, the voluntary sector, have to carry the can for the failure of the youth service.

    I think that by giving the funding/contracts out to the voluntary sector means that all the risk is taken away from the local authority, if it works they can stand by and say ‘ look how we empowered our local VCS’ and if it doesn’t work out the opposite will happen. ‘Well we tried to support our local VCS, but it didn’t work, so that piece of work needs to come back in house’

    Now don’t get me wrong I have taken money from local authorities and central government agencies and I have, I think stayed true to the aims of my organisation.
    Actually that’s a lie, at times I have taken money to pay salaries and rent etc. when I didn’t even agree with the funding stream. And would I again? Honestly, probably.

    That’s why I think I am over cautious now. I do think the VCS can do these jobs better than the statutory organisation, because on the whole VCS workers seem to be better, care more and want to go the extra mile. I realise that this is a massive generalisation but based on my experience of local authority youth workers up here in Wakefield, where there have been a number of excellent individual youth workers surrounded by people counters and administrators saying things like ‘you need another three young people a week to make that session value for money’.

    By all means do what you need to do to serve young people and the communities, but let’s be honest if the local authority or the government could do it as well as or cheaper, then they would.
    Let’s not be victims of tokenism, take the funding/contracts if you can genuinely deliver authentic quality work, if not give it back to the local authority. Let them manage on tight budgets.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. (@JenStabler) (@JenStabler) - 20 February 2012

    RT @bobweasel: New Opportunities:

  2. (@synergytrain) (@synergytrain) - 21 February 2012

    Absolutely agree! “@bobweasel: New Opportunities”

  3. (@bobweasel) (@bobweasel) - 21 February 2012

    RT @synergytrain: Absolutely agree! “@bobweasel: New Opportunities”

  4. Adam Wedd (@Wedrikson) - 21 February 2012

    RT @bobweasel: Can voluntary orgs become the new youth service? #youthwork #ywchat

  5. (@perk_i) (@perk_i) - 21 February 2012

    RT @bobweasel: Can voluntary orgs become the new youth service? #youthwork #ywchat

  6. Helen Bradley (@HelenBraderness) - 21 February 2012

    RT @perk_i: RT @bobweasel: Can voluntary orgs become the new youth service? #youthwork #ywchat

  7. Mike Capener (@mikecapener) - 21 February 2012

    RT @bobweasel: New Opportunities:

  8. Free Youth Work Training | - 9 March 2012

    […] who are now looking to maybe get into working with young people as a profession. Although it may be a bad time for youth work in the UK, there are still opportunities out there and I’m really excited about […]

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