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…
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.