Nov 08

Youth work in a time of change in England

Over the last eight years, our neighbourhoods and communities in England have seen severe cuts to services we rely on. This includes cuts to local authority funded youth work in England of about 65%, alongside similar cuts in funding to voluntary youth organisations.

Youth work faces difficult times with these cuts and lack of political or policy leadership changing the range and extent of the youth work offer for young people where they live. Brighton is no exception to the dismal picture of cuts and uncertainty and the Council is reviewing future options about what youth services do and how they could be run.

Young people continue to describe how they need and want the non-formal support and advice, the activities and opportunities and the participation in things that affect them where they live which are provided through youth work.

So what has been happening to youth work in this time of change? Are youth workers and young people doing anything to respond? In Brighton young people have been active for the last three years in coming together across neighbourhoods and interests to share their views and to influence the future. And this October they wanted to find out what other areas in England have been doing. They invited four groups to share their experiences so as to learn from in their campaign to influence the future of youth work in Brighton. The groups were:

22 young people and 12 workers gathered at Spotlight in London to find out how these areas held on to and developed youth work in a time of change.

The report describing their journey and key learning is available here: youth-work-in-a-time-of-change-report-oct16

Young people were pleased at the chance to meet and to share their experiences of sharing youth work in a time of change. Their messages to the young people from Brighton were:

  • Keep the motivation.
  • Be persistent. It’s worth it. Think about the service for young people you want.
  • Show other young people in Brighton what you are standing up for. Be resilient.
  • You know you are the voice. We are the voice.
  • Be open to new ideas. Once you’ve started constantly look to improve. Gain new members. Reach out to other young people. Push for good quality assurance.
  • Keep on fighting. We are the next generation.
  • Stand together and don’t be in competition.


Part of the story shared at this event is how in England there have developed – out of extreme adversity – working models for youth led and co-owned commissioning and providing of youth work. These are pioneering services and probably unique across the globe. It is an extraordinary achievement and one we are proud to share and to celebrate.

But there was a stark warning from the young people. Their experience as a whole was that, while the changes and new organisational structures have led to more young people’s participation, this has been in the context of money being lost to youth work in the same period. These changes have in some cases benefited young people receiving youth work but not always because of the drain on resources. For most of the group the changes caused by the cuts have helped improve how things are run a bit but not a lot; many would not see the changes as a good thing in themselves and would go back to how things were run if that meant more secure resources for youth work now and in the future.

Bill Badham, Practical Participation

Mar 30

Asking the question “Why”

Here in the UK we live in a climate in which the rhetoric of responsibility, involvement and participation is taken for granted. However, participation is often tokenistic, often reduced to after-the-event feedback procedures, impersonal surveys or superficial unfocussed “consultations”. By intent or, more often, by default, the agenda remains in the control of powerful. In my view, this is patronising and devaluing.  In my experience, for example, many adults, although accepting the validity of youth involvement, fail to translate this into any real change in their own behaviour. They expect young people not to participate on their own terms but to adapt to existing structures, processes and language. I call this ‘participation by invitation’ and I do not think it works. It may even be counterproductive, sooner or later engendering a reaction against those who impose agendas whether it be superficially participative or not. Indeed, I believe it can add to a sense of alienation, pushing people further away towards rejecting a society which they probably see as having failed and rejected them already.

What we must seek to have is a genuine exchange in a climate of open partnership between citizen and provider. For this it is essential that:

  • people are brought into meaningful decisions;
  • real choices are offered;
  • information is shared;
  • responsibility is shared;
  • there is openness and clarity about scope but also about boundaries.

What does this mean?  It means being open to learn from young people, community members or service users generally, but in particular from those who more or less effectively deal first hand with the practical problems of homelessness, ill-health, poverty, abuse, violence, racism, sexism, homophobia.  This is where Social Action comes in.  In talking about Social Action, I mean Social Action as a collective process for social change, not as a policy outcome, nor, as often used generically as simply a description of practical action in the service of others.

Social Action means putting at the forefront, asking the question why?  This is not simply a mechanical exercise. Asking ‘why’ links action with the exploration of root causes. According to Paulo Freire (1972), the adult educationalist, this twin track process is essential if people are to gain real and sustainable control over their life circumstances.

To explain a little more:  in life we too readily leap from what questions (what is wrong?) to how questions (what can we do about it? how should we proceed?). In doing this we unwittingly steer explanations, responsibilities and the scope of solutions to the private world around people, keeping understanding and action within their existing knowledge and experience. This knowledge and experience will have been fashioned by people’s experiences and positions in society. For those at the margins, this means by the exclusionary processes which keep them there.

In addressing ‘why’, people participate in a process of pursuing an issue until the root causes have been identified and exposed. Asking ‘why’ gives people the opportunity to break out of the demoralising and self-perpetuating narrowness of vision and, often, self-blame which has been created by poverty and lack of opportunity. When horizons of what is possible expand, people come up with new explanations for problems and ideas for tackling them. By asking the question ‘why’ we can turn the spotlight away from the people themselves, to the problems they face, and enable them to envision and engage with a much wider range of options for action and change.

This is not to disassociate the why question from the rest of the Social Action process. We move on from these considerations to looking at how can the group change things. Consideration of  why  can be scary and could even create fatalism and despondency, without the next stage of group members recognising themselves as social actors and as people who can do something about some aspects of the why. Once the complexity of the why has been fully explored the next stage is to identify what are the priorities for change and where impact can be most effective – how can we change things.

  • contributing to critical debate,
  • shaping and informing that debate,
  • developing policy and practice,
  • improving access to services and better service delivery practices,
  • genuine public engagement,
  • personal development and change

Dave Ward


Freire, P (1972) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Harmondsworth: Penguin

Nov 23

The Participation Cake

Thilo, my good friend and ex-colleague, is doing some long term volunteering with Amantani in Ccorca Peru (see Thilo’s blog). I have come out to join him for two weeks and to run some participation workshops for the tutors here. Through Thilo’s volunteering, Amantani workers have been thinking about how to increase young people participation in the work they do, and to think about how to involve young people more creatively in the more formal after school educational activities. Amantani and the tutors’ approach is one of learning by doing and helping the young people develop skills in self-sufficiency and independence, so the idea of workshops on participation fits well with this and the tutors were very receptive to the workshops.

Participation WorkshopRocío, a tutor who took part in the workshop, leads one of the communications classes with the older young people (aged between15 and 18 years old). She asked the young people in these sessions what activities they would like to do. The young people wrote down their ideas and then one of the group facilitated them to agree the activities and put them in order of preference.

Making puddings and cakes was at top of the group’s list. By chance Thilo and I had thought it would be nice for me to do something with the young people while I was in Ccorca and had thought cooking could be something I could do. We agreed with Rocío that we would work together on baking in the session the following week.

Ideally the young people would choose the cake recipe, and be part of buying ingredients. The young people in the group had limited experience of eating different cakes and even less of baking – however they did stipulate it should have chocolate in it; also this is Ccorca – 90 minutes’ drive from any shop that might sell the necessary ingredients. So Thilo and I undertook to buy the ingredients – and it took us over 3 hours, including taking taxis across the city to get all we needed for a chickpea chocolate cake. Even then we had to ask Rocío’s mother to cook dried chickpeas for us, as we had only found 2 tins, despite visiting numerous shops and they were more than 3 times the price they would have been in the UK.

RocíoWe had sessions with two groups of young people on the same afternoon. The communication sessions are held in the local kindergarten – so you may notice in the photographs the chairs and table are rather small. At start of the session, young people went through the recipe, checking they understood it. Spanish is their second language, their first being Quechua, and so many words, such as ‘añadir’ were new to them and they had not heard of a ‘food processor’ that the recipe said was needed. They then agreed how they would work together and who would do what.

DSC02188Whilst young people had their own tasks and responsibilities – the others were all keen to learn and gathered round to watch, for example, watching the young people who were using the electric beater or greasing the tins.












…and of course, you have to lick the bowl…..









They all did their tasks well including some young people spontaneously doing the washing up. After the sessions the young people swept and washed the floor.










Rocío took advantage of every opportunity to encourage the young people to learn new words and new concepts; she encouraged them to question things they did not know or understand.
When the cakes were in the oven we asked the young people what they thought of the session. Their reflections included:

  •  We decided what to do.
  • We did everything; the adults just helped us.
  • We all had a role and worked together – this was new to us.
  • We liked not being told what to do, but asking questions when we needed.
  • In other workshops we do not always do things; we mainly watch.
  • We had to adapt the recipe to use things we had like mashing the chickpeas (as we had no food processor).

They were also asked what they had learnt in the cooking session:

  • We learnt how to organise ourselves and it worked.
  • We learnt new words.
  • We learnt how to light and use an oven.
  • We did some maths, as we had no scales and had to work out the amounts in cups.
  • We learnt how to use an electric beater.

As the young people observed they learnt much in the session – they learnt by doing things, with the adults standing back, offering explanations, answering questions or asking questions of the young people to deepen their understanding and learning.

This cooking session – a topic chosen by the young people themselves, was an exercise in simple participation, but effectively used for young people to participate in their own education and learning.

They had the added thrill of most of the 52 children at the Amantani boarding houses saying they really enjoyed the cake they had made.

20141118_202731Jennie Fleming, November 2014

Jun 24

Empowerment and Participation of Young People in Ccorca, Peru

Blog-post by Thilo Boeck

It has been a month since I have started to work with Amantani, an NGO based in Ccorca. Ccorca is the only rural, Quechua district in the province of Cusco, with a population of approximately 2,500 spread across 8 small communities. Nestled high in the Andes at an altitude of 3,600m, Ccorca represents what is left of Andean culture and way of life – rural farming communities in danger of losing their cultural heritage and traditional way of life to the increasingly globalized culture of modern Peru. Ccorca is the poorest district in the Cusco region with 95% of the population being self-sufficient farmers. 61% of women in the region face domestic violence, while alcoholism is a serious problem, predominantly among the men.


I am working with the project in its three Boarding Houses which accommodate 66 girls and boys aged between 6 and 18 in Ccorca’s central community. The Boarding Houses combat the vast distances (up to 4 hours!) these children were previously walking simply to reach school. They also provide the children with a balanced diet as well as academic and personal development support. In the PISA study of 2013 Peru scored the last place within the 66 participating countries. Whilst the Peruvian government demonstrates a strong commitment to education, many of the teachers who work in Ccorca are poorly trained, paid and motivated. The evaluation of educational second grade level is below the national level and 48% of the district’s population is illiterate and just 15% of children meet national reading standards.

From the beginning of being in Ccorca I got involved in the work with young people. The Boarding Houses’ newly formed youth council was an ideal opportunity to begin this work. I met with them and stared the session telling the group that, as a social action worker, I believe that they have skills, experience and knowledge that they can draw on to tackle the problems they face. I encouraged them to see me as a facilitator who would work alongside the group and that my function was not to be a group leader but to see them as the experts in their own lives and that I would use this a starting point for our work.

Dance in Cuzco

Ok, I wonder If you can imagine the looks I got at this point….

Young people refer to the adults quite formally as ‘teachers’ or ‘professor’ and they found it very strange that I wanted to change this relationship. One of the older members even asked me why I didn’t want to be the teacher and that he preferred me to be like one. I realised that young people in the Andes of Peru are part of an extremely hierarchical and paternalistic culture. The autonomy and rights of young people is often not recognized. The authority and power of teachers or parents, is not being questioned and young adults are mostly quiet in discussions with adults with a quite timid and introvert attitude.

These young people do not talk about their rights and it is difficult to encourage them to speak out and be critical about the institutions of which they are part of. In their environment they hardly have a voice or an autonomous stake in the society they live in. Many of the young people feel very shy to speak to adults and feel fearful, which within the Andean culture either is seen as fear or being ashamed.

From an empowerment perspective the challenge was how to question this, but also to ask whether it was appropriate for me to question the local dynamics and culture. I have so much to learn here and therefore I am quite cautious and talk and consult with Peruvians and specially with people from Cuzco about the appropriateness of this kind of work. They all are very enthusiastic about it and encouraged me to keep going but obviously be culturally sensitive about it.

With the team of Amantani we looked at several aspects which are prevalent within Ccorca:
• Paternalistic and authoritarian attitude towards young people
• Infantilising young people and constructing them as vulnerable

The team noticed in several workshops that too often they also focus either on the problems young people face or the problems they pose. We explored the “strengths perspective” which highlights the skills, talents, competencies, possibilities, visions and hopes of young people. It was great to hear from several members of the team, that the workshop and discussions had changed their view of young people and as a result they would be committed to critically reflect on their work. We will be exploring this in the coming weeks.

Another great outcome of this was, that they accepted with lots of enthusiasm when I proposed, that two members of the youth council should be part in the appointment of a new psychologist. I wonder if this might be the first for Cuzco! When I told the young people they were surprised of this proposition and didn’t understand why they should be part of this. The team of Amantani, which obviously has their trust, explained them what it was all about. I have to admit that I was thrilled about this and it shows how important it is to work in a participative way alongside the whole team with a clear understanding what participation and empowerment is about.
The work with the youth council was slow but, bit by bit, some of the members became more outspoken and critical. This was the first time several of the young people spoke out about what characteristics they wanted from a psychologist. They came up with great insights of their own experience and expectations and choose two case studies and several questions they wanted to ask the candidates. At the end we choose two of the older members to be part of the interview.

The interview went really well. The team of the two adults (I was one of them) and the two young people agreed unanimously which candidate to appoint. After this event, the two young women aged 16 and 17 told me that they will never forget this moment. It was the first time they have been part of something like that they liked that their opinion and views were valued and that they had an equal vote. One of them, who normally is quite shy gave me a hug and said: I am really happy.

This process has changed the relationship with the youth council tremendously. It is great to see that we are on an exciting journey of participation and empowerment.

Young people in Ccorca

It definitely holds strong even in a very different context of the Andean culture in Ccorca, the key issues of empowerment are:

1. ‘Participation of young people in their own empowerment’
2. ‘The importance of recognizing existing skills in young people’
3. ‘Build on their individual and collective strengths and skills’
4. ‘Involve young people in decision making and give them positions of power’

I am aware that I have lots to learn and it will be a slow process, but who knows… I will continue to update you guys about this!