Services for young people - Education Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the Salmon Youth Centre, Bermondsey


1.1  The focus of the submission will primarily be concerned with youth work, given my position overseeing one of the largest youth centre in the UK, having cost £11 million to construct over the past few years, funding having been secured from a variety of sources including governmental, charities and philanthropic sources. Salmon Youth Centre is one of the few world class state-of-the-art youth work provisions to be found in this country. To ensure that readers are clear about the facilities to be found at Salmon, below a full list, sadly such provision is not commonplace, while the current myplace programme, constructing new centres will address provision in a number of areas, years of no or minimal investment in youth work facilities and building has resulted in a building stock for youth work being in a very poor state.

1.2  Youth Club

  • Large Reception Area.
  • Social Area.
  • Canteen.
  • Senior Club Room.
  • Bike Workshop.
  • Kitchen.
  • Internet Access.
  • Sports Centre
    • Four Badminton Court Sports Hall.
    • Changing Rooms for 70 people.
    • Fitness Suite.
    • Climbing Wall (floors 3-7—on the outside of the building).
    • First Aid Room.
  • Arts Centre
    • Performance Space.
    • Dance Studio.
    • Music Making/Mixing Facility.
    • Arts and Crafts Room.
  • Learning and Enterprise Centre
    • Business Start-Up Units
    • STEP (Full-Time Volunteer Scheme)
    • Training Seminar Rooms (x2) for Short Courses
    • IT Facilities
    • Counselling Rooms (x2)
  • Offices
    • Reception.
    • Administration Manager.
    • Youth Work.
    • Large Open Plan.
    • Learning and Enterprise Staff.
    • Director.
  • Accommodation
    • Volunteers (Resis')—Eight Single Rooms with bathrooms/toilets:
      • Resis' Kitchen.
      • Resis' Social Area.
      • Resis' Laundry Rooms (x2).
      • Guests Room—with own bathroom/toilet.
      • Bike Store.
    • Staff Flat—Three Bedrooms
  • Trailer and Camp Store
    • Bike Workshop
  • Drop-In (Shop)
  • Garages for Minibuses (x2)
  • Patio Area on 8th floor
  • Chapel/Quite Room

1.3  To set the scene for this submission a simple definition of youth work, with some explanation of key characteristics and points, clearly setting the context for further contributions.

1.4  "Youth work is a universal service offered to all teenage young people. Youth workers offer caring relationships to young people. Through participation in the educative programmes and activities young people are helped and supported in making successful transitions into adult life. Youth work takes place during young people's leisure and recreation time, when their participation is voluntary."

1.5  Relationships—Listed first because it is the key element in youth work, a two-way, as far as is possible, equal process, between a young person and youth worker.

1.6  Universal—The "youth work relationship" is for all young people regardless of any individual condition or circumstances, respectful of all individuals.

1.7  Age groups—Teenagers are the age group where youth work should takes place, although some work will take place with young people above and below the general focus age group of 13-19.

1.8  Educative—Youth work has always been seen as an educational service, although maybe a better description is "learning" or "thinking" service. The education which take place is not taught in a didactic way, rather young people are encourage to question and think "why", "what", "how" and "when" so as to learn. "Experiential learning" takes place!

1.9  Programmes and activities—What takes place within any given club or session. Activities could be a sports, arts, enterprise, formal educational support, anything! Work can take place with individuals or within group settings. Often process is more important than product.

1.10  Successful transition into adult life—Adults who are able to make a valued contribution to society and community is the result of good youth work. At this teenage stage of life young people are experience much change, including physically, when hormones kick in and socially, when they are expected to "grow up". At this stage they do not have the previous experience or "recipe knowledge" to call upon for help, due to experiencing these feeling and situations for the first time. The youth worker offers help to the young person in negotiate these "experiences" and "learning".

1.11  Leisure and recreation time—Usually evenings, weekends and during school holidays.

1.12  Voluntary participation—Young people are able to leave at any time, should they wish, there is no compulsion for attendance.

1.13  Youth workers—People who care about young people and want the best for them. All will have undertaken some training to help them better understand the "youth work process", helping in their interaction with young people.


2.1  Unfortunately a lot of confusion exists about exactly what the terms universal and targeted mean so for clarity further definitions.

2.2  Universal—Provision and services which is for all young people, regardless of their educational ability and attainment, social class or any other characteristic or label which might be associated to a young person. Much universal provision will take place within a youth club or centre. Such provision has been a mainstay of the youth service within the UK for many decades. Although for the past 20 years such provision has been greatly reduced, some of this has been due to funding issues, although the youth work case has not been helped by youth workers who have not been good at articulating what youth work does, the values that underpinned the work and what is achieved through youth work.

2.3  Targeted—Work aimed or commissioned for a specific group of young people, in recent years a growth industry has developed around the group described as NEET (not in education employment or training), with vast sums of money and resources being directed towards this group of young people. Targeted provision almost always seeks to address a problem, whether actual or perceived.

2.4  Much of the confusion exists because very often within targeted provision youth work skills are used, with workers adopting a style more akin on to a youth worker than a teacher or social worker. However using youth work skills does not mean that youth work is taking place, for youth work to be taking place there must be voluntary participation on the part of young people. Targeted provision generally does not have this characteristic as the young people are seen as a problem, often encouraged or indeed compelled to attend a programme.


3.1  Good youth work encourages young people to take responsibility and leadership, often this equates to volunteering within a youth project and helping develop the programmes and projects within the clubs, probably with those in a younger than the young person undertaking the volunteering.

3.2  Once again we need to be clear about what volunteering is. The National Citizen Service for young people aged 16 who are just leaving school is not a voluntary service, it is targeted as all young people of this age are expected to attend a three week course upon leaving school.

3.3  If we truly want to offer volunteering opportunities to young people then they should be exactly that, a chance to freely be involved in an activity, which has a positive outcome for the young person volunteering and whoever they are helping. Given that volunteering will probably be, like many other experiences to teenagers, a new experience, volunteering within a youth work setting offers the young person a safe environment to gain valuable volunteering experiences which will hopefully continue throughout their adult life.


4.1  When it comes to youth work provision across the country a postcode lottery exists, depending on where you live depends on the service that you will receive, some good some not so good.

4.2  "So how can young people know what they want?"

4.3  In no way is this statement meant to be condescending towards young people, as asking the question the meaning behind it, provides a key purpose of youth work.

4.4  A key principle of youth work is that of supporting young people in their transition from a child into adult. When experiencing this transition very often young people do not have the previous experiences to call upon to inform their thinking and decision making. Consequently a significant function of youth work is to help and support young people gain experiences, understanding and knowledge through their experiences within the youth work setting. Indeed sometimes going further and providing challenges which present the young people with new experiences that they have not undertaken before.

4.5  Many times within youth work young people will be taken up a mountain literally or metaphorically, enjoying, when they get to the top the sense of achievement and view, complaining on route about the hard work to get to the top. Then when descending, they ask if they can go back again, because they now understand, liked the achievement and view so want to do it again. The challenge for the young people and the youth worker is to, on their next adventure, attempt a higher peak. And here is where young people help in shaping the provision. Having learned to climb one mountain they can now choose which bigger one they wish to tackle. Now of course the mountain could relate to a sporting activity, enterprise projects, artistic performance or many other things. Importantly the worker has led and as the young people become more proficient and confidence the worker is able to withdraw and play a more supportive, rather than leadership role.

4.6  Too often currently young people are set up to fail. Of course we want young people to take responsibility, be active and shape the provision being developed for them, but very often it will need a youth worker taking the initiative in the first instance. The notion of a youth leader may seem outdated, but workers performing in this way must be the better option than the current trend of giving young people responsibility for no other reason apart from them being young people.


5.1  Clearly the various organisations and sections in society all have a role to play in helping young people to fulfil their potential, for any one section or group to say that they do not need others is just plain stupidity. This said we do need to be clearer about what roles which sectors play.

5.2  First a general point about the youth service which has often affectionately being called the Cinderella, poor relative, service of education. Unfortunately in recent years, with the development of Children's Services Departments with their expanded remit and responsibility the Youth Service has looked more like Bambi struggling to find his feet in this new expanded environment.

5.3  Below specifics relating to the various groups:

5.4  Statutory Sector—The state needs to be there to oversee the provision being delivered within a given geographical area. Via its work force it can clearly provide direct frontline services.

5.5  Voluntary Sector—Being overseen by management committees who will probably be committed to the organisation and a local area means that the voluntary sector organisation can be closer to the community which they serve. There are now much larger voluntary sector organisations, some of a national scale, who deliver services at a local level, however the better model is for smaller community-based organisations who are integral, part of the very fabric of a local area.

5.6  The voluntary sector is also better equipped to undertake new and more risky work that the statutory sector, a good example of this is detached youth work.

5.7  Private Sectors—Business will continue to do what it does, so young people, if they can afford it, will make use of cinema's and bowling alleys or even a leisure centre, maybe subcontracted out by the local authority. No problem with this, providing we recognise that this provision is about activity, something to do, not development or relational so not youth work.


6.1  Recent developments within the workforce has not helped youth work. Unfortunately the grouping together of work which takes place with young people into one homogenous lump has meant a loss of identity for many groups of workers, especially youth workers, who due to the nature of their work had not been able to articulate well enough the value of their contribution.

6.2  For youth work to regain and establish its unique identity and qualities training programmes which focus upon the developmental and relational aspects of the youth work process are needed. Workers need practical skills to be able to organise the programmes and activities taking place within the clubs and centres, also an understanding of the issues faced by young people.


7.1  Clearly if less money is spent less work will take place. Over the years youth work has had many efficiency savings drives and rationalisations of provision. The worry is that universal provision, will be lost even more in the rationalisation of provision which results in targeted provision, dealing just with a perceived problem.

7.2  Many of Salmon's young volunteers in their late teens and early 20s can trace back their initial involvement in the centre to our younger 6 to 9 club. Youth work is longitudinal taking place over many years, and does not easily fit into the tick box mode of measurement which exists so often today. The results of youth work are years in the making. Youth work either needs to be funded because we as a society believing in it and trust in the work it does or not fund it and our communities will be less places due to the loss of such provision.

7.3  Payment by results cannot be applied to youth work. Youth work has a role to play, no more no less, as outlined previously in this paper, however good youth work indeed any other individual service working with young people claiming to have been the only provision to have made the difference, is just being unrealistic. Yes of course formal educational institutions such as the school can more readily use exam results achieved, but along the way it may well be that a youth worker has helped with homework or coursework, during the evening at a youth club session.


8.1  Not having a firm statutory base for youth work, each authority only being required to provide an "adequate" Youth Service, means that when placed against other provision for young people such as formal education or social services, with their stronger legally positions, youth work will more often lose out. Youth work needs to be valued more and given a firmer footing within legislation.


9.1  The qualitative aspects of work taking place need to be taken into consideration more, moving away from the quantitative, that which is easily measured culture that currently pervades. Learning must be taking place, but not within narrow confines of accreditation and certificates. Work must be developmental moving people on from one position to a better place and most importantly relational; developing positive relationships between youth workers and young people, which is a model and foundation for them to follow when building future relationships throughout their lives.


10.1  The Education Committee is to be applauded for having started this process of looking at provision for young people outside of formal education. However this is only a start, there needs to be a committee or commission set up by Parliament with the specific purpose of reviewing the current state of youth work and the Youth Service. This group will consider submissions from various parties, both written and via hearings, over an extended period of time, say a year, so as to acquire as wider field of evidence as possible. Having undertaken this task clearly recommendations for development in the future needs to be considered and presented. For too long, at least 20 years now maybe longer, no such process has occurred, so is now well overdue. Youth work needs a line in the sand to be drawn, from which we can move on. No more can youth work continue to respond, cattail or embrace the latest fad or trend. All of us association with youth work, government, national and local and the practising field of youth worker must work together to ensure that the needs of young people are met. Having a commission or committee established to oversee a renewed status will be an important second step, following this process started by this Education Committee.

December 2010

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Prepared 23 June 2011