“Be the person you needed when you were younger!”
It’s our 10th year of operation working with young people? As with any milestone, it’s an opportunity to reflect, reflect on the journey, the successes, the failures, the young people and the future.
Background to charity creation
My own journey to the charity sector has been an interesting one. I’m the classic ‘Gamekeeper turned Poacher’; 22 years working in the Public Sector before moving into the Third Sector. I’ve been a Youth Worker for most of my adult life! I’ve seen fashions and trends change: I’ve seen the growth of the internet and the global rise in mobile phone use particularly by young people!
Sadly, something that hasn’t changed over the past quarter of a century is the negative perceptions of young people by some in society – particularly of those young people living in challenging circumstances.
These opinions were there back in my own teenage years in the early 80’s when Thatcher was ripping the arse and the heart out of this country. During my teenage years, the hopes and ambitions of many young people were blighted by limited educational attainment & lack of training and employment opportunities. What jobs there were, were often low-paid, dead-end jobs, leading young people nowhere.
As far back as 1987 when I was a first year Community Education student, I felt that youth work in general terms was failing those young people who could benefit most from what it offered – youth work, if delivered properly was a powerful tool for individual, community and social development.
Unfortunately, even in those early days what I saw left me disillusioned but determined to make the changes which would see good quality youth work engage with those young people who were most marginalised from society.
What I witnessed was well paid Community Education workers doing very little in the way of youth work – generally they were administrators who left the face-to-face work to sessional staff, local people looking to earn a few pounds extra, but limited in knowledge or training. Services consisted of youth clubs on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday evenings in local community centres – often run-down facilities in need of repair, but investment wasn’t forthcoming. Centres closed early on Fridays and were always, almost without exception, closed on Saturdays and Sundays. Those young people who were hard to engage or deemed to be ‘challenging’ were, more often than, not banned from centres by an intolerant janitor or youth worker.
Far too often, youth workers would roll out a confident, educated young person – more often than not a law or politics student – the type of young person who would be a success regardless of whether they ever met a youth worker or not and claim them as a ‘product of good youth work’ or ‘a youth work success’. It was rarely the case. Rarely, if ever, did a youth worker highlight a young person who had come through challenging circumstances and had managed to gain focus, create opportunity and a positive direction as a result of youth work intervention. I was determined that the type of youth work that I would deliver would be just this – targeted at the hardest to reach and most challenging of young people.
In 1987 I had the idea of ‘Youth Work Direct’ – a youth service, delivered out with the confines of local authority red tape, which would be based in the heart of the most deprived communities. The service would (with partners when appropriate) identify those young people who had been marginalised through the social and education systems and engage them in conversation about the types of services that they would like to see being delivered in their communities – the types that they would be keen to get positively involved in.
It took another 22 years for the idea that was ‘Youth Work Direct’ to be realised. Why so long? Well, life got in the way – jobs, family, commitments.
This was 22 years of witnessing poor quality service delivery from public sector youth workers – they wanted a service that suited them rather than a service which would benefit young people on the margins. This was 22 years of frustrations, at hearing the excuses for the failures meted out by those who really didn’t care whether they impacted positively or not on the lives of young people – it was always somebody else’s fault!
In early 2009 having become disillusioned with my last role – a youth work consultant for a private physical activity organisation – I handed in notice and decided the time had eventually come to ‘go for it’. In February 2009 I wrote the Business Plan and strategy for ‘A&M Training and Development’, found a logo and on 27th February sent hundreds of e-mails to schools, colleges, housing associations etc. introducing our services:
Our programme was designed to work with young people to help them more fully understand the actions that they took in relation to alcohol and drug misuse, gang membership, carrying weapons, unhealthy diet, smoking and the potential consequences of such actions, using real life scenarios. This was, for me, a massive gap in the services provided by public sector youth providers – most young people didn’t understand the implications of their actions.
From the initial emails, we received a number of positive responses, requests for meetings and requests for additional information on services available.
Very quickly (within a few days) we were contacted by John Wheatley College in Easterhouse. We were invited to meet with the lecturers responsible for their ‘Transitions Programme’, a service targeted at young people who had been excluded, or were a risk of exclusion from High School, who had challenging backgrounds (usually with social work involvement), who were unlikely to gain qualifications and who had little or no knowledge of what lay ahead of them on (officially) leaving school. We were asked to design a package of activity that would fully engage them and raise their awareness and understanding of many issues that would directly and indirectly affect them. This package developed into a comprehensive 12-week programme which included understanding their environment and the impact they had on this. We used the Al Gore documentary ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ as the basis for this. We undertook John Muir Award activities which culminated in qualifications for members of the group and included three trips and a residential on the River Clyde on board the Community Safety Glasgow yacht ‘The Clyde Challenger’.
By the end of June 2009 we had undertaken trips and visits across Glasgow to give the young people a wider sense of the city that they lived in, this included trips to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and the Transport Museum. We also took two groups – 1 group of girls to West Linton Scottish Outdoor Education Centre and 1 group of boys to Broomlea Outdoor Centre as part of a personal development training input.
This was just the very beginning of our journey. Ten years later I can confidently say that we have created a successful and award-winning charity that brings together young people from all kinds of backgrounds and supports them to achieve their own goals. We specifically target those who live in challenging circumstances and ensure they get the support to improve their life chances. We have witnessed hundreds of kids getting into university, modern apprenticeships, sustainable employment, volunteering and many other fantastic opportunities such as residential experiences across the UK, Europe and as far afield as Vietnam. The past 10 years of operation have coincided with the worst economic downturn in history, it’s been harder to find work, there have been significant cuts to local authority budgets, there has been a real impact in peoples standards of living and the quality of services delivered within communities. During this time, we know that our work has been key to supporting many communities at difficult times. This is not just a celebration of 10 years of work, it is a celebration of 10 years having an impact on people´s lives and a celebration of 10 years of young people in the most challenged communities showing their resilience, spirit and talents. Here’s to the next 10 years and unearthing and supporting the next generation of talented young people.
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is “what are you doing for others?”
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward”
Martin Luther King
CEO Achieve More! Scotland