I wasn’t always a Detached Youth Worker…the first serious job I had was as an apprentice motor mechanic at 16..(we left school at 15 back in the day) with a main Ford dealer in Sheffield (TCH). by the time I left I could strip a gearbox, bang a clutch in and regrind valves and rocker shafts with the best of ’em. But…something was missing from my life and at 19 I joined the army looking for travel and adventure. I tried to get in the R.E.M.E. but they weren’t recruiting vehicle mechanics, so it was the local Cavalry regiment, the 13th/18th Royal Hussars (QMO). I had my heart set on being a Tank driver/mechanic but they trained me as a Radio operator/Loader. I was a better loader than a radio man and thoroughly enjoyed my time on the tank firing ranges, getting three H.E.S.H. rounds in the air at the same time on a long range shoot on one occasion. (That will mean nothing to anyone but a tankie). On demob after 9 years, during which time I had married Christine and had two children, I left the regiment for civvy street. What a change in lifestyle !!!. Tried to go back to being a mechanic but things had advanced so much, technology wise, I was out of my depth…several years as a labourer in an engineering works, two years laid up with a slipped disc and unemployed …and whilst all this was going on…I discovered the incredible world of working with young people and helping them to reach their potential…..read on macduff….
CHAPTER ONE…THE VOLUNTARY YEARS.
I first thought about youth work seriously after several altercations with the very wayward youth of the estate I lived on, and thought about what could be done to ‘Get them off the streets’. The tenant’s association wasn’t doing much, so I got myself elected onto the committee and suggested we find premises to start a Youth Club. A small group of us approached the Parks Dept. and enquired about a two nights per week youth club for the estate. After weeks of waiting we finally got the go ahead and started to get organised and ready to open the youth club…electing a committee, opening bank accounts, raising funds, getting people to actually work in the club (all volunteers), who would run the coffee bar etc etc. Finally, we were ready to open and after much publicity and banging of drums, we opened and a fair number of young people turned up to see what was what. We had very little equipment in those early days…a small snooker table was donated by a well wisher..the type of table that when you hit the cue ball, it described an arc from left to right across the table, one of the committee wrote to a catalogue company and they donated a super competition fold up table with all the trimmings. Time moved on and we got some funding from the City council Youth Service and we were getting around 30-40 young people a night in…when we put live bands on the place was crowded. We facilitated a young people’s committee and they got to grips organising themselves and the club program, footy teams, netball etc, They did very well as did the small team of adults who were the voluntary workforce. I managed to procure a second hand disco rig and lights, so we had a regular weekly disco and I started going round other voluntary clubs doing a disco for a tenner for them which funded our fortnightly record purchases, (no C.D’s them days !!)
I began to realise that in order to develop the club, along with the staff and myself, we needed some professional training as opposed to flying by the seat of our pants…I was elected to be the one who did the training because I had ‘MUG’ writen on my forehead !! ….Well that turned out to be the key that opened the floodgates. I discovered psychology, sociology, Adolescent development, group work theory, the list was endless, and I soon realised that I wanted more, and in more depth. The part time training provided by the Youth Service was simply not enough for me and it wasn’t happening fast enough.
I did a disco for a Youth Service club and talked to the youth worker in charge about training, and how frustrated I was with how it was progressing, among other things. The night ended and I packed up my gear and put the tenner in my pocket and left. A couple of nights later the phone rang and it was J, the youth worker in charge of the club I did the disco at. She said the she and a friend were going to visit Matlock College of Higher Education to see about a 2 year full time youth work course, Ratified by Nottingham Uni and did I fancy tagging along. I said yes and a few days later, off we went.
I was invited back for a formal interview several weeks later and what a tough one it was…I was accepted and from that point onwards, my life dramatically changed to such an extent, that I simply left my old self behind and embarked on a voyage of self discovery. It was a few weeks later as the course started, that I ceased my involvement with the small voluntary Youth club on my estate. Chapter 2 will tell of my voyage of self discovery whilst training for full time professional Youth work…….
CHAPTER 2…THE VOYAGE
The thought of self discovery never, for one minute, entered my mind in that September of 1983 as I boarded the good ship ‘Higher Education’…I thought I was a pretty switched on guy, with lots of life experience that I could share with all the other ‘mature’ students and my overriding concern was, how well would I cope with re entering education after so many years ? I thought I would be attending lectures and taking notes and LEARNING STUFF that would magically make me into the complete ‘Youth Worker’. Another concern was, how would I manage with a wife and two small children to support, on an education grant of less than £5k a year ? It had to be done…I needed my mind stretching …I needed to learn.
The first day was taken up by all things admin and meeting some of the second year students again (we had met some of them previously during the interview process) … And of course getting to know the other course members better. I think there were twenty two of us in total, and the ages ranged widely from about 25 to about 40…all with very different backgrounds and very different life experiences. We met all the staff who would be facilitating our learning, and we were allocated our personal Tutors. Mine was a marvellous guy called Richard, and I would eventually discover how best to use him as a Tutor, to my great benefit. Richard was also the lecturer on Counselling skills. The course leader, Bob, took us for Social Education, a wonderful woman called Vicky gave us Sociology, an equally wonderful man, Geoff, gave us Psychology. It pains me that I can’t remember the name of a great guy who gave us Management…it will come back to me I’m sure and I’ll mention him later….(24 hrs later….) Got it..Tony, the management Theory guy. Judith, joined us in the second year as a lecturer on Community, and that was about it for the staff. Little did I know it then, but two or three of those tutors would have a massive impact on my life, and today, almost thirty years later, and 5 years since I retired, the shock waves of astounding revelations still echo in my mind. The two tutors mostly responsible for all the Cognitive Dissonance were Vicky and Geoff…Sociology and Psychology respectively.
I was always, I considered, a socialist at heart…being a life long trade unionist, member of the Labour party etc….but as the first year of the course progressed, I was able to connect the theory and political science to my life experiences, and well…I was amazed as I was allowed to look deeper into the structure of our society, Class , Power , Economics, and the theories of Marx,Freud, Hobbes ….et al. It was mind blowing to have things that made society what it is explained to me. A veil was lifted from my eyes and my mind…I began to see the where and how and the why I fitted into my life as I did…and on the other hand, how I could change my position in society. The first really painfull adaptation I had to make to my life was coming to terms with my sexism…my oppression of women…the very word ‘oppression’ was at once abhorrent to me, and yet here I was oppressing women !!! I’ll not go into too much detail of what the revelation did to me , but rest assured I tried valiantly to mend my ways. In the beginning it was a struggle…and it lasted years!!! ….I have now reached a stage of my life where I regard myself as ..’a Conscious Anti-Sexist‘, in that I still, through being a male and surrounded by sexist attitudes, from time to time, have to remind myself of my principles and get a grip on my behaviour. I think it will be a life times work, but I am still striving.
The next ‘painfull’ experience for me was addressing my RACISM. I had, untill that year, been quite happy in the knowledge that I was NOT racist in any form. I never used the ‘N’ word and I was always utterly shocked when seeing things like the footage on the BBC news of how the black people of the Southern States in America were being treat. My belief was what all racism is based on and that was ignorance. Well, I soon got educated !!! I learned so much that was wonderful in other cultures, including how different cultures viewed ME as a white English man…That was a bit of a shock !!. We were lucky in that on the course we had a grand young woman of Afro Caribbean descent, Sheila, and a young man of Asian descent, Nassir, who were able to introduce us, as students, to their communities. That was a good experience and my education continued for the whole two years and well beyond into my field work. Altering my perceptions and beliefs, changing my attitudes about ethnic groups was a long and sometimes painfull process. I think I came through it well and my ignorance has been addressed and I am now at the stage of being, almost, an unconscious anti racist, in that I don’t have to think about modifying my behaviour, the correct behaviour comes without thought. That has taken me about 25 years to achieve…..so much for what Sociology did for me…( It did many more things, including strengthening my socialist leanings and reinforcing my allready existing principles. God I learned so much !!
Psychology was the other eye opener for me…It was a subject I considered ‘Highbrow’ and rather like the workers in the pages of ‘Robert Treswell’s novel, THE RAGGED TROUSERED PHILANTHROPISTS…” Not for the likes of us…” The Psychology module consisted of several parts…The concept of SELF was just mind blowing for me. I learned so much about ME and why I did things…what made me tick. I charted my development from birth to where I was then in 1983. I very quickly saw that If a person understood themselves completely, or as completely as possible, then they were in a position to understand the people they were working with. SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY was a real turn on…how and why people acted in society at large, the dynamics of group work…. forming, storming, norming and performing…etc etc. but the one thing that really grabbed my attention was… SOCIAL ATTITUDES…and how we, as youth workers, could facilitate the changing of attitudes !! I was so wrapped up in this particular process, that I did my 12,000 word dissertation on the subject..’Social Attitudes and the process of measurement and Change’…(A+..brag brag ). It was like we had been given the chance to play GOD…given time, resources and continuity, we could change racist attitudes in young people. we could change Homophobic attitudes…the list was endless…So Thank you Vicky and thank you Geoff…thanks to all the Tutors who guided me on the Path I had chosen….The Voyage of Self Discovery.
And thanks to all the students on the course, we shared so much together…my travelling companions of the class of ’85 , Jan, June, Eric,Dave, I wouldn’t have made it without you. This Chapter may end here, but the journey continued. In my incarnation as a Youth Worker, there was NEVER a day I didn’t learn something about myself or learn something from the people I worked with, be it my staff teams or the client groups. It has been the only job I have ever had where I developed a TRUE PASSION for the work.
IN CHAPTER THREE….I’ll talk a little about my introduction to full time professional Youth Work. There started ANOTHER voyage….and the seas were sometimes VERY rough indeed!!!!
(or: the learning curve was so steep, I nearly fell off !!!)
THE FIRST JOB after gaining my professional qualification was with the Staffordshire authority, and it was my first (and last) interview by a non professional management committee. The committee was made up of one senior Youth service manager and the rest of it was just ordinary people with no real knowledge of youth work or, for that matter, young people. My interview went as follows….; I presented my qualification documents along with my Red Book…my military service record, and as soon as I presented my Red Book, youth work went out of the window…All they wanted to hear about was my military career. For a full 45 minutes they had me talking about my life in a Cavalry Regiment. Of course, I was an expert on the subject and excelled in every department…I knew I had the job as soon as they showed interest in only the military side of my expertise. They asked me if I wanted the job there and then. I took it at JNC level 3…as an Area Youth worker…here was my chance to change the world with all my ideas…a job after two years on the dole and two in higher education.
It was a baptism of fire of the highest order…The part time staff at the main centre were so against the concept of a full time worker it was unbelievable…they ignored me and my plans, came and went as they saw fit and even organised, among themselves events and activities in direct competition to ones we planned in staff meetings. I was so naive.
. I buried my naivetyand realised It would be VERY difficult to change the world.and the experience was so painful … supervision was very strictly of the management type with no room for any personal or developmental stuff and I quickly lost my appetite for any kind of involvement with the job. To make matters worse, I was commuting from Sheffield every day and not getting home untill midnight some nights. One night, during the Winter , I heard the weather forecast of heavy snow that evening on the hills round Buxton, so I decided to make an early run for home, such was my dislike of the workplace and the staff…20 mins into the drive it started snowing and 15 minutes later I had to abandon the car and try walking in snow up to my knees (and getting deeper!!) to Buxton. I thought I was going to perish that night and if a guy in a 4×4 hadn’t passed me and given me a lift into Chesterfield, I really think I would be playing a harp now…or wielding a shovel !!! Such was my loathing of the situation I found myself in at work. The upside of almost freezing to death was that I had a week off work whilst the snow plough made the roads passable again….( they took it off my annual leave, saying that I should have booked into the hotel at the top of the road !!!! ….As if !!! ) Many other things happened that reinforced the belief that I could not continue in the job…I uncovered blackmail, sexual abuse and other dodgy goings on…I couldn’t cope with a management system that told me to get on with the job whilst not offering any support at all…… so I resigned and tried to blot it out of my mind. Because I was so critical of the management and their modus operandi, I was loath to ask for any references if I got another job, it was unclear at the time if I had the stomach for another job in youth work and there followed a period of life on the dole again. Even now after retiring, I refer to my six months in Staffs as my ‘No Time’ but…..with the benefit of hindsight, even though the learning curve was so steep I nearly fell off….I took a lot of positives out of an experience which almost made me give up youth work entirely.
It was a time when Sheffield City Council were practicing what they called ‘Positive Discrimination’, which in a nutshell meant that I could not get a job in the Sheffield Youth Service because I wasn’t a Black one parent Lesbian with a disability…I know, it sound discriminatory when said like that, but it describes perfectly the situation at the time. Priority was being given to Ethnic minorities, females and people with disabilities who were, and probably still are, under represented in the professional workforce…A job came up in Chesterfield for a six month cover of maternity leave in the Community Education service….I applied for and got the job, Without a reference from Staffs, which set me up nicely for the job market in six months time….it was a nice little job, no time to do anything but keep things ticking over until the post holder came back and I spent most of my time spending a Community Education grant and developing work with the young unemployed, as well as getting some of the best Anti- Racism training I have ever come across……….The most important thing was, I got a good reference and expanded my CV ready for the next phase of my working life. ……….’ALL ROADS LEAD TO HULL’….
It was October 1988 when I saw the advert for a level three Youth worker to manage a full time school based youth centre in Hull, and a part time Junior club based at another school. All I knew about Hull was Fish and the ‘Cod war’ with Iceland (the Island nation, not the freezer chain !!! ) I spent days on my application..as you do (or is that just me ??) Tweaked my CV and posted it. After three weeks waiting I thought, “Another authority that doesn’t even acknowledge your application.” So I gave up on that one and renewed my search for employment as well as questioning whether or not I wanted to continue in youth work…Four weeks later I received a letter inviting me for a full days interview at the West Hull Area Youth office…my joy knew no bounds…at last!! someone thought I was worth a shot. I checked maps and found out where Hull was, planned a route and drove up on a dummy run so that I would know where I was going on the day…my car used three pints of oil getting there !!! If I got the job, I thought that a better car would be in order, one that didn’t have a blue coloured cloud of smoke following it everywhere and left a trail of oil on the road…..but that would be IF I got offered the job…..I couldn’t afford any new clothes for the interview so had to make do and mend and hope I didn’t look too scruffy, I bought a gallon of engine oil to get me to Hull and back and off I went for a grueling interview. When I saw and talked to the other candidates for the job my heart sank as they were all seemingly very high quality…including one who later became an Area manager !! …. Anyway I straightened my Tie, Girded my loins and got through the interview just about to plan. Every one got the same comment at the end…”Thanks for applying, we’ll let you know in about a week.” A week later The Area manager rang and offered me the job….I can still here his laughter as I whooped with delight and relief and said , “Yes, I can start on December 1st.”
I did get a better car on the strength of my letter of appointment…a Capri xl …well, It didn’t leak oil or spit out clouds of blue smoke…and…it had a sunroof !!! I was quite proud as I drove into the Area office car park for the start of my induction. Armed with all the paper work I was given a huge bunch of keys and sent off to the Sydney Smith Youth Centre to begin my new career proper. ………. It was a youth centre that had seen better days…10/15 years ago it was very popular with young people, Discos being able to attract well over 100 people a night. Over the years since, it had declined, and being on a school site didn’t help. Neither did the fact it was in the middle of nowhere. However, most of the staff were keen and worked hard, a couple of the senior part time workers were teachers (and it showed) from the days when teachers could do a Youth Work Option, tacked onto their training and that sufficed as a youth work qualification. Sports did well and we could use the school facilities, namely a 25 meter Pool and two gyms as well as the playing fields. The full time team of Youth workers in the city were a grand lot and helped me enormously to settle in and get my bearings as well as ideas gained from my visits to other clubs and centres. The members of the Youth Centre were very friendly and warmly welcomed me to Hull…..though for several years they ribbed me about my West Riding accent and were constantly asking me to ‘Put t’wood in’t oil then’. In short we got on quite well. I began to develop a members committee, though I never liked that term so called it the Member’s Action Group, and the young people rose to the challenge. After a while as their confidence grew and they found the limits they could safely work to, they began to take charge of their Youth Centre program of events, had representation at all staff meetings and actually had a veto to use on any decisions made by adult staff…though it was never used. Through a process of social and political education as well as the increase in self confidence, the young people instigated campaigns on all manner of issues, from awareness campaigns on Gay relationships, Racism, sexual health and women’s issues. The latter issue spawned a Girls only night and workers were recruited and trained to facilitate it’s development. It was significant that all the male members of staff didn’t see the value of some outreach work outside the school site whilst the Young women’s night was in operation. Funding was always a bug bear…never enough for the right things. I was constantly frustrated at other clubs getting large amounts of cash for traditional youth club events and, The Action group at Sydney Smith getting nothing fo
radical new innovations. …………With a lot of the ‘traditional’ youth clubs it was all about bums on seats and that looked good to the City councilors in charge of the purse strings. Whilst I could see where the managers were coming from, I was critical of their modus operandi and I was a constant thorn in their side………
It was about this time, three years after starting work in Hull, that I realised I had done all I could at the Youth centre, it was virtually running itself with the Action group and I needed a bigger challenge…something that would stretch me and challenge my skills. I had never considered Detached Youth Work , in fact it had always been a bit scary to me….working with groups of young men on street corners???!!! no health and safety???!!!…Dark???!!!…”Not for the likes of me”…I said, quoting Robert Treswell to myself, ” Not for the likes of me” indeed. Then I noticed, not for the first time I may add, a report that a female colleague of mine had written about the Young women’s City Centre Detached Team and the work they were doing…in the dark, no health and safety (or so I thought at the time!!) with groups of young women on street corners !!!! (Let me tell YOU, there are some pretty scary groups of young women on the dark streets of Kingston upon Hull…pretty scary indeed!!)….I looked at the report again and read it again, and compared the means as well as the ends to my Centre based results…..I liked what I saw and from then on took more notice of the work she…Oh! all right then, I don’t think she ‘ll mind…MIRIAM..took more notice of the work Miriam and her team were involved in and was mightily impressed. To cut a long and rather boring story short, I approached my area manager and told him how I felt and things were set in motion re specialist training. Miriam figured in this and it was her training course that made me realise that detached work was for me. More bits of training and it was time to recruit some part time staff and get cracking.
The recruitment drive went well and the last young woman we saw (she was half an hour late after being involved in a traffic accident !!!!) rang all the professional bells and was employed. At last I had a team to work with…all two of us !!!…..
The next chapter will trace my involvement in the scary art of;
DETACHED YOUTH WORK IN HULL….AND OTHER PLACES
along with the pitfalls and the pleasures….