It’s National Youth Work Week. Not long till National Cucumber Appreciation Day either, but we can stay in the moment for a while…
What even is youth work? It’s just playing pool and telling off kids, right? Well, yeah, there might be a bit of that. But the reality is often a bit more complex. In its simplest fashion it is about providing somewhere to go and something to do for young people, but that’s what enables us to contribute to the social and personal development of young people. Youth Workers develop the confidence of young people – support them to become more resilient and responsible; to become active and participating members of society. Sometimes that’s just about hanging in there long enough, keeping that door open until they’re ready to walk through it and open up themselves.
And we do this in a particular way. We don’t tell young people what to do in their lives, what decisions to make or even what to do. We’re there to ask the questions and provide options, not the definitive answers. To challenge behaviour appropriately, to stimulate them to question the world around them, their position in it and how they can play an active part in it. We don’t tell people what to do, we enable them to make their own positive decisions. If someone tells you what to do, there’s a slim chance you might just do it, but you won’t own that decision. But, if someone gives you the options and supports you to make your own informed choice then you’re gonna believe in it. And, even if it’s the wrong choice, you’ve got to respect peoples right to make their own mistakes.
We provide opportunity. Opportunity for young people to learn and grow. Opportunity to talk to someone if they want or need it. Opportunity for young people to take the initiative, develop and demonstrate it. This place truly is what you make of it. We believe in our young folk, we place trust in them (and occasionally get burnt by it – though that never stops us giving it).
And that’s partly why working with young people is never boring.
Some people don’t realise that all of the ‘customer-facing’ staff (or me, Tom and Georgie and our amazing volunteer co-ordinator Amy, to give us our every-day-but-Sunday names) aren’t actually Baristas, Chefs, Bar Staff and / or Promoters. We are Youth Workers. First and foremost. That’s how we identify, that’s what our job titles are, that’s what we see when we look in the mirrors (at least at first, before we get to thinking about how pretty our eyes are). I’m really proud of all of the INDIE Staff Team, and how hard everyone works. Everyone contributes a lot to making sure we can continue to carry out our work. But I’m particularly proud of these guys – of how much they care about what they do and the quality of the Youth Work they deliver. We’re not messing about here, we’re dealing with some real shit. And we’re committed. On those 4AM walks home (that most other places wouldn’t let you do) we’re still caring, still supporting. All the other stuff we do because they are also our passions – but importantly, that stuff is our vehicle to enable us to work with young people. It’s our method.
Essentially, we are a bunch of youth workers, and our vehicle is an employability project. This ol’ Café.
And this ol’ Café as a vehicle brings with it some friction, some dilemmas, perhaps better explained with an example…
In a Café (and even an employability project) training people to work in hospitality, where you have a table that needs clearing and no one is doing it you just straight up tell someone to go do it. But, that doesn’t sit all neat and tidy with Youth Work. If you take a Youth Work approach then you’d be asking that person what the barriers are to them clearing that table, encouraging the young person to weigh up the choice. Youth Work doth butter no parsnips in the table cleaning business!
So, we work alongside our young people and, yeah, we give out direct instructions from time to time. But, again, that’s our method – it’s how we build relationships, getting to know them in order to be able to deliver our youth work.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to talk about that side of things, especially publicly. That’s because some of what we deal with us is really sensitive and predominantly because those stories belong to the young people themselves. They’re not really ours to tell. But, we’ve had our heart tanks emptied and filled up again more times than a HGV’s diesel one – and believe us, something beautiful happens here each and every day. Young people are taking those opportunities and running with them.
We believe that there’s some people out there who’ve visited our project who used to be a bit wary about young ‘uns, worried they were a difficult bunch, that they wouldn’t be able to find common ground with them and perhaps didn’t see them for what they are. We’d like to believe that this place has broken down some of those barriers and made a difference – made others believe in young people and see them for what they are…
Today has actually been the final day of this year’s National Youth Work Week. But don’t fret. We’ll keep at it all year round.