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Exploring youth work

What is Youth Work? And why is it so important right now?

Youth work is often talked about as being a vital part of communities, yet many services have faced unprecedented pressure over the past decade. So, what’s it all about? And why is it so important?

BBC Children in Need is the UK’s largest independent funder of youth work

Youth work makes up around 30% of our portfolio.

We know that youth work has the power to change the lives of young people. Especially those who might not have the support they need from the people in their lives, or who just need a safe space to hang out with friends and learn new skills.

But what exactly is youth work? What goes on behind the doors of a youth club? And why is it needed now more than ever?

Youth work is such a diverse practice that it can be difficult to define

We fund it in community centres, youth clubs, on the streets, in schools and online.

For us, it’s about meeting young people where they are at, both physically and emotionally. It’s about engaging, supporting and empowering young people in various aspects of their lives.

Trusted relationships are a vital part of youth work

Youth workers have a voluntary relationship with young people, and young people in turn choose to be there.

For many, this trusted relationship is the springboard to regaining direction and control in their lives.

It’s what gives them the sense of security they need to develop skills and realise their full potential.

Youth workers are experts at creating environments where young people can thrive

Activities are tailored to the needs and interests of the young people taking part.

They can include workshops, seminars, sports and recreational activities, arts and creative projects, counselling, mentoring and leadership development programmes.

When you look at it, you realise that youth work is about so much more than a game of pool (although sometimes a game of pool is a great opportunity to talk).

It’s about learning new skills, making positive relationships, contributing to communities and building self-confidence.

Building confidence can start with a young person feeling able to take down their hoodie or take out their ear buds, and talk

It can progress to tidying up after a session, supporting younger children and asking more questions.

It can be trying new activities, like abseiling down a cliff, being scared but having everyone cheer you on and support you.

That’s a memory that will last a lifetime – especially if you’ve never had a holiday or been away from your area before.

This is what BBC Children in Need is funding every single day.

This is youth work.

When you’re stuck on a negative path, it can be hard to see a way out, but that’s where youth work can change lives

Sam* had been struggling in school when he was referred to a BBC Children in Need project. His attendance and engagement at school were low, and he’d found himself in trouble with the police.

In his first few sessions at the project, he kept himself to himself.

But over time, he started to trust the youth workers who listened and supported him. He opened up about wanting to pursue a career in sport and youth work, and help others like himself. Only, he couldn’t see how it was possible: he wasn’t expecting to leave school with any qualifications.

Over the next sixteen weeks, Sam* worked hard with support from the youth workers. He completed eight formal accreditations and multiple non-accredited courses.

The youth workers helped him find volunteering opportunities in the local community, to give him the work experience he needed to fulfil his aspirations.

Thanks to the support of this project, his own hard work, and the power of positive, trusted relationships, Sam’s* now on the right path to pursue a career in youth work.

“It’s been amazing,” said a youth worker at the project, “to see Sam* divert away from the negative path he was on, and to develop into a confident, compassionate and driven young man.”

One day, Sam* may even support other young people through youth work, in the same way that he was supported.

*Not real name

At BBC Children in Need, we really value youth work

We’ve seen the incredible difference it makes in young people’s lives.

That’s why we’re actively seeking to improve access for a wider range of youth work projects. We recognise that youth workers are skilled practitioners and are trusted to use their expertise to best support young people when they need it.

We want to celebrate and champion the power of youth work and really change the narrative around how young people are often viewed by society.

But sadly, the pressure on youth work is only increasing

Youth services have faced challenges and pressure over the past decade. It is estimated that more than 4,500 youth work jobs have been lost and 760 youth centres closed. (Unison, Youth services at breaking point, April 2019)

At BBC Children in Need, we’re seeing a spiral of issues that are intensifying for young people. The effects of Covid and lockdowns are still having a major impact on mental health and social development. This is further compounded by the cost of living, which profoundly affects young people’s lives now and how they feel about the future.

For many young people experiencing crisis, their youth worker is a lifeline and the first person they reach out to. And with demand and complexity increasing, youth workers are having to support young people in new and more challenging ways.

This is why BBC Children in Need will continue to fund the best youth work projects in the UK, thanks to the donations from the British public

With your ongoing support, thousands of young people like Sam* will thrive and have the opportunity to be the best they can be.

If you are able to donate to help continue our vital funding for projects across the UK, please do so here.

Thank you.

*Not real name

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