- Posted by: Educators Wales
Senior Youth Worker for the Basement, funded by Caerphilly Council Youth Service
How long have you been a youth worker?
I’ve worked at Caerphilly Council in the Youth Service for 20 years. I started working there at 19, so I was pretty much fresh out of college. Before that I did some childcare jobs, working in a private nursery, but Caerphilly Youth Service was my first job in Youth Work and my whole youth work career to date has been within the same organisation.
I worked at Youth Clubs to begin with. We also had mobile provision which travelled round the Borough offering information and support, and I was fortunate enough to get experience working on that project for a bit. Then, I was a Youth Worker at a local comprehensive school and then that progressed to my role now as the Senior Youth Worker at The Basement. We run a drop-in centre in Blackwood Library, where young people can come in and access information and support for whatever they need.
I’ve been really lucky – I’ve probably worked in every community in Caerphilly throughout my career.
Did you always know you wanted to work in education?
Yes, definitely. From a young age, I can remember being in school and talking to the careers advisor and knowing that I wanted to work in education. I wanted to work with young people and help them somehow. I wasn’t quite sure how I could do that, but then as I became more aware of Youth Work, I realised it was the perfect fit for me.
I was drawn to Youth Work because I knew it would give me the opportunity to be around young people and to help them in any way that I could. I never accessed the Youth Service when I was younger, but I remember as I got older there was an information bus that used to go round the community – I think they called it ‘Coffee and Condoms’ – and I remember thinking “this is what I want to do.” I wanted to be out there, working in the heart of the community and help people with things that some people might have felt uncomfortable talking about. I wanted to work with young people on the cusp of adulthood and to be able to provide support to them.
How has Youth Work changed over the years?
When I first started, Youth Work was much more relaxed and informal. The expectation now is that the Youth Service should be delivering accredited courses to help young people develop – it’s fantastic. It gives people who are harder to engage with an opportunity to develop their skills and education in a different way. There’s more expectation on Youth Workers than there was before, but from a young person’s perspective, that means that there’s more being offered to them and that can only ever be a good thing.
I love my job now as much as I did when I was 19. Although it’s changed, there are some things that have stayed the same – you’ll never get bored, you’re always meeting new people, there’s always something different. It can be challenging, but the rewards outweigh the challenges.
What’s your biggest achievement in your role?
I think working in the Youth Service for 20 years is a big achievement in itself. I’ve worked with thousands of young people over the years, so it’s been a real pleasure to watch each of the incredible individuals I’ve worked with grow into adulthood.
Have you ever been inspired by a young person whilst doing your job?
Definitely - many times over. I’ve been inspired when a young person tries something new, and it never ceases to amaze me how up for a challenge they are - even the most unconfident young people. I love watching their confidence grow. It makes me want to push my boundaries and try new things as well.
I worked with one young person who was very unconfident, as they were severely bullied as a child. It was really difficult for them to chat to me to begin with, but they progressed leaps and bounds over time and decided they wanted to give something back from the support they received and decided to go become a Youth Worker. Their story always sticks in my mind – to see where this young person came from when they were 14/15 to where they were in their 20s. The progress for them was massive, and I suppose the fact that they followed the Youth Work path was something I feel particularly proud of. It’s amazing, because they had so much to offer – it took them a while to build their confidence, but they got there in the end.
What’s the best thing someone has said to you at work?
Over the years I’ve received so many lovely comments, but I think one of the most memorable was from a parent. I worked with a young lady who had been severely bullied and her confidence was at an all-time low and her mother wrote me a card saying “thank you for giving me my daughter back.” It makes me quite emotional now thinking about that. It was a lovely thing. It’s always stuck with me. It really reminds me of the impact that we can have beyond the young person themselves.
What’s the biggest challenge?
One of the biggest challenges often occurs when you meet the young person for the first time, and you’re faced with barriers that they put up because they might have some trust issues. It’s very challenging getting to a point where they trust you and want to share things with you and let you in, so you can help.
The longer you’ve been in it, the more experience you have with dealing with those situations and the easier it becomes to deal with the challenge. We also have tools and techniques that we use to make the process a bit easier, such as finding common ground with them and similar interests to make it easier for them to open up and build trust through conversations and activities. Once you are able to break down the initial walls, it’s so rewarding to be able to help and support them.
What would you say to someone who’s thinking about getting a job in youth work?
Do it! Part of my role is to coordinate Junior Leaders and volunteers for the Youth Service. A lot of my colleagues started off through volunteering. It’s a way for you to give it a go and see if it’s for you. Youth Services are always crying out for volunteers and you’ll find that its really rewarding work.