I fell into youth work by Colin Bell

Context of Author

I am currently a Senior Residential Worker at a Children's home. I still work as a freelance event manager and promoter of music and comedy events. I also still informally support many young people with their artistic endeavours.




From attending a youth centre and being influenced by the youth workers to running my own business and working with disadvantaged young people in the arts.

Story in Full

I fell into youth work! I had returned to the UK after many years living in New York, I was unemployed living on a housing estate in Coventry. I wasn't doing much with myself and the potential for getting involved in the negative things around me were high. I had a love of music especially reggae and hip hop and at my local youth club there was an unemployed music group where musicians could go and jam, I started going regularly, rapping over beats with live musicians, I got to know the youth workers – who I have to name because it was their encouragement and support that led to all that followed: Brian Mason and Linda Ash were the youth workers who ran the Adventure Playground known as the Venue, in an area called Wood End in Coventry.

I started volunteering and helping out in regular youth work sessions, the youth club bought a small recording set up and I started making music and helping other young people make and record music. My first paid youth work was when I was approached by the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust. They told me about a couple of young people that were around the area causing havoc in the local community, they wouldn't listen to anyone but had an interest in music, I was asked to work with them and encourage them to write a rap about the environment for an upcoming local performance, they would even pay me a fee. I got on well with the two boys, we recorded music and rehearsed it, the performance went well and I ended up helping with other young people on a voluntary basis.

Through the unemployed group there was an opportunity to go on a Tall Ship to Belgium, France and Holland. It was a team building, skills and personal development initiative. Unfortunately I couldn't participate because of a family commitment, but on the return I was asked if I would edit the video that was filmed on the trip – I would also have to learn how to do this. I did it with a friend and we made a video to music called ‘The Pirates of Wood End’.

This was my first ever video and my first time in a real recording studio, it was all based at a community facility called the Depot Studios, they did training courses and had facilities for theatre, they also had editing video and music production. I enrolled on some of the courses in music and video production and endeavoured to make a documentary highlighting the plight of my city and of the young unemployed. I made interviews with people I knew and recorded their views. My video came to the notice of some City Council official and was shown at a national conference titled ‘Safer Cities’.

After a small riot in Wood End where I still lived I was approached by the local BBC TV station to do a piece for TV a year after the riots. I spoke to people that I knew in the area and created the piece for the BBC. It was then I started ‘Frontline Audio Visual’, in the 20 years that Frontline has been operating we have worked with over 20,000 young people. We trained young people and advocated for young people’s issues, using the areas of music, film, events and many urban art forms. Our main aim was to give a voice and to support the artistic endeavours of the most disadvantaged young people of our society.

As well as running Frontline I worked for a while with another youth worker that changed my life, Nik Paddison. He was running an arts project for young people kicked out of school in the north of Coventry. I worked at that project for 3 years, working with some of the most disadvantaged young people in the city. We supported them, built up their self-esteem and self-confidence and empowered them to find their way in the world through the use of different arts and through the building of relationships built on trust and respect. We had many interesting and challenging young people to work with. On one occasion we were contacted by child services, one of the young people we were currently working with was from a children’s home and had gone missing for 3 days, he was 14 years of age at the time. Social services, the Police, the probation workers, his case workers and the teachers had no idea where he was and no one could find him. Eventually they thought to ask us. I immediately left the centre and found him that same afternoon. He had been sleeping rough in an abandoned building. Our work at the centre was all about the young people, communicating with them, treating them with respect and most importantly listening to them. That is how I knew where to find him, I knew where he liked to hang out and run away to when things got too much.

It was during this time that Nik introduced me to the world of international youth work. I participated in many projects and exchanges and supported many young people to travel abroad for the first time. This broadened their horizons and changed the course of many of the young people’s lives as it did mine. On one activity I was working with the young refugees in an Internally Displaced Persons camp in Jablanica in Bosnia, half way up a mountain. On another activity I took a group of young people to Barcelona along with 50kg of DJ equipment.

Work with young people is what I fell into and am still committed to in whatever form it takes. Currently I am working at a Children’s home but the work with the arts and my own business, FrontlineAV, is my ultimate passion – giving a voice to and supporting the artistic endeavours of the most disadvantaged young people of our society.