How youth work and youth workers have affected me by William Clemmey
Context of Author
I am the Chief Executive of WAYC (the Warwickshire Association of Youth Clubs) and have been involved as a paid youth worker for 33 years (as of 2015) and another 7 as a volunteer before that. I am married and live in Warwickshire.
I was 11 years of age when I first stepped into the world of youth work. Over the years much of my youth work has been strongly connected to the church, I have had the privilege to cross paths with many great and incredible youth workers and church leaders, all of who have inspired me and kept me in youth work. I have also had great opportunity to meet and work with young people not just in the UK but from all over Europe. Today I run a regional youth organisation in the UK.
Story in Full
The first youth worker who made an impression on me was Dave Dickin. He was a voluntary youth worker who ran All Hallows Allerton Youth Club two nights a week. I got involved originally through a church based children’s group called ‘Pathfinders’ which met on a Sunday and was linked to the Youth Club. I played chess for school and so was soon on the Youth Club chess team in the Merseyside Youth Association Chess League. At the age of eleven I was playing 18 year olds and beating them. It was a great experience which continued for the next 7 years of my club membership.
The Youth Club took part in lots of the activities of the Merseyside Youth Association such as swimming tournaments, the annual sports day, and the quiz competition – all of which my brothers and I took part in. In the Quiz and the other competitions Dave Dickin was assisted by the Youth Club leader Pam Edis who also took us to the competitions. In 1974 we won the Merseyside Youth Association Quiz and went on to become the National Association of Youth Clubs champions in a competition organised by John Bateman – who later became the Chief Executive of UK Youth.
At the same time as I was going to the youth club I was also a Scout and then a Patrol Leader. Our Scout leader Ken Norgrove had been driving tanks across the North African desert in the Second World War and had the respect of the whole troop. We used to go away to camp in the back of a large removals van with all the tents and equipment – something that health and safety would certainly not allow nowadays. The Scouts were certainly a great way of developing leadership skills and abilities. When the Scout leader moved on his replacement did not have the same charisma and the scouts became boring and so I left.
In the summer holidays from the age of 11 we went along to Pathfinder camp led by Rev. Derek Wooldridge who also made an enormous impression on me. We had 10 days of fun and outdoor activities including taking the whole camp of over 120 people up Mount Snowdon, the biggest mountain in Wales. I continued attending the Pathfinder camp each year and at 16 became a junior leader. I was fairly quiet and self-conscious at the time. I remember one of the other junior leaders came up to me and said “Hello my names Liz - what’s yours?” this small act of friendship inspired me to get to know everyone on the campsite and that is what I did. By the end of the camp my confidence had certainly developed. The next year I again went as a junior leader and then as a leader on Church Youth Fellowship Association (CYFA) camps and continued with the CYFA camps for the next 9 years.
One year at an Easter residential in Llangollen, Wales with the Pathfinders from Liverpool, the Diocesan Youth Officer was the guest speaker and he impressed me as we walked across the Welsh Hills and encouraged me to go on an ecumenical Youth Pilgrimage to Taize led by Bishop David Shepherd, Archbishop Derek Warlock and the Rev. Norwyn Denny, Chair of the Methodist District. I remember playing Frisbee with the Bishop and Archbishop.
Encouraged by the Diocesan Youth Officer I attended ‘Who Wants to be Heard’ which was a youth event run by the Church of England. I was elected to go as a representative to the British Youth Council. Following University I got back in touch with this group which had become the Church of England Youth Assembly. I went along to their conference and was elected onto the committee. A year after that I became the Chair of the Assembly. I also went along to my first National Council for Voluntary Youth Services meetings and wondered why there were so many grey haired old men running it. Later I was elected as a delegate to the British Youth Council and chaired its East-West committee leading a delegation to Russia in 1984.
Meanwhile having left university I was unemployed for six months as I had not really appreciated the need to get a job! I applied for lots of them but got nowhere. Then in the January of 1982 I saw a youth work job advertised to work in the east end of London at Dalston Methodist Youth Club. I applied and was interviewed. A few days later I was rung up by Rev Peter Timms to say that whilst I had not been successful in the job they were offering, they were interested to offer me instead the role of part time Director of their Unemployment Project for 28 hours a week. Over the next three years I learned a lot from Peter and from Derek the full time youth worker. It was great being a youth worker amongst a group of African-Caribbean young people. As part of the Inner London Education authority I was able to go to a lot of training courses. I also ran my first Youth Exchange to Grenoble in 1984 and they did a return visit staying in the ex-squat I was living in at the time – the French visitors amazingly enjoyed the whole experience and our young people enjoyed their time in Grenoble.
After three years I went to run the One Stop Project which was part of the Portobello Project in Paddington, London. Again it was working with unemployed young people but running a range of structured courses for them.
Then it was off to Westhill College to do a year of post graduate training in youth work. I remember the first session with our tutor Ian Morrison. We all sat there with our pens and paper ready and after introductions he asked us what we would like to learn! It was a transformational moment in my educational development. We drew up a curriculum for the course and divided it up between us on the basis that we all had a variety of skills which we could share with each other. The result was a fantastic year learning about youth work.
My next job was as Senior Diocesan Youth Officer for York Diocese. Here I worked alongside my colleagues John Roden and Paul Kitching. It was an exciting seven years in which we ran annual youth worker training events and residential activities for young people. I ran seven pilgrimages to Taize. We produced a number of publications including a revision of the Church of England Youth Pack.
It was 1993 and I applied for the post of Executive Director for the Warwickshire Association of Youth Clubs (WAYC). I was interviewed along with six other candidates. I got the job and I have been here ever since. During that time I have met and worked with many wonderful youth workers. I have appointed over 180 staff members and seen WAYC grow from an organisation of five staff with £100,000 turnover to over 35 staff and £1.1 million turnover.Sadly the government cuts have hit us and we are now down to twenty staff (nine full time equivalents) and only two of those are full time (not me).
International youth work has been one of the highlights of the work here and I must mention Anders Munksgaard from Denmark who has been a great influence on me. I remember an early exchange over New Year in 1995 where we had groups from Russia, Ukraine, Denmark and the UK.
So what is it that keeps me going? It’s the joy of working alongside young people and seeing them develop. It’s working with a fantastic team of youth workers who are dedicated to supporting and developing the lives of young people. That is youth work and it’s great to be a part of it.
Warwickshire Association of Youth Clubs
Jubilee House, Westlea Road
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