Detached Youth Work and Community Involvement: Developing Networks that Work

Defining community can be problematic; issues surrounding the interpretation of people’s perceptions of community is where practice should begin. Identifying the wider context of how people view their interaction in local life.

This post will identify, compare and contrast the features of a community of interest and how by working with groups you can define views and intentions of community.

Anthony Cohen (1985) suggests that the notion of community can be seen as a symbolic construct. That is, awareness of community is dependent on people’s perception of meaning and identity in the social world of its members.

This is explained through further research for this post and a range of methods and approaches used to identify effective ways of engaging with or within communities. The investigative inquiry will inform on effective practice so that young people and wider social networks can develop ways of working together. To achieve the understanding needed with different groups, so that this form of work with young people can bridge generational frustrations and gaps to produce communities of meaning and invested interest.

When operating within a geographical area and working with young people engaging in a community of interest. As a Professional Youth Work you need to be able to facilitate not only young people’s needs but the needs of the wider interest group so that good practice examples can be explored.

The evaluation process will inform how the identity of young people within this community of faith, place or interest, influenced the methods used to construct communicative channels, which enabled the active participation of all the members involved in the community of interest.

Settings and Context:

Young people approached detached youth workers with an idea; Pierson (2008: 130) illustrates the effectiveness of detached youth work in contacting and building relationships with young people, which for this post, are usually in a community or alternative centre context.

After a period of time where trust and positive association had been developed, young people explained about their interest and ideas. They wanted to put on a community event, so that they could showcase their talents but not get moved on gathering together. Through these discussion and identified problematic views of young people in the area. Detached youth workers identified that there needed to be some work developed, to incorporate intergenerational work, which would support positive images of young people.

The young people along with detached youth workers support, (with workers using a community development / practice model) (discussed further by Pierson, 2008; Banks et al 2003; Deer Richardson and Wolfe, 2001; Freeman, 1999; Sutton, 1994) set about constructing the platform needed for young people to be able to develop their idea. This meant, that young people would need to involve and engage with other residents and wider services/agencies to help plan, support and organising their ‘community’ day. This allowed for other communities of interest to become involved, Cohen (1982; 1985) recognise that interest formed, can become as well as a community of interest, it can form a community of meaning for those involved, due to the interest generated. Bott (1957) interprets this to be, away of social relationships being maintained. In this case, enabling intergenerational understanding with all parties involved.

As the group where interested in gaining additional support, we approached the local community centre, to see if there was any space available for holding meetings. The young people intended to hold the planning sessions there where they could bring additional groups or services along to support and identify any concerns.

Young people also sent out invitations in the local paper to residents to get involved in the organisation of the day and to help run stalls. Through identifying a social capital approach at a local area, we managed to get the community centre free of charge for the period of time needed and from the news paper articles we had managed to engage seven residents willing to offer their services and support to young people, to develop the ‘community event’ further.

By bringing all people together who had an invested interest, the group started to form a combined purpose, Sutton (1994: 159) explains this by illustrating that people assess the benefits and cost to themselves before engaging in the group or focused interest.

Through this illustration you can imply that those interested have made a decision, a mental judgement, to be involved.

Practitioners can start to understand about the status young people have. About informing communities of interest and how this status can impact on young people’s social interaction within that community. Things like,

• Confidence or self-esteem;

• Motivation and inspiration;

• Self-determination, autonomy and self-control;

• Social confidence and interpersonal skills.

All have significance in how young people engage in wider groups or communities of interest, meaning and therefore purpose. Through developing young people’s interests, enabling young people to communicate these interests and by playing an active part in the developments. Supported a personal and collective attitudinal change with young people, believing they could achieve what they set out to. It also developed the platform needed for young people to gain support from wider agencies for the event.

Throughout the stages of planning, reflection was a tool used so that the members group could identify areas of support, responsibility and accountability. During this process we also needed to consider how young people had been given the opportunity to express their interest, which would create an environment of active ‘personhood’ as discussed by Faulks (2000: 140-141) and the impact this had on young people to build ‘social capital’’. and how a community of interest enabled young people to be supported and not hindered to achieve their aims.

Methods and Approaches – Brief Planning Overview Practitioner Perspective:

Session one,

Tuckman and Jenson (1977) work explains the purpose of this stage of development and suggest it should be about clarifying roles, goals, responsibilities and the procedures that are relevant to the group work process.

Within this session the community of interest draw up a starting programme and identified some activities for the day. Also the local Councillor attended to give his support for the Event and the group.

Field, (2003) cited by Batsleer (2007:150-151) illustrates a model of community cohesion, which draws on five distinct methods that aid in building social capital and social cohesion. These are the common values, social order, social solidarity, social networks and identity needed in each other if actions are to be achieved. Butcher (1993, 14-17) identifies that this happens when individuals start to communicate their need to operate in the social world, so that they can achieve aims and objectives that normally they would not be able to do without support.

Through the discussion that had taken place by the end of the session we had some ideas that would need finalising as the planning process continued, but we now had a good sense of identity and interest with those engaged with the community event. This was enabling young people to communicate their interests with all involved and to start to rise the profile of young people

Session two,

Tuckman and Jensen (1977) advise that within this stage of group conduct, members of the group need to sort out issues successfully by listening to other member’s problems, recognise all points of view and encourage one another to work towards shared goals.

The members group agreed on the aims for the meeting and supported each other to identify all points of view within the group.

The collective interest was to raise money for the Children’s ward but also enable young people to show-off their talents. Freeman et al (19999: 66-67) continues to discuss the significance of young people’s participation and how young people and adults view things differently but are concerned about the same things. Facilitating this, the group continued to develop a plan, e.g. who was doing what and when, this was an interesting process to be part of.

Youth workers facilitated this process, which is explained further by Riley cited in Deer Richardson and Wolfe (2001: 149) as the ‘stepping stones’ to the groups ‘aims’. Practitioners facilitate the identity, interest and meaning of the members group. This was achieved with young people and adult participants, using informal education techniques as described by Deer Richardson and Wolfe (2001) and Batsleer (2008) as based around the learning gained through conversation and dialogue with people that expresses their interests and concerns. Meant we where able, to keep conflict to a minimum and progress the value of working together because of the interest already identified by all those involved.

The members group collectively designed a posters and flyers, which would promote the day in the local area. At this stage the practitioner still had an amount of power and energy that the group was dependant on. Banks et al (2003: 16) suggests that through forming a community of practice, a community of action will be generated after time, because there where now some sheared values and interest of all those involved, which had been produced to inform the identity of the members group. Overtime each session created more and more invested interest and trust in each other to achieve the groups aims for the following week (great being part of the process).

Session three,

Tuckman and Jensen (1977) indicate that at this stage in the group process the group needed to establish some norms that are conducive to its success.

Young people and residents discussed about risk assessments, one young person said that he would undertake the risk assessments, individuals where starting to take responsibility for the progression of the community event. The active participation of young people in undertaking the risk assessment gave us the opportunity to discuss the dangers that could arise and to produce a dialogue, which Batsleer (2008: 7) interprets this as ‘a vehicle of enquiry’ that has effective recognition of ‘conversations not monologue’. This process views young people as active agents in the process and not as passive recipients of information.

At this point everyone was more at ease and conversations between members of the group were positive, which was enabling quality dialogue to be produced about the community event.

We also discussed the idea of having T-shirts designed for the day and the cost to the group. Detached youth workers said ‘they would ask if there was any summer activity money available’ and pass this information back to the group next time. Young people said they would develop the design for T-shirts and bring it with them to the next session. Detached youth workers would also explore the possibility of other partners attending to help the young people out with the risk assessments.

Session four,

A member of  the Borough Council, attended to talk to the group about their risk assessments. The young people who needed to be there didn’t attend but had sent the risk assessment, which he had been done earlier that week. Representative from the council viewed the risk assessment and gave constructive feedback for additional information. Detached youth worker to meet up with young person and go over the additional info needed.

Youth workers gave the group information about the money for T-shirts, we had managed to get £100 from the summer programme budget to get the T-shirts printed. The design for the T-shirts still needed to be finalised but this was to be followed up with a couple of the young people later that night. The group felt that this would give them a clear identity on the day and be easier to sign-post people towards members of the group. Erikson (1968) suggests that,

‘identity represents a sense of self that includes a conscious sense of one’s individual uniqueness and a sense of solidarity with a group’s ideals’.    

(cited by Young, 2006: 34)

The members group felt that this would build an atmosphere and trust in those involved and the residents visiting the event, which would illustrate a clear collective identity on the day of the community event.

Session five,

Young people had reflected on last week and identified that they needed to keep on track and be more involved, Dewey (1961) cited by Young (2006: 78) illustrates this as part of the youth work process, which encourages relative behaviours. Young people had recognised that they needed to be more active in the design of the event and keep on track so that it produced the outcomes young people where looking for.  Some would discuss this as social entropy, the energy put into a system to maintain its structure (Bailey, K.D. 1990).

We set out clear responsibilities for everyone to keep too and participants went away with actions for the following week, which would need to be carried out.

The group asked for another press release to be sent out and flyers, T-shirts, posters etc would be ready for next week, which detached youth workers would facilitate for the group. Detached youth workers where also going to ask the local radio station to come along and support the group.

Session six,

K Fm attended the meeting to offer the use of a stage, sound system and a generator for the day. The group agreed that this would be a really useful offer. This extended the social capital/networks of the group and energised the group further. Pierson (2008:8) suggest that this is due to the elements that people have in common. By interacting within the community of interest as a practitioner Pierson (2008: 72) emphasises that the practitioner can facilitate and draw out the knowledge, motivations and standpoints of the community. In this case allowed the interest generated to build social networks, which had developed good community practice. This approach also development and extended young peoples, social capital and networks within their geographical area.

Session seven,

Katzenbach and Smith (1993) suggest that this stage is the time of the ‘Real Team’, a small number of people with complementary skills, who are committed to a common purpose, performance, goals and an approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.

The group needed resources for the day and managed to borrow tables and chairs from community centre. One young person offered storage at his house and this was agreed.

A group member informed the meeting that the local supermarkets had given the group £30 worth of voucher, which would be used for drinks and other resources; she would collect vouchers and purchase what was needed.

Mittelmark (1999: 19) interprets the common aspects that all community practice models have and suggests five processes to encourage,

  • ‘emphasises the participation of people in their own development (as opposed to the ‘client status’)
  • recognises and uses people’s assets (as opposed to attending mainly to their problems and limitations)
  • encourages the participation of people in the generation of information about community needs and assets (as opposed to research controlled by professionals)
  • empower people to make choices (as opposed to the management of people by institutional power)
  • involves people in the political process that affects their lives (as opposed to nonparticipation)’ 

(cited by Pierson, 2008: 29)

By using youth work and community practice techniques and principles along side the group. The community of interest started to become real in terms of perceptions, due to members starting to take away power form practitioners, and becoming empowered to take things forward, (as illustrated by Thompson, 2002), as the responsibility of the practitioners were now less prominent within the community of interest. The group had agreed responsibilities for their actions and deadlines and where actively producing additional resources and actions by themselves.

The day of the Event, 

Tuckman and Jensen (1977) propose that this stage is about how the group are co-operating to achieve its goals.

Young people took charge of their areas of responsibility and co-ordinated and managed these areas throughout the event.

K FM loaned their equipment to young people and young people organised and ran the music part of the day with vary limited support from K FM or detached youth workers. They had put together a programme of activities all with distinct time frames for their performances. This went really well and at the point of the open mic session, other young people from the audience were asked to take part and perform and join the community of interest that had been generated.

This really gave young people, who had not been involved in the planning of the event a chance to showcase their talents.

Through out the day, young people continued to be active agents of the community of interest and one resident approached and said,

I’ve have been on the estate for thirteen years and this is the first time something like this has happened, young people should be really proud with what they have achieved’.

The day was a great success and at the end of it young people stayed and clear away the equipment and rubbish left. Local shop keeper came out to congratulate the group and said that he would give a sum of money because of their efforts. The event generated interest on the estate and over 200 residents turned out to give their support.

We agreed to meet for an evaluation session where would could reflect on what had been achieved and what still needed to be done in the area.

Evaluation session: Group session with those involved in the community event

What would we change?Morestalls

Hot drinks

Flyers delivered earlier

More music

Grass cut


Ashtray bins

Try and gain more commitment fromothers/services-local councillors

What else needs to be done?        Art Project

Somewhere for young people to go

Music Project

W got talent

A music event

More community events

Youth forum

More days like that

5 A-side tournament

Sponsored events

Food eating competition

More Youth workers

Graffiti Project

Fund raiser for the children’s home

Trusted adults working with young people

What went well?Team work

Support from residents

All of it

No emergencies

Young people’s support

Good participation from all involved

Thank U’s  Young people for their conduct on the day


Young people  residents for turning up

Community Centre for their support

Thank you detached youth workers for letting us shine!

Residents that ran stalls and supported young people on the da

End Note:

Community is a hard thing to define; people’s views of community may be very different in respect of faith, place or interest. Place suggests that where I live is the community, but if people do not communicate there belonging to place how is place relevant and why should people feel attached to it. Faith could be viewed as a religious statement, but for the purpose of this process it was about the faith in people, a humanistic community of interest. Interest suggests that for a real tangibles feeling of community their needs to open dialogue of interest, meaning or purpose for it to feel real to people.

Due to undertaking a community practice / development approach with young people, it enabled young people to bridge some of the generational gaps that may not have been possible without the support of detached youth workers to advocate, support, facilitate and most of all let go at the right time so the group could take ownership of the event. The community of interest enabled young people to communicate their aims to a wider audience and build trust and social capital through improved social networks.

Although detached youth workers gave lots of support at the start of the project to initiate young people’s interests. As the interest grew, power was redistributed within the members group, with members and wider services/agencies taking lead roles in developing opportunities for the event.

The community event supported the participation of young people, which helps to raise self-esteem, strengthened relationships with peers and adults, and develop new skills and attitudes. As such, participation contributes to an individuals’ personal, social and emotional development. As well as some of the ‘hard’, practical or technical skills developed during the planning and delivery of the event (such as artistic abilities which are generally specific to an activity). Participation is strongly associated with the development of a wider range of competences and capacities, such as interpersonal and team-working skills etc.

By listening to young’s interests and encouraging their active participation, professional youth work practice, is able to develop social meaning and interest that supports collective action.

About YouthworkB98

I am a reliable professional youth worker with over 10 years experience working with young people. I work with young people to address their needs, rights, responsibilites and apirations, through innovative solution focused interventions.  I'm a social agent working with young people in the social context of the here and now. Supporting young peoples emotional, social and personal development. 
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