SOAPBOX: Bring together youth and the rest of the community

| 26 February 2003

The current fashionable policy phrase is community cohesion: how disparate groups of people can live together in harmony.

But has the split during the past 20 years, separating youth work from community work, inadvertently contributed to tensions at community level?

A form of liberalism has operated to give young people "what they want". Of course, if asked in a most basic way if they would like a place to meet, most young people will say yes. But what if they were asked how they thought the hostility from adults could be lessened?

The truth is that getting different social groups to share space requires hard work and negotiation. In many ways, it is easier for community centres to have a youth wing with a separate entrance or even separate premises.

But will this reinforce the obsession with endlessly setting up special interest groups on separate tracks?

There are some attempts at hybrid provision, and the degree of separation of youth work and community work varies widely. One such attempt is a programme run under the Connexions banner by the Community Development Foundation and the Community Education Development Centre. This three-year programme, part of the Neighbourhood Support Fund, supports more than 500 community groups in England in working with young people in a way that combines youth work and community development.

The programme has a dual purpose. First, it seeks to re-integrate young people who are not in education, training or employment into the life of their local community, and from there back into formal provision. Second, it builds up the willingness and capacity of community groups to work with those excluded young people. Mixed age activity was encouraged.

Many of the activities have direct benefit to the local community. This leads to young people being seen as an asset to the community rather than a problem. The young people found the community-based approach to be accessible, fitting their needs, giving them respect and providing a bridge back into the system. It is time for youth and community work to come together.

Neighbourhood Support Fund, www.nsfund.org.uk

Alison West, chief executive, Community Development Foundation

Got something to get off your chest? If you work with young people or are a young person with something to say about public policy and services, email stovin.hayter@haynet.com or call 020 8267 4767.

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