Essays in the History of Youth and Community Work: Discovering the Past


Edited by Ruth Gilchrist, Tony Jeffs, Jean Spence and Joyce WalkerRussell House Publishing356 pagesISBN 978-1-905541-45-429.95

 

I love these books. This is the fourth to emerge from the Durham History Conference dedicated to unravelling the many past aspects of youth and community work and providing an anchor for contemporary practice. Inevitably this book is a mixed bag in terms of focus, the nature of analysis and the direction in which the reader is taken. That may be a weakness sometimes but it is the strength here: we can dwell on aspects of history, seeking to confirm or challenge our perspectives.

For my own personal reasons, I was particularly interested in the contributions by John Holmes on the development and demise of Westhill College, Filip Coussee's reflection on the "methodological turn" in youth work history rooted in the different understandings of youth held by Robert Baden-Powell and his contemporary Jozef Cardijn, and Michael Butterfield and Jean Spence's commentary on a decade of UK Youth (long before it had that name, but when it metamorphosed from Girls' Clubs to Girls' Clubs and Mixed Clubs).

These three chapters themselves reflect the mix of contributions, which range from narrative reflection to more conceptual and philosophical analysis. The chapters focus on both influential people and projects and movements such as the YMCA. They engage with the wider politics and religion that influenced the development of youth and community work.

It is not all about the UK, bringing into play an account of girls' basketball in the US and a Boys' Brigade hut in France during the First World War. A number of contributions speak to the sidelining of some of the more radical traditions in youth work.

That the book is dedicated to the memory of Bert Jones is a final bonus. Jones, who had contributed to previous collections with his writing collaborator John Rose, would be pleased to know that the honourable tradition of the history conference is being sustained without him.

 

 

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