Our second major influence was Barran Hulme. He ran a Detached Youth Project over 10 years ago. Detached projects are now considered the cutting edge of youth work. The idea is that you go around the street and find young people (as opposed to generic youth work where you base yourself in youth clubs). You have no building in particular. You set up projects outside of the office. You meet young people in their environment. It makes it easier to connect with them, specially the hard to reach. You get to know stuff which working in a youth club you just wouldn’t have done. Clubs are more expensive; you tend to become the defender of the building rather than the worker with youth. And you can’t pick your youth club up and take it to another estate.
The big benefit is that I’ve been able to work across several estates. Where we used to have a gang problem, I’ve been able to help because I am not associated with one estate. In the minds of the kids I work with, I am their youth worker. You then gradually introduce them to the fact that you work with other kids as well – because they are territorial. It took me at least 18 months before I got a real handle on it here. This is why I say that national level initiatives are no good. What passes as detached work here does not pass as detached work in Liverpool or Portsmouth. You have different geographies and different histories. What’s cool and acceptable amongst your kids is different for theirs. This all makes for very, very different situations.
“Are you still there there?”
Our continuity is critical – we’re here all the time, we can adapt to the times, we are seen as consistent with the young people. I now have long term connections to people’s families. People phone me and say, “Shaun, are you still here? Are you still there there?”. That’s a Jamaican term. I say, ‘yeah’ and they say, “boy you are always here, how long have you been here?” It gives us a weight in the community and as a set of workers we are like elders in the community. Even the police have more respect for us because we’ve been here for a time. I have been here longer than the four top policemen. They have asked me about the history of the area. To be continually setting up is a disaster. Funding which is year on year is a massive problem. Luckily for me the consortia really fought for the money to fund this project for the long term. Your effectiveness doesn’t begin until you get to the people who are hard to reach. You can have a whole year of not really achieving anything, then all of a sudden, it explodes.
The fact that I live here on the estate like everyone else gives me more weight too. As a local I can go into the places which people from outside consider dangerous. When I sit in meetings I have a number of caps on. I am a resident so I can talk from their point of view, I can tell you exactly how we feel about the big group of kids on our estate. I’m a youth worker so I can talk from their point of view. Also when I go and ask other residents there’s no hiding of the truth because I am one of them, in that sense we are from the same family, we speak freely. It pays dividends. It doesn’t have to be that way but it more than helps. We are seen as specialists in people who are hard to reach. Drugs and crime are our theme. But latterly it’s also about antisocial behaviour, teenage pregnancy and public health as well.
With my connections to so many people’s children, uncles, sisters and mothers I can get to deal with older siblings. It’s very hard to introduce yourself to established criminal adults, they just don’t want to know, for obvious reasons, but when you are involved with their younger brother who will be your friend just to go gokarting – it makes your entrance far easier. The project’s major result to the community is crime reduction and drug use reduction. A lot of people on our programme reduce their use and a great deal stop all together and we have been dealing with crack addicts at the extreme end of the drug culture, who were in horrific situations, into some evil stuff and not particularly trusting. In the last eight to ten months we have also been very successful in finding young people work.
Our main continuity since we set up is our gym club. We have set times to take our clients at a local gym. For four years it has never stopped. We took it over from a local Detached Youth Project and we extended our age group up to 25 years old. People who I have dealt with years ago now say to me – “what, you guys are still in the gym?” And I say yes. The tough part is keeping the gym manager happy with the sort of characters we bring in who she might not like the look of. There are always two of us there, she insists on us having two members of staff there. But we make it work because we make it part of our social education of people who wouldn’t normally come into a gym. Members of the gym project receive an induction where we explain informally what we hope to achieve with them. Membership for any individual is only three months, pending a review. Everything is designed to make people move forward. They learn to deal with members of the public, with professional sounding ordinary people. One of the problems of being from a “bad area” is that you only ever deal with people of your own kind – you can’t move on.
The gym club: This has attracted people who smoke crack and are trying to get away from it. The first thing they think, “oh my god I have lost weight – look at the condition I’m in”. Also boys like to pump iron. In there is where we start to have relationships and where people really begin to trust you and you can ask questions and I can suggest to them that I write them a care plan to help them cut down. Then with some of the boys who turn up I can say why aren’t you at school, it’s three o’clock. We have always addressed health issues but now we use the gym to steer people in the direction of work or training to help with their recovery. The gym is oversubscribed, so we have added an additional session to our programme. We run this in the evening to attract a different crowd.
The Job Club
Our Job Club is based on the fact we give people back their respect. For example we gave boys on one estate, where we’d been dealing with a difficult situation, CBT licences, a little moped licence, so they could do pizza deliveries. It was about decriminalising what they were doing and giving them a link to the wider society. I found it transformed the young people involved. It was the first time they had anything in the way of a qualification. For some kids, it was the first thing they’d actually owned. Then the residents association from another estate called me and asked me to do it for them. The people appreciated it and it really worked. Then we ran a project with them to help the kids build and repair their mopeds. Someone very civic minded who runs a mechanic garage who saw this took on two or three of the young people from that project. He trained them to be mechanics.
Few have any formal qualifications. Many of them have a criminal record. Our role is to help them write a CV or fill in application forms. We also help them with the use of the phone, the internet, newspapers – how to find out what jobs they can seek. We give them pep talks about the realities, about not giving up when they don’t get results. We encourage as many as we can to enter training – vocational training courses or education entry. We will support them all the way through their course, with the cost of books, other study materials, access to a computer, sometimes with the cost of the course itself. We also support them from lapsing into their drug use.
Over the past six months we have been running an ‘ensured job scheme’ in conjunction with FPH Electrical and Civil Engineering, a firm which employs one of our ex clients who is now a site foreman. He approached us to work in partnership with them as they had a shortage of qualified workers and we had the manpower. A plan was drawn up with the firm to put 13 of our more prolific offenders through the PTS (Personal Track Safety) training and then into employment with them. The contract with the participants was attendance of our Job Club for three months to ensure they were clear of drug use and prepared for work. The first stage of the training involved a medical with a drugs test. The second stage is the safety training. If they pass that they are guaranteed a job. The project cost £3,700. For that, we rehabilitated some of our most problematic offenders, whose anti-social behaviour had been impacting on the wider community. And we reduced local unemployment. And we reduced the level of economically driven crime. Eleven of the original thirteen are now in full-time employment. It was money well spent.
The Football Club
Our football club has 60 members and is growing. It has five coaches, all local men from the area. It is a project in its own right. It acts as a feeder to our drug work. I needed an activity people could be involved in, and also an activity I could use to carry across the ideas that the project wants to deliver for young people. So I happened upon football because people were always asking me to help them with their football teams and they were talking about the large amount of people who they get involved; and how it always breaks down because they can’t fund it.
The team must become a club. The elder boys in the team must be responsible for the younger boys. The team must talk about responsibility for other members in it. I would enforce simple rules which also would facilitate the teams’ feeling of ownership of their club. Rule one: all team members have to be responsible for themselves. If they got arrested, they could not play. They could only attend training. If they got charged they have to come and see one of us before they could attend training or play. If they are not attending school we want to know why. If you can’t go to school you can’t play football – that’s our rule. Rule two: if you are unemployed, you must talk to the coach or us about your next forward step, whether that be education, whether that be training. Rule three: they have to pay their own fines for fouling on the pitch, bad language to referees and stuff. It has worked. Since we started we have had only five fines and that is out of 60 people who play regularly and that’s because they feel they own the club. It is more than football. It is about respect, self-respect and trust. That is our master plan. But they don’t know that. It is open to everyone.
The liberal, namby pamby approach that they’re always right, you mustn’t offend anybody, they are only learning, is nonsense. If they don’t learn the full picture, if they only remember only what suits them, they don’t progress. We make a point of telling them the truth and we find that they grow from it. And we live by the rules we give. I live in this area and I’m known to many people here. I make a point of not being involved in anything dodgy. If the kids bring me anything to buy I tell them I can’t because I am pretty sure they have stolen it. Even if they haven’t, I say I can’t take the risk. We talk about why I think they’ve done it. And I say to them I try to live the way I teach you. I cannot tell you not to be a criminal, then help you with the proceeds and buy things from you.