Robin Lockhart from the United Kingdom supports young people, including violent offenders, and the victims of such crimes to transform their lives by helping them to understand their emotions. In this blog, he reflects on his work and being named Commonwealth Youth Worker of the Year 2016.
As an independent youth worker based in London, I have been used to a UK perspective on youth work. During my career working for charities, I have seen periods of cuts and austerity, attempts at ‘professionalisation’, and other endless changes.
Now I run my own social enterprise, Catalyst In Communities, which specialises in engaging and supporting young people and communities to become aware of their own power and ability to address and overcome the challenges they face, and a Charity called Through Unity, supporting families bereaved through homicide.
During my career I have engaged with gang members, perpetrators of crime, violent offenders, and those victimised by them, as well as those facing multiple other challenges.
Through our programmes, we enable young people to understand where their emotions truly come from and to develop approaches to life that give them the ability to make their feelings work for them, as opposed to fighting against them.
At CIC we provide access to a wide range of activities and programmes, which allow participants to freely express their emotions. We create a safe, nurturing space where participants can share and learn from each other.
Through my work, I have seen many young people become aware of their own skills, knowledge and talent and then transform, almost in an instant. One young man I worked with in 2015 was an extremely violent gang offender who blamed his rivals, his family, the government - and pretty much everyone and everything other than himself - for his state of anger, fear, shame and his resultant violence.
When this gang member finally understood that he is responsible for all of his own emotions and when he was able to view himself in a new light, he became able to manage and control his emotions – making them work for him rather than holding him back. It also became far easier for him to identify his positive skills and become more aware of his positive potential.
If you are part of what I describe as the ‘True Youth Work Tribe’ - those of us who take our profession as seriously as we take the welfare, development and nurturing of young people - you will have seen colleagues made redundant and youth centre opening hours reduced and closed – especially in the UK.
UK youth workers often talk about the difficulties of delivering a professional service to clients in ‘challenging’, ‘urban’, ‘inner-city’ or ‘deprived’ areas. Sometimes we run the risk of getting so caught up in our own little worlds that we can forget that our attitude to our work is a vital component to the positive impact we can have on young people. Sometimes we even forget that they are real people – as we become so focussed on our ‘clients’, ‘numbers’ and ‘monitoring outputs’.
During the week of 7 November 2016, during Youth Work Week, I had an amazing experience, which opened my eyes to some of the challenges which youth workers in other countries face.
The Commonwealth Secretariat brought me together with youth workers from other Commonwealth countries who operate in far more challenging environments than you could ever find in the UK.
I was privileged to be able to hear the views of other members of the ‘True Youth Work Tribe’ from Kenya, Belize, Tonga, Pakistan, Jamaica, Malta, and Uganda. What I heard from them warmed my heart.
For example, Eric Nehemiah, the co-founder of Mathare Foundation, who was named Commonwealth Youth Worker of the Year for Africa, works in a slum where 500,000 people live without decent housing, sanitation or any real government support. And yet Eric and his colleagues manage to deliver effective and impactful projects for young people consistently, without viewing the ‘clients’ as ‘challenging’.
The positive outlook that all the finalists brought to Youth Work Week was inspiring and humbling in equal measure.
During my year of holding the title of Commonwealth Youth Worker of the Year, I aim to utilise the opportunity that my ties to the Commonwealth bring and to celebrate the contribution of my peers, everywhere, to improving the lives of young people.
If you are part of the ‘True Youth Work Tribe’ and are looking to widen your view of youth work, please get in touch. It is more important now than ever before that those working in our profession collaborate to truly succeed in legitimising this job we call youth work.
Check out some of our work here:
Robin Lockhart, Director of Catalyst In Communities, firstname.lastname@example.org
Find out more about the Commonwealth Secretariat’s support to the youth work sector: http://thecommonwealth.org/youth-work