2 November, 2021

My Youth Work Journey

From the 1st - 7th November we're celebrating National Youth Work Week. The them this year is 'Champions of Youth Work'. We asked one of our champions, Jules, how she came to be a youth worker.

From the age of eight-years-old I was allowed to access the local youth club, primarily because my mum was a volunteer there. I remember all the fun activities we would do, the engagement of staff and the creative nature they had was unique.

Many a time we would just jump in the mini bus and head off out to the local nature park and explore the surroundings or even do a “chippie mystery shop” whereby we would go around our local area sampling the chips and rating the delicacies they had on offer. I would never have thought the “chippy mystery shop” would help me in later life, but it did, it helped to build confidence in the ability to debate and develop my listening skills and hear what other people thought and respond to this.

From the world outside youth work, a simple activity like this can get overlooked and not given the recognition that is deserves, although  once unpicked can highlight a number of different positive outcomes for the young people accessing them.

The years went by and by the time I was 13 I was helping to support a play scheme with children aged 5-9 years. Being given the responsibility of helping other workers run the arts and crafts activities, cooking and sports was rewarding and on reflection kept me on a more positive path in my life.


Arts & Crafts session at YST during half term Oct 21

Within the youth centre new opportunities were given to me, I was able to be part of the NACYP and become the under 14’s 16’s and under 19’s National Pool, Table Tennis and Badminton champion. It was also the first time the NACYP which used to be the old boys clubs allowed girls to play in such competitions, it made me feel I was breaking down barriers for other girls to get involved.

At the age of 18 I qualified as what was known then as a responsible part time worker and was given my first paid employment with Leicestershire County Council. I worked and supported a number of different groups of young people , from Junior youth sessions, young carer groups, young traveller and mental health groups. The experiences and knowledge I gained was vast at such an early age myself. It was a challenge living and working in the same area I was growing up in. Although it did however have its  advantages and enabled me to understand and recognise boundaries  early on in my career. 

When I was 19 I was one of the first people in the country to gain a national youth achievement award at platinum level, this experience was a proud one and being given the opportunity to go to London and receive my award was exciting and gave me the belief in myself to further my Youth Work career further.

At the age of 20 I decided to go and work in the summer and family camps in America. I packed my bags and off I went to explore the next adventure in my life. Working in camps that had some of the most deprived young people in America accessing them as well as young people who were in gangs was a real eye opener for me. It was an amazing experience filled with lots of laughed and joy, although some was filled with sorrow and misery as I was stood on top of the twin towers 3 days before they were hit. The devastation, heart ache and pain this event took on the young people I had been working with was shocking.

After America I applied to University to study Youth Studies to my delight and amazement I was accepted on the course, I couldn’t believe it, me, a working class village girl, who had grown up on a council estate, suffers with Dyslexia, told by a number of teachers that I wouldn’t succeed in life and marking my home work was like playing countdown, had actually got into university!

I went onto complete a BSC Youth Studies and continued my studies further by obtaining a MSC Youth and Community Development post grad. I was so chuffed with myself and had gone way beyond any expectations my school teachers had thought of me.

I completed my Master’s Degree in August 2005 and applied anywhere in the country for a youth work position, after all the world was my oyster now!  And on September 10th 2005 I had been given an interview for a Full Time Youth workers role in Coleford, Gloucestershire and was successful. I started working for Gloucestershire County Council on 25th October 2005 and have continued to be part of the changing world youth work has had within Gloucestershire for the past 16 years.

Jules receiving a YST Recognition Award from our OD, Kat Aukett

Through my whistle stop tour of my life from the age of 8 to 40 I have seen and witnessed several different changes and developments in Youth work, some good and some not so good. From “chippie mystery shopping” to international youth work experiences, fundamentally, what is key to all these interventions is the relationships youth workers can build with the young people they work with. There will never be any impact or outcomes   achieved if the relationship is poor and untrusting. The informal education and diversity that underpins and runs through the work in which youth workers deliver cannot happen if the youth worker isn’t approachable and can be adapted to the needs of the young people they work with. It has been a privilege to have been part of so many young peoples lives over the years and watching them develop and move through their personal and social transitions into dynamic young adults has been what makes youth work is all about".