And as a volunteer?
Why do you want to work with children & young people? I often get asked this when I tell people about my voluntary role within The Boys’ Brigade, as they stare at me as if I have gone mad! When I then tell them that I prefer to work with 11 to 18 year olds rather than under-11’s, if they thought I wasn’t mad after the first sentence, they do after that!
It always amazes me how many people think that our work within The Boys’ Brigade on a Company night is a paid position rather than a voluntary one, even parents who have been bringing their children along for years often fall into this misconception. Even when you are part of the paid BBHQ team, being a leader within a company still falls outside of the job description and is a voluntary position. Perhaps we do need to admit to ourselves that maybe we are just a little bit mad to do what we do.
When did you get involved?
Sometimes the length of time we have been doing youth work gets forgotten. It is very easy to get lost in what we are doing without realising how long we have actually been doing it for. How many children and young people have we interacted within that time? It is probably difficult to quantify, but I feel that it would be a very crowded room if just one of our longer serving leaders, had a meeting with all the children and young people who had been influenced in some way, by their work within The Boys’ Brigade.
However, let’s try not to lose focus as we continue our work, of how long we have been working with children and young people and use that experience to support and develop younger leaders so they can engage with the next generation of young people. Even at the young(ish) age of 37, it amazes me how out of touch I can be sometimes with the 13 year olds in my own Company, such is the pace of change these days!
Who else will do it?
If we don’t work with children and young people, who else is there that will? The voluntary sector picks up 80% of youth work provision, compared with 20% provided by local councils and paid youth workers and that 20% of work uses 80% of the available budget from the Government. So not only are we working really hard at what we do, but we also provide everything on a shoestring, although quite often as we know, it is the generosity of our partner churches, individuals or people from the local community that enable us to operate and provide what is a vital service, to support the development of children and young people.
In the UK, 80% of the total budget for youth work is spent on 20% of the work
The reality is though that we seem to be getting less people willing to volunteer with us. Is this because people don’t want to volunteer at all, they don’t feel they have the skills to work with children & young people, media stereotypes that portray young people negatively or that nobody has actually personally asked them to do a specific role?
Is youth work a profession?
It is worth remembering that being a youth worker is a professional role, however we need to recognise that we are volunteers and will have had less training then a paid youth worker. However, just because we are volunteers that doesn’t mean it is a reason to not give 100% to the role we have volunteered for, nor should we run our Company in a shoddy fashion and behave unprofessionally. If one of our team isn’t performing at their best then we have a role to play to understand why, provide support and training and encourage that leader to be the best they can be, and if somebody can’t perform a role to the standard that is expected, perhaps another role might need to be found for them?
Parents bring their children along to a BB Company for their children to learn, grow and discover in a safe & fun environment that is rooted in the Christian faith and as BB leaders, we need to live up to the ever increasing expectations of parents and young people who won’t tolerate second best – and why should they? The fact that a large number of parents think we are paid is a testament to high standards that leaders to deliver week in, week out within their company and we should be recognise and find ways of thanking those leaders.
So, Why Youth Work?
To conclude, it’s time to answer the original question and I believe that the majority of youth workers out there will know why or how they became a youth worker. A large number of our volunteer leaders, including myself, were in The Boys’ Brigade as a young person and understand the value it brought to their lives as they grew up. I certainly have clearer memories of my time within The Boys’ Brigade from the age of five until I was eighteen than I do of school! Other leaders amongst us feel that their BB role is a calling and that God has provided them with the skills to be able to work with children & young people (and you do need a lot of skills)! Still more will have been parents who volunteered to help because they saw the value it added to their own child’s development.
Every one of the 557 Boys’ Brigade leaders in London will have their own unique story as to why they have taken on the role, and it’s these stories that make our leaders so passionate about what they do.
What about my story?
Well I didn’t re-join The Boys’ Brigade as a youth leader after ten years of not being involved, just because I had been part of the organisation as a young person. Although that certainly influenced the decision on which organisation I wanted to volunteer with, my story as a BB leader started in response to events that took place in London in the summer of 2011. I remember walking through deserted London streets on the way home from work at 5pm, as the media showed images of people of all ages rioting across the city, but specifically focussing on young people and reinforcing stereotypes about them. It was at that point that I decided that I wanted to make a difference and be part of something that enabled young people to have a safe place to go and be themselves. When I joined I thought it would be a couple of hours a week but soon got sucked in and ten years on, I am running the company as my “voluntary full time job, on top of my paid full time job” and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Yes, it can be stressful, it can be frustrating and it is hard work. It has caused me to laugh, cry and scream, but the reasons I go back every week and put in the hours I do to make my company a success? It’s so I can; see the smile on a young person’s face as they achieve something they never thought they would be able to; watch a child grow and develop from a five year old into an eighteen year old adult ready to take on the world; support a young people with special needs as they are accepted by the rest of the group, maybe even for the first time in their life; listen and learn from those same young people who are portrayed so negatively in the media; and most of all, I do it because I believe passionately that we should show Christian love to all our members, by providing them with a safe space for them to just be themselves and that is what makes being a youth leader, particularly with The Boys’ Brigade, so fulfilling. Oh, and I might be just a little bit mad!
If you would like to share your story with us, or create your own story by volunteering with one of our local groups, please get in touch.
Development & Support Worker (Paid)
Company Captain (Voluntary)