Connor Lynch is Head of Youth Work at Unitas, Barnet Youth Zone. A member of the Senior Leadership Team, Connor leads a team of up to 70 youth workers who deliver sessions at the Youth Zone. In the latest of our youth work blog series, Connor gives us an insight into a recent week at work as a youth worker.
As a youth worker, it’s really important that we meet monthly to decide what we will be delivering in our youth zone areas for our young people. At the heart of our youth work, we listen to our members and priortise what they want in sessions. In addition, we plan our sessions in response to what our youth workers tell us; this may be in relation to the challenges our young people are facing. By responding to what we have learnt about the lives of our young people, we can ensure that we are offering the most appropriate support to our members.
Recently, we have learned that many of our members are dealing with bullying in school. This is particularly affecting our junior members. As part of our youth work, we work together with schools and parents to address issues that are impacting our members, as well as working with our young people to build their self esteem and confidence.
During today’s meeting, I updated our team of youth workers, ensuring that they knew what was coming up and creating the opportunity to discuss and amend our plans. By working together and responding to information, our youth work is as effective as it can be.
Tonight was our Senior session and I got to see brilliant youth work in action. As Head of Youth Work, I don’t have many opportunities to be in session, but I always try to join at least twice a week. By spending time with our young people and our youth workers, it helps me to be a more effective leader, ensuring that the support we offer in our Youth Zones is as good as it can be. Working in youth work is all about the young people we support and I love spending time with our members – it always puts a smile on my face and reminds me why I became a youth worker.
Empowering our sessional leads is also really important; I always make sure that I am available when they need me, whilst giving them the freedom to lead and conduct their incredible work. Tonight, even though I was (once again) challenged and beaten at chess by one of our members, I left work feeling very lucky to have a job in youth work.
Today, I worked on a letter to our local NHS and Mental Health Trust. Young people’s mental health is a big concern of mine, and as youth workers we are limited in what we can say or offer young people who are struggling; therefore, my aim is to link up with local services so we can develop a better referral process. I’m co-writing the letter with a member who’s had challenges with their mental health and is keen to use their frustrations with the system for good by sharing their reality with the decision makers. By encouraging our members to get involved, we are motivating them to speak up, try and effect change and to believe in themselves.
Wednesday is our busiest night for junior members, and we had over 140 young people in the building tonight. In response to the bullying issues we’ve seen, our brilliant Junior Session Lead, Louise Adu-Pomaah, started ‘no phone’ Wednesdays. Members are invited to sign their phone in at the start of session -it isn’t mandatory, but our team actively encourage members to spend time away from their phones, and it’s been a huge success so far. This has really supported communication and allowed our youth workers to support our members more effectively.
Throughout the summer, as part of our youth work, we run junior and inclusion Holiday Clubs. It’s incredibly hard for the families we work with to find affordable activities during school holidays, and at £10 per day, our clubs are massively discounted compared to other providers. Even so, some struggle to pay, so we subsidise many families, on top of offering 700 free places, thanks to the Holiday Activates and Food programme.
Almost as soon as Holiday Club ended, it was time for tonight’s junior session. Every Thursday, a different staff member joins in at the Training Kitchen to cook something they enjoy with a young person. This week was my turn, and we made banana bread; I made the first loaf to demonstrate the recipe, and then our young people had 30 seconds to memorise the recipe before recreating it – they did a brilliant job and made a better one than I did! This was just another session that reminded me how much I love working in youth work and how brilliant our young people are. Who knew that making banana bread would be part of my role as a youth worker!
It’s Seniors tonight and before every session, we have a team briefing, which sets the tone for the night ahead. Everyone in the building comes together, and we allocate roles and responsibilities, cover safeguarding concerns, and share staff updates. I tasked session leads to make briefings as interactive as possible, and tonight’s was brilliant. As a result, the energy in the building was great, though there was friendly competition that turned into friction on the basketball court. On the whole our young people had a fun night.
Today was a learning day, and I travelled to Warrington Youth Zone for the Talent Academy’s (OnSide’s training and development offer) Level Two Diploma in Youth Work. I’m very big on personal development; in the ever evolving world of youth work and the changing experiences that young people have in life, I believe it is so important that I and my team of youth workers stay abreast of the challenges and issues that young people are facing. By engaging in personal development I am able to support my team of youth workers in the best possible way – happy youth workers mean happy young people.
We had an interactive session with lots of time for discussion. Unitas is part of the OnSide Network, and whilst they are based on the same model, each Youth Zone is unique. I value having the chance to share best practice with other Heads of Youth Work, taking those learnings to deliver the best support possible for our young people and youth workers alike. Whilst in Warrington, I caught up with their Head of Youth Work, Tom. Warrington Youth Zone is the newest in the Network and being new to the Head of Youth Work role, I found it helpful to hear and learn about Tom’s experience. Every experience that I have working in youth work and leadership is an important learning opportunity.
On top of the Level Two Diploma in Youth Work, I’m doing the Talent Academy’s Advanced People Management Programme. Tomorrow, I’ll be heading to HideOut, East Manchester Youth Zone, for the next course module.
It’s been a busy week but a great one, all the same. Like any role, a job in youth work comes with its challenges: one of the key challenges I face, which I am sure those working in the sector can relate to is not being able to leave my concerns at work. The reality is, when you work with vulnerable young people, you take those worries home. Recently, a young person I previously worked with moved from the area due to safety issues. When they came to Unitas, they benefited from our support and positive influences, support that helped keep them from getting involved in gangs. Now they can’t attend and don’t have access to a youth club or a youth worker in their new area and I worry about how this is going to impact them.
As a youth worker, there will always be young people that stay with you and play on your mind – this can make the job really tough, especially when you realise that you can’t help everyone. At the same time, the rewards from working in youth work are second to none. Nothing beats knowing you’re making a difference in young people’s lives.