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CEO Blog: Reflecting on Youth Work Week 2022

11th November 2022 by Kathryn Morley, Chief Executive, OnSide

This week we’ve been celebrating Youth Work Week 2022, a time dedicated to raising the profile of the positive impact youth workers have on young people. During last year’s Youth Work Week, we worriedly looked ahead to a post-lockdown world, concerned about the long-term impact of social distancing and isolation on young people’s mental and physical health and wellbeing.

2022 has brought additional challenges, with the cost-of-living crisis making things even harder for families living in poverty and on low incomes. We wanted to better understand how the last few years have impacted young people; the way they are spending their time outside of school, their perception of the opportunities open to them, and their awareness of services designed to support them. So we worked with YouGov to commission a new research report: Generation Isolation. The report launched earlier this week and is the biggest survey post-covid into young people’s social lives based on a survey of 5,000 young people aged 11-18.

Our research found young people are incredibly connected digitally, with high levels of online interaction. The digital skills they develop are valuable, but this comes at a cost as they are living increasingly isolated lives. 77% of young people told is they are spending most of their free time at home,  19% spend most of their free time alone, 2 in 5 don’t have opportunities to make friends  and they are struggling to socilise away from screens, gaming and streaming. This picture was reinforced by   Benji, a member at Wigan Youth Zone who powerfully shared his story with The Metro as part of our PR campaign around the report. He shared that he used to spend 10 hours a day playing console games, but that attending more sessions at his local Youth Zone has helped him feel happier and more optimistic.

The data also reenforced the proven, positive impact of youth centres on young people’s lives, enhancing their experiences and opportunities, skills and ability to overcome difficulties. Yet just 8% have access. We believe youth centres are vital hubs of connection and belonging, helping young people build the vital skills they need for adulthood with support from trusted adults. Accessing youth clubs  should be a right for every young person, and it’s clear that the need for youth work has never been more vital. It was great to see this important message featured in multiple media outlets, including BBC News and The Express.

We’re also pleased to publish our 2021/22 annual review this week – bringing to life the impact of our work across the country. Covid meant an unprecedented reduction in social interaction for us all, and it has been encouraging to see demand for Youth Zones grow amongst our members post-Covid.  This increased demand is also seen within communities, with more Local Authorities approaching us to explore developing new Youth Zones than ever before. There is real excitement and a growing movement building around our work and mission. Our Youth Zones tell us that many young people returned with greater needs than pre-Covid and its effects are still being felt. It’s clear that the support of youth workers has never been more vital.. You can read the report here.

I’d like to end Youth Work Week in the same way we started, saying thank you to everyone who makes youth work happen; youth workers, partners and back-office teams. There’s no doubt that youth work changes lives, thank you to you all for the huge part you play in making a difference to young people.

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