How an 'MP Ambassadors Scheme' led to a meeting in Westminster with 'Youth Minister' Mims Davies

“The University of Derby’s (UoD) professionally qualifying BA (Hons) Youth Work and Community Development degree is committed to living the values of partnership, collaboration and inter-professional working and it is seeing the impact of encouraging local MPs to become Ambassadors for the degree programme.

Senior Lecturer at UoD, Sarah Barley-McMullen, began the Ambassadors initiative to engage with local politicians and found an enthusiastic ally in Pauline Latham, MP for Mid-Derbyshire. With youth issues so high on the political agenda and having heard the University of Derby talk so passionately about students making a transformational impact in communities on placement, Pauline invited lecturers from the UoD to meet the Minister for Civil Society, Mims Davies, to share more about the importance of community youth work.

The meeting took place in early April and coincided with the publication of the APPG Youth Affairs report on 4th April 2019. Association Director and UoD Lecturer, Tim Howell, and Senior Lecturer Sarah Barley-McMullen, met Minister Mims Davies alongside Pauline Latham MP and National Youth Agency Chief Executive, Leigh Middleton, as the youth work sector representative.

The team were able to advocate for youth work directly to the Minister and provide further information and evidence on the contribution youth work can make to engaging all young people, as well as providing targeted support to those who are most vulnerable and in greatest need of change in their lives. The team endorsed the APPG recommendations, highlighting the potential for youth work to contribute meaningfully as an essential service within civil society.

The youth work ‘cliff edge analogy’ was used as a subject for discussion. The team asked whether, for youth work to support the health, well-being and development of young people, is it better to put a fence at the top of the cliff or a crash mat at the bottom? It was argued that both are required but that, after £750 million of youth work cuts since 2010, the fence has all but gone and the crash mat is overwhelmed by the removal of the (preventative) fence offered by universal youth services.  Leaving the remaining services stretched to address the significant rise in youth mental health, youth violence, criminal gangs and incidents of child sexual exploitation.

The meeting at Westminster focussed on the unique skillset of professionally qualified youth workers, their role within communities, their recognition and potential. It was recognised that the youth work sector has a broad range of practitioners from untrained community volunteers to professionally qualified graduates. It was argued that this range of personnel requires a workforce strategy that equips local people to work safely through a sustainable level of training; while professional graduates are supported to lead, co-ordinate and oversee the complexities of community-based youth work. The Minister seemed particularly receptive to restoring the infrastructure for community-based youth work, including youth, community and Surestart centres.

The team noted the receptiveness of the Minister to the recommendations from the APPG and made a strong plea for a more specific youth policy from government to shape, guide and co-ordinate practice; something that has been absent since ‘Positive for Youth’ was published by the DfE in 2011. This discussion also touched on the function of the National Citizenship Service, the delivery of PHSE in schools and integration of national initiatives targeted at young people. Mims Davis was very interested in what the academic team had to say and, in follow up, has asked us to provide a wish list for a statutory youth service to help inform her proposals for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport in the next government spending review.

Following the meeting, Senior Lecturer at UoD, Sarah Barley-McMullen enthused: “We are thrilled to have been given this opportunity to speak with Mims Davis. We are hoping this meeting has sown seeds and is the start of an ongoing conversation and relationship to bring about sustained change for youth work services - locally, regionally and nationally.”

In summing up, this opportunity was made possible from the commitment of one of our local youth work ambassadors, Pauline Latham MP. It demonstrates the value in engaging locally with Members of Parliament that represent the areas in which our students are placed with youth work agencies. It has helped to advance dialogue and education about youth work practice and the values that underpin our profession. As a process, it has restored my hope that politicians are seeking ways to better understand young people and to value their place in society; to affirm they are not a problem to solve but an asset to build on and a potential to realise. There is still much work to be done, but there is an increasing awareness of the role and place of professionally trained youth workers in securing a meaningful place for young people today and in building a more positive future.”