Youth Work – Moving Past Lockdown

Its National Youth Work week and this year Youth Work has a lot to celebrate!  Ok, so there’s been this world-wide pandemic going on (and an election apparently), but through it all there’s also been Youth Work. 

I have just attended Scotland’s National Youth Work Conference hosted by YouthLink Scotland and although it was yet another digital gathering the faces I could see were enthusiastic, resilient and smiling!  During lockdown Youth Workers were able to stand out in communities and do what Youth Workers do best – listen, support, learn and respond.  The Voluntary Sector in the Highlands has been incredible and continues to be incredible with little or no recognition and in many areas without the emergency response of voluntary youth workers and community volunteers there would have been no available response.

But this year has been more than a virus ridden year to put to the back of the cupboard and forget – much more …

Scotland is leading the way in the UK by incorporating the UNCRC into Scots law – this shows Nationally our commitment to young peoples rights, I am proud to have supported young people to be a part of that process over the last year.  And what a step forward that is to have people in power can be held to account for every decision they make that effects young people.  

The Youth Guarantee may be as a result of covid, but it roots are well developed!  More recognition that in Scotland we have young people are our heart and really do care about what kind of future we leave for them.

Youth Work has been working alongside formal educators much more equally to support young people and has taken huge steps this year to be Nationally recognised to have a big part to play in closing the poverty related attainment gap in Scotland.

“Youth work complements the formal curriculum, creating more flexibility and choice for young people and enabling their development as confident, successful learners.”

– Quote from YouthLink Scotland’s case study report ‘Youth Work’s Contribution to the Scottish Attainment Challenge

National funders are recognising the value in supporting grass roots, community based, partnership work and with that comes an exciting opportunity for Voluntary, Community based Youth Work to grow and develop where it hasn’t been able to.

And that’s just a few of the changes nationally that mean Community Based Youth Work is raising its profile and making a difference.  Locally we have seen amazing work with amazing young people, we’ve mentioned a few in previous blogs so please go and have a read, there really is inspiring work going on.  

There are so many good news stories, but my all-time favourite Youth Work story from underdog to hero is the story of The Place in Alness.  Left homeless and destitute they have turned their story into one of being able to deliver some of the best and most beautiful Youth Work in the Highlands … and arguable in Scotland.  They have been visionary in manoeuvring themselves during, even without covid, the most difficult time they have faced and, when many may have given up, what has happened has meant that young people in their area have been supported, have been volunteering, have had many more opportunities to try new experiences,  but above that have been able to have FUN!  Their story is incredible and it isn’t done – you can read about it and keep up-to-date with what they are up to on their facebook page and website – and I do urge you to!

The Field, The Places new home in Alness looking beautiful!

“The future is bright …. The future is Youth Work”

There have been a whole load of studies done this year and whether it be because of covid or not the evidence shows that mental health is a main concern of a high percentage of young people.  Youth Workers have their work cut out for them, but changes in the way that Youth Work is being viewed by decision makers mean that slowly it is being recognised that the ‘top-down’ nature of the way work with young people has been done in the past needs to be different.  A recognition of the importance of partnership, real evidence-able community engagement and move towards fairer distribution of resources means that Community based Youth Work in the voluntary sector will be able to be seen as leaders and experts in what it is best at.   The future isn’t going to be easy, but lets be honest, the past wasn’t easy either!

It doesn’t take big statements or headlines to make a difference, in fact in many cases quite the opposite.  In my complicated mind, Youth Work works a bit like a sound technician – the show will go on without them but it just won’t be the same.  Youth Work changes lives!

“Youth Work has enabled me to manage with issues in life better”

– Young person, 16yrs

Whatever is going on in the world there will always be young people, and that means that there will always be a need for youth workers to stand up for their rights, walk with them when they need it and shout with them when their voices aren’t loud enough! 

Go Youth Work!   

Introvert or Extrovert – What shade are you?

The following will discuss introvertedness and the feelings some introverts possess about social contact in correlation with the lockdown restrictions and the difficulties created in youth work by this. These accounts also share how lockdown may have lessened the social stresses of introverts. The first account is from a young person while the second is written by a youth worker.  Both share their views and experiences on the matter. 


Part of the scientific definition of Adolescence – it is a time “when young people want to spend more time with their friends than their family”.  That is quoted from an article about the effects of social distancing on young people’s lives and social abilities, on the BBC – .  Whoever created this definition has clearly never encountered an introvert.  While those that are more socially inclined are struggling with the current restrictions, the antisocial ones are enjoying the peace and lack of obligation to socialise.  We now have a very good reason to be left alone.  Whilst I cannot speak for all introverts, largely because we don’t speak to each other, it has been pleasant being free of the weight of conversations and other aspects of social contact.

The peace and tranquility of a walk in the times of social distancing and isolation

However, when the current restrictions are lifted it is likely that there will be a great tide of social obligation and expectation.  And this may cause antisocial people a great amount of stress as we are expected to see person after person and talk seemingly for decades.  While lockdown will remain an issue for some time eventually it will subside back into the general avoidance of socialisation except for when we can’t think of a good excuse.

Written by ‘Unknown Young Person’


There are a lot of people across the world at the moment who are craving social contact, missing gathering together, celebrating, making noise, laughing loud and generally making merry!  Lockdown is hard on those people, forcing them to live in their own company, use digital tech to meet up with friends and family and having to stay 2m apart even when they do go out for daily exercise or weekly hunting trips to the supermarket.  There are adverts on TV showing an alternative way of communicating to physical-social meetings but always mentioning that it is not quite as good as the real thing.  From the young to the old people all over the place miss other people.  They are not all extroverts but in general extroverts make up a majority of this group. 

There are another group of people.  This group can be found, if you are quiet and don’t scare them off, in small groups of friends, playing computer games, reading and enjoying their own company.  They get anxious when they know they have to attend a social event and sometimes go to extreme measures to avoid the stress of it.  Sometimes the anxiety starts days, weeks or months before they have to attend a gathering and the pressure of being around people who talk about looking forward to going ‘out’ can be crippling when you just want to curl up and sleep through it.  This group of people in general have found lockdown a relief from those stresses.  Introverts (again I generalise), seem to have found lockdown easier than their extroverted brothers and sisters, and in some cases a relief. 

My outer introvert feels most comfortable participating in calm alone tasks – like this, a tile making session at The Clay Studio back in summer 2019.

I am an extroverted-introvert (yeah, go figure!).  The confusion that this combination of personality traits causes me is mind boggling, really it is!  I feel the crippling anxiety during the run up to a big night out or meal for at least a week in advance.  I don’t sleep, get angry and my mind frantically works to find me a reason not to go (a good one so I don’t look silly … again).  On the occasions that I don’t manage to get out of it and have to turn up, my inner extrovert appears and I am full of life, loud, confident, happy and leave saying to everyone “Can’t wait until next time!”.  Just so you know the same happens next time!  Lockdown for me personally has been a welcome relief from social situations.  I love it and have never felt so calm and in touch with myself.

Ok, here comes the Youth Work bit I promise ….   

I have felt ‘sick’ for days before going to a residential, before running a session with Young People I have never met (even sometimes with young people I have met) and before attending meetings with more than 2 people!  Those are the times I really need my extrovert, but where has she gone?  How do you get back in touch with the extrovert after lockdown?  How do we support young people to do this? (answers on a postcard …)    

Possibly one of the last photographed sightings of my inner-extrovert at Fledgling Evolution in November 2018!

As we move from a time where we have been under the most control, that certainly I have experienced in my life, into a new world I think it is more important than ever to listen to the people around us.  Youth Workers have always listened and responded to the needs of young people, after all the world will be there’s once we have done ruining it.  We should be extra sensitive to the needs of the young people we work with and support them gently to navigate the new world and in turn young people can teach us how to we can work together and better understand their needs and troubles to enable us to provide the highest quality of support possible.  It is a partnership, a symbiotic relationship where we as grown ups (I would dispute this in some cases) sometimes think they need to ‘take the bull by the horns’ and ‘power on’ and ‘take charge’ of things, but actually we need each other and we learn from each other.  It is young people who need a world to suit them and they all need the opportunity to find or re-find their inner extrovert if they want to, so that they can walk confidently into their world. 

So I will hunt down my inner extrovert and force her to show her face every so often because Youth Workers across the globe have a responsibility to shout about the issues that young people face on their behalf, because introvert or not, that is what we do! – I’m just going to take a few deep breaths in a dark corner to relax now!7

Written by Rhiannon, Youth Worker

These 2 statements were written by a youth worker and a young person independently and we were both surprised to find when we shared them with each other how similar they are.  So in conclusion, we think that during lockdown and in the months ahead coming out of lockdown it will be more important than ever to remember that we are more similar that different.  People, young and old and of all races and ethnicities will have the same feelings of apprehension, anxiety and hope.  Whether you fall into the extrovert or introvert shade or indeed somewhere in the endless shades of grey in between, this is a time to care, support and understand each other and above all be yourself! 

Human Work?

I am a bit of a fantasy and apocalypse dreamer!  Reading, watching, thinking, gaming … it always sounds like fun to ‘avoid the hidden danger’ and admire the beauty in abandoned and overgrown buildings and streets, places that you can only imagine were once filled with the hum and thrum of humans going about their business.  Never did I imagine that that very place would become our reality!  That overgrown building – my house, the abandoned streets – my local town and the hidden danger – Covid-19!  Great game in there somewhere!

But what I didn’t consider in all my dreaming is what Youth Work would look like in this weird abandoned world – why would I?!   But that is what I have been forced to think about while dreaming through lockdown.  And its been interesting.  What do you talk about when nothing has happened?  How do you meet new people in a virtual world?  What ‘rules’ do you have to follow today and how does that change what you were doing yesterday?  What is Youth Work now?  To be honest I have no idea what the answer is … and actually I have come to terms with the fact that I don’t have to have the answers alone or at all.  What I do know is that in all this isolation Youth Workers and Young People are coming together, learning how to use technology and skills to adapt to the changing environment.  Although I still haven’t learnt how to spell … I’m only human!

Being part of the Youth Highland team, quite honestly, has changed my life!  I have learned what Youth Work is, how to get the best out of the young people I work with, be creative and imaginative and most importantly found people who are ‘my people’.  Youth Work is about being human, and that is complex!  Its about caring, empathising, challenging, aspiring and dreaming.  It is a privileged job, you are a player in someone’s life, someone who trusts you and needs you to be on their side.  You are non-judgmental and gentle.  You show understanding, even when you don’t understand!  And you are not always right – in fact you are rarely right!  You are an enabler.  It’s a big responsibility.  So because Youth Work is ‘human work’ being thrown into this virtual world is strange!

Being a head and set of shoulders in a small box on a screen with a lot of other small boxes full of heads and shoulders is the strangest way to do Youth Work.  All that body language that we are losing, eye contact, the ability to move around a space, be loud, talk at the same time, laugh and pick up on those small signs from young people that they might need a ‘bit of a chat’ is lost here … or is it?  

There are 3 principles of Youth Work, The BIG 3 as they are known at Youth Highland.  1 – Voluntary Participation.  2 -Start where the young person is and 3 – Learn together.  They have not changed, and don’t need to change.  The BIG 3 are just as relevant during lockdown as they were before and will be after.  This is where Youth Work comes into its own.  Youth Workers CAN change, they CAN adapt, CAN experiment with new ways of working and new technology because we are human.  Youth Work has been through many changes in its history why stop now?  This is the perfect time for Youth Workers and Young people to celebrate in their humanity and change AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN ….

We can re-learn to see the wee look in someone’s eye during a group video call that says ‘PM me after pls’, forget the etiquette of video calls that says ‘mute yourself when your not talking’ and talk over each other, joke and laugh at peoples jokes, talk to someone while your on a walk (obviously adhering to the daily rules!) and say someone’s name when you are talking to them instead of looking at them for example. 

Youth Work doesn’t have to change and Youth Workers CAN change, so during isolation cry, dream, imagine, aspire and hope.  We are all human and all do human work.