Weekend Working: If the Price is Right?

‘The National Youth Agency is producing a briefing paper on weekend youth provision, to identify the issues and challenges related to securing effective weekend provision and provide examples of how these are being addressed in different areas across the country. All heads of youth services and youth support services have been invited to complete a survey and engage in further discussions, and The NYA is keen to hear from other colleagues about how their provision for young people is meeting the challenge of weekend opening.’

This initiative follows upon a flurry of argument, within which Tim Burke reported on ‘one of the hottest issues of the moment for the youth work sector: the increasing expectation that ever more youth provision should be open on Friday and Saturday nights.’

Amongst others he interviewed:

Doug Nicholls, general secretary of the Community and Youth Workers’ Union,  who says that his union doesn’t oppose weekend working. In fact, the sector has always worked when young people need them, he argues. But employers must be willing to pay staff properly in order for this to happen. “We strongly support the extension of provision – not just to Friday and Saturday evenings but late nights, after midnight too,” says Nicholls. “But, frankly in the past, employers have expected too much, from too few, for too little.” Simon Antrobus, chief executive of Clubs for Young People, who has little time for youth workers who aren’t prepared to work weekends. “If you work in a restaurant, you expect to work evenings. If you work in a shop, you expect to work weekends,” he says. “In youth work, you work the hours required. It’s a nonsense that must be challenged to suggest it can’t be done from a staffing point of view.” And Lee Hutchings, managing director of Parkguard, who comments, “All of our staff are ex-police or services and we’re not trying to be the young people’s friends – we’re saying here’s something for you and behave,’or we’ll go back to enforcement,” says Hutchings. “It is about boundaries. When you give young people boundaries, their behaviour improves.”


In riposte Howard Williamson points out sharply that ‘Weekend working comes at a price’. “If youth workers are to do more weekend working, something has to give. A full weekend can amount to a de facto working week.”

Not to be outdone, our Tim Price throws his balaclava into the middle. he begins:

Friday and Saturday working is a must’ was the comment headline in December’s ‘Youth Work Now’. Some months before the Employers’ Side of the JNC had sought a Joint Circular reminding youth workers that weekend working was part of the contract. The Staff side was somewhat perplexed about the need for such a circular. After all, the JNC Report makes it clear that evening and weekend working comes with the job: in fact, the reality is that now there is an expectation that youth workers will be available 24/7, within the working time directive(sometimes), allowing the constraint that workers should not do more than 8 evening sessions per fortnight.

So why this need for a joint circular? According to some employers youth workers were refusing to take on regular weekend working.. Youth Work Now claims that very few workers would deny that “ for far too many young people there are simply little or no organised activities taking place at weekend, especially in the evenings.” The Government is pushing for more youth activities to be available at these times. The double page spread in the middle of the same issue pushes the point. “The emphasis on Friday and Saturday night working has several drivers, not least the desire to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour at weekends.” Here is the nub: an explicit statement that youth work is about keeping down crime and anti-social behaviour. Forget any notion of education, social control is the key. What really takes the biscuit is the panel headlined ‘A place to hang out with friends’. The Friday Night Project in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire is held up as a model. However, “It is not …a youth work project”. Apparently many young people were drinking in the local park and there were high levels of anti-social behaviour. Parkguard (a security firm?), after consulting the young people involved (when they were sober?), discovered that young people wanted somewhere to gather, but not a youth club, They started with a few footballs. The young people now have access to a community pavilion, the local youth service has provided sofas, Nintendo Wiis, disco equipment, a tuck shop and other equipment. “But there’s no education, no youth activities – it’s just their place”

How nostalgic – sounds like the youth service of yesteryear, with young people deciding what should be on offer. What does this tell us about how youth services are responding to the needs that young people express? They haven’t asked for accreditation, they haven’t asked for outcomes. In fact it seems that these projects are being sold on a rejection of the youth service – they didn’t want to be in a youth club, they just wanted a place to gather.

He concludes:

So, we have a wonderfully contradictory position. If we want to do old fashioned liberal youth work we must do it at weekends, whilst at the same time we will be acting as a New Labour lever to reduce anti-social behaviour. Maybe we should be asking our employers if we can do what many of us want to do on weekdays and leave the police to deal with consequences of the inequality in our society that New Labour has so consistently failed to address in any meaningful way.

Follow Tim’s argument in full –


Published in: on February 24, 2009 at 1:04 pm  Comments (17)  
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  1. Tim

    Perhaps your thoughts are being tapped by New Labour!
    I’ve only just seen this story on the Children&Young People web site.

    ‘Operation Staysafe patrols were staged in 27 areas of England at the weekend in an attempt to prevent children becoming victims of crime or being drawn into criminal behaviour.

    On Friday evening (20 February), around 1,000 young people were spoken to by the police; of these, 120 were returned to their homes.

    A total of 103 referrals were made to other services including family support teams, parenting programmes and alcohol awareness projects.

    Types of behaviour that attracted attention included drunkenness, drug misuse, being out late at night with nowhere to stay and large groups behaving antisocially.

    Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said: “Most parents would be horrified to receive a knock on the door from police returning their child to them. But there are too many who think it is acceptable to allow their child to stay out late where they may be vulnerable to becoming victims of crime or committing crime.”

    Operation Staysafe, which involves police and children’s services, is part of the government’s £100m Youth Crime Action Plan, launched in July 2008.’

    However I suspect that the police were not alone. In Liverpool it is alleged that police and detached youth work teams were going out hand-in-hand on Friday and Saturday nights to identified ‘hot-spots’.
    Even if there are those in Youth Work, who approve of this inter-agency cooperation, aren’t they hard put to claim that youth workers are not soft police.

  2. Hi Tony – theres a few comments in this post that may be of interest too:


    My personal thoughts are along the lines of Simon Antrobus. If you don’t like working unsocial hours:
    1. why did you get invoved with youth work?
    2. If you still don’t like it get a different job!

    I do understand (indeed know too well) that a full weekends work can be equal to almost a full regular working week – but if that’s when you’re needed, so be it. In any case three evenings work still isn’t a full time week and sensible management can cover the gaps, plus if anything in this current time I doubt very much it can be too hard to recruit people who are willing to work those hours.

    I like your final point. That throws up some interesting challenges & questions – providing what young people want when they want it vs providing what some perceive is good for young people when its convenient for those delivering it

  3. Mike

    Thanks for the link to an earlier discussion on your site and as always your thoughts.

    To be blunt I’m not impressed with the crude argument that if you want to be a youth worker you should be prepared to work all the hours that God sends.. Now I’ve come close to this, but only when I thought I had bugger all responsibilities, obligations elsewhere. Under this prescription a youth worker with child-care responsibilities, whose partner also works, can only fall short of the proposed norm – turn out whenever you are needed.

    And Mike, fair enough in these troubled times – capitalism proves yet again its irrationality and obscenity – some people will do anything to get a few bob. But I think they’ll be wearing a Community Safety bib and being paid peanuts.

    As for what young people want, they don’t want to be policed at weekends. Of course I worry deeply about what I see as an empty Friday night resolution to the alienation of a society without moral bearings [that sounds pretty pompous!], but the time to chat about this is not on Friday itself, when folk are pissed out of their heads.

    With that off my chest, I’ll have another jug of local red.



  4. I didn’t and wouldn’t suggest that youth workers shoudl work “all hours that god sends”. I did, and would always suggest that they should work when they are most available to and needed by, young people.

    I regularly hear the argument about young people being pissed etc. at weekend evenings and so its pointless working with them, but quite honestly thats a view that demonstrates how narrow minded the view of many working with young people is. On the estate that I used to work certainly it was true that a minority of older young people (and the odd few younger) were out getting drunk. The vast majority (and I mean considerably vast) were not. There are plenty of young people in the younger age range, and perhaps less in the older age range, that have little to do over the weekend. Do you seek to provide for them during this time, or do you make your provision midweek?

    I also never suggested young people should be ‘policed’ at weekends. Regardless of the apparent or assumed motivation of the recent drive for provision at weekends, to me it’s simply working with them when they should be worked with and not something to not be done because of a political agenda. If you choose to do nothing of value with them instead of taking the opportunity to use activities they enjoy in a way that helps their personal development, then quite honestly you should be paid peanuts. If on the otherhand you take the good salaries on offer for full time youth workers then I would expect you would have the skills and imagination to maximise the use of that time, the ability to involve young people in the design of provision so that they get activities they like and can be structured for positive development, and that you are prepared to actually work during that time.

    For potential new recruitment I would say there are many very skilled and talented people currently, or soon to be, unemployed – not just those capable of wearing bright yellow bibs. The point I was making here though is that there are good people who are prepared to work unsocial hours – many even do it for free!

    I don’t follow the child care argument. If both partners have jobs that involve working evenings then yes child care is a problem, but child care prevents many of us from being as flexible as we’d like. I don’t see how in this particular case its an argument for not providing services for young people at weekends?

  5. Your shot across the bows is well placed. I may well be slipping into a generalisation about young people. But at this point we all have to take a breath, because the very category, ‘young people’ is in danger of being meaningless. In this little rant I fail to distinguish between young people in terms of their gender, race or sexuality, all of which may mean they have or don’t have different agendas on a Friday night.

    Let’s take this would-be Friday night. You are right there are a lot of young folk, who aren’t pissed, who are perhaps bored and still the last thing they want is a youth worker. And there are young folk, who might be persuaded by a sensitive youth worker and there are those, who would jump at the chance of somebody being bothered about them. And, as you rightly say there are many, who are involved in this, that and the other run by a lad or lass in their spare time for no reward.

    In this sense we open up another Pandora’s box here. Youth Work has only ever touched a minority of young people, which is no problem to me, but can’t be properly admitted. In my time, when I had no child-care concerns and nobody gave a toss about health and safety, I opened on my own a large youth club on Friday and Saturday nights. It seemed to be heaving, around a hundred young folk, between say 12 and 20 years of age. Yet in terms of a percentage of the youth in that age range in that small town it was less than 5 per cent. I can’t run away from the objective dilemma that I was ‘policing’ them, even as I sought to be otherwise. And when we closed up at around 11 o’clock quite a few wanted the place to stay open. This not being the case quite a few went into the park to drink. On occasions I did sit with them there, but to be honest sometimes I went home. Where are the lines to be drawn?

    And in relative terms I was paid a decent salary, but I worked 60 hours not 37 and a quarter so the hourly rate was crap. Clearly I lacked also the skills and imagination you talk about. By and large I just hung about with them, chatted critically about everything and nothing and sometimes did something of an organised nature when they fancied it. Whatever ‘maximising the use of my time’ means I didn’t do it, which is perhaps further evidence that I should have been paid peanuts. As for the mantra about ‘structuring for positive development’, I’m sure I messed up in this respect. The idea that we all agree what constitutes positive development is another of those little debated myths.

    Funnily enough I wasn’t suggesting that folk wearing yellow bibs were at all necessarily without talent or skills. One of my own heresies is that some of the best [in my eyes] youth workers I’ve known had not jumped through the professional hoops. It’s just that wearing a yellow bib does affect the dynamic of being with young people and it is poorly paid.

    As for doing it for free, you are quite right to emphasise the significance of the volunteer, but if they do enter the paid ranks, they are beginning to forfeit their autonomy. They start to have bosses and pay masters to obey.

    I didn’t say the dilemmas of child-care should prevent there being provision at weekends, but given the levels of staffing available it is an issue. For my sins I was a Chief Youth and Community Officer in my later years for an area with over 300,00 people – roughly 60, 000 were Youth Work targets. After the savage cuts in the early 90’s we were left with 12 full-timers. The figures don’t add up. Inevitably there was an enormous danger of asking workers to do far too much and undermining their own personal relations…..and of course one or two took the piss and didn’t pull their weight. Child-care was a dilemma for even some of the most dedicated. And with that level of staffing frankly it makes little difference when the youth worker works. Fair enough send them out at the weekends, but given how many young folk they could reasonably cope with, their work in midweek was no less or more significant.

    Mike, I’m rambling and there is so much more to explore and I’m conscious that this little exchange exposes for me the severe limitations of chatting in this way. We can’t stop one another mid-sentence and say, ‘I didn’t mean it that way’ or ‘sorry, mate you’re quite right’ etc… Words on paper, especially when chucked down a waterfall of a response, take on a solidity they don’t deserve. The position put forward sounds more certain than is necessarily intended, which is why I often intend to join in a discussion, but never make it.

    All of which is to thank you genuinely for your criticism and to hope this mixed up response is not too shrill in tone.

    Best Wishes

    • I agree with Mike, Youth workers are expected to work long hours over a 6-7 day week to ensure that young people get access to provision. But when most of the work force are mainly youth workers with families, then thier own children will suffer.
      At the moment there is not encough part time or full time youth workers to open 10am-10pm over 6-7 days a week to provide a integrated Youth Support Service.
      I feel youth workers wages should reflect the changing times that the government want us to play. We are lower paid than other proffessionals.
      I feel when local authories advertise for new youth workers they shuould say “If you have small children don’t expect to see them during the week”. and Now at the WEEKEND!!!!!!!!!!
      Why don’t CONNEXIONS PA work at weekends, because the Government said THAT EVERY YOUNG PERSON WOULD GET A PA. But they don’t work after 4pm MON-FRI!!!.

  6. re. “positive development” I didn’t mean that as a concept or particular branch of youth work – just that in the activities/contact with young people there’s an intention to help them progress positively – be that in skills, attitude, relationships (whatever).

    I think the nail on the head is to do with the ‘minority consideration’ – the idea that “the” young people won’t attend/have better things to do etc. From the projects I set up/was involved in it was generally a different set of young people that attended on Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons than midweek evenings. There were a couple who came to both but mostly at weekends they were younger than during the week. I wonder if because of the ‘targeted’ approach the only young people being considered are the small number that attend normal provision?

    No need to be concerned about a shrill tone – far from it and I enjoy debates like this! 🙂

  7. I definitely disagree that youth workers should be ‘required’ to work weekends and Friday evenings. This should be down to a combination of what is needed / what seems to go down alright in a local area, and what the workers are able to offer taking into account their other life committments at the time.

    Personally I have mostly worked part-time during weekday evenings but with lots of weekend ‘projects’ and residentials. But I worked every Saturday for about 3 years at an adventure playground and at a Young Carers project, and at another time for a year and a half I worked on a Sunday project which had a rota (so I worked about three Sundays a month). It was fine, and I agree with Mike that young people are not all drunk on a Friday night, and to be honest I disagree with the received wisdom that there is never any point working with drunk young people! (I think some of my best adult conversations have happened when my friends and I are at least a bit drunk!)

    Anyway, I’m off work this evening cos I worked all weekend (!) so I’m off to eat cake. (Leaving the regular Monday night group without my services, but I’m sure they will cope!)

  8. I think many of Masyomo’s arguments reflect a viewpoint that would not be shared by many youth workers. On the one hand there is his argument that people shouldn’t complain about working evenings or weekends as “if you still don’t like it get a different job”. Of course, if one points out that the vast majority of people are not in a position to choose jobs that suit them ideally then, hey, that doesn’t matter too much either as “there are many very skilled and talented people currently, or soon to be, unemployed – not just those capable of wearing bright yellow bibs”. Thank God that capitalism throws up a nice reserve of unemployed workers so that we can encourage anyone who complains to “get a different job” without worrying about not being able to fill their posts!

    Of course, I’m hopefully exaggerating Masyomo’s position as it is clear that he is motivated primarily by a desire to ensure that young people have the best possible services available to them. However, this discussion does point to what is, in my opinion, one of the key weaknesses of youth work. The sad reality is that, for a profession that often talks about helping young people to effect social change and tackling the inequalities of capitalism there is rarely even the briefest rhetoric whatsoever about youth workers challenging capital through their position as workers. We can talk idealistically about change to the young people as much as we like and that’s perfectly OK (perhaps because it is generally ineffective), but heaven help us if we actually stand up for ourselves!

  9. Hi Leam – I think in large part my views about this are because my view of what youth work should be or how it should be approached is quite different to what is currently expected of youth workers – more about that here (in the comments):


    I would say though that the fact this is a debate suggests that youth workers are getting the position they want in so far as they’re not working weekends?

    The capitalism debate is a bit heavy for me – I prefer to think instead of preparing young people to function best in society – which does of course include challenging how it runs. But part of that is that we do need people to work unsocial hours – nurses, doctors, firefighters, police……. and if we need people to support young people at weekends it seems somebody has to do it so why not youth workers? I’m sure too that if you were advising a young person on a potential career and they weren’t prepared to work long hours in very challenging circumstances and didn’t have a caring attitude you wouldn’t advise them to be a nurse. Just seems to me the same goes for people considering a career in youth work.

  10. Why is ‘the weekend’ so important? My current role is a Mon-Fri, 9.00-5.00 and I really can’t cope with it having previously spent 20 years of working evenings and weekends and taking time off on Mondays etc.. Believ me Morrisons is a more pleasant place on a Tuesday afternoon than it is on a Saturday morning. Hours even are not truly unsocial they are simply hours, and if a young person has a need at 2.00am on a Saturday then I do not see why youth services should not be available to them. But this requires commitment and it is not for everyone. The tragedy of our youth services recently is that they have become too conformed to the government agenda of control for young people, as Mark Smith commented, they have sold their soul for a handful of shekels. With this comes the attitude of young people as clients who also in their participation must conform and not do anything to upset the system, so no debating capitalism you naughty people, you may just find out out what a con it is.
    But seriously folks, I’d work from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning for the same money I would work Monday morning to Wednesday evening, as long as the job was worthwhile.

  11. I was really interested reading all your comments on weekend working and your debate – I am a working mum of 2 young children and a full time youth worker – in fact have never not been a full time worker.
    My partner is a shift worker so hours are 12 hour days and nights – thats the context re childcare – as a youth worker I came into the job many years ago knowing and understanding that to do this job it was always evenings and weekends and unsocialable hours compared to someone 9 – 5pm
    But times have changed in that more and more people are on shifts and strange working hours in our societies attempt to function 24/7 to consumer needs or wants and workers have to respond – thus partner on shifts.
    What I have found is that more and more people coming into youth work are wanting a 9 – 5pm working week – term time only and when you explain that we are looking at predominantly evenings and weekend working it is nearly like you have assaulted them.
    My understanding is that even under JNC terms and conditions all youth worker work evenings and weekends and these are negotiated and agreed with your employer at beginning of employment or with line manager according to need, availability and requirement – we do not get over time but we look at our working week in advance and sort it out.
    For me I have a diary that I live by – partner, me and kids all details in – I plan in advance my working months and when working with young people discuss this with them so that they understand so do not lose consistency of working with them.
    I am not going to get into debate with long intellectual discussions other than to say – when did youth workers stop working weekends – it is young peoples `free time` that is when many are around and if they want us we are available to work with them on what they want to do.
    I think sometimes there is the pressure to just work friday nights and weekends and if that is the job role employed very clearly from the outset to do then well there is no issue – if you are a worker who is being bullied and harrassed to change from discussions and negotiations on when able to and available to work friday nights and weekends then that is totally different matter altogether – that is called bullying and is unacceptable behaviour.
    Employers get huge amounts of funding for friday nights and weekend working – they are looking at social control and reducing anti-social behaviour – be under no illusion on this matter – but it is for workers to stand up and do youth work within this climate – we are a clever bunch despite being thought of as a soft policing approach – it is about knowing your young people of your area, being in touch with what is going on and what is wanted and being able to discuss and negotiate with young people too,and liase with the local community who might not understand why young people want to gather in the local cemetary – safety being a huge one despite being portrayed as the face of all ills and being demonised etc.
    I have said my bit – I have never expected to not work evenings and weekends even with huge child care juggling that goes on as my partner and I have no family in this country to support us but often I find working the unsocialable hours from other professions better as get a day off or two mid week – but that often what scuppers that can be the employers making demands that outstrips what the workers are able to give – I work 35 hours presently set to increase to 37 – I expect to be paid for my work and be valued for my work and not used as some pawn in others political chess game but also that some humanity, empathy and compassion is offered to me as a worker – if I work friday nights and weekends why do not others, social workers, connexions, education welfare officers, to name but a few – my terms and conditions allow me to be flexible and responsive to needs of young people but often it is not others who are able to be responsive – and why should I be the only professional working out there often when young people are most vulnerable on my own
    So said enough – finished working tonight read this and felt had to put my two pennith in.

  12. @Shaz how nice it is to hear from somebody successfully juggling and managing to work evenings and weekends. I sympathise too having been in the position of having two small children and a partner working shifts as a nurse while I ran mostly residential programmes, not easy to do especially without family backup.

    I saw a comment somewhere else about the need for other services to work at weekends etc. too including connexions et. al and I agree they should, but don’t see that as justification for youth workers not agreeing to do antisocial hours (which surely are social hours for those they’re supposed to be working with?!). Connexions shops must surely have the most ludicrous opening hours ever though – I’ve rarely ever seen any open.

  13. […] ongoing debates in their forums, the most recent you can find here. There is also discussion on the Critically Chatting blog, and some previous discussion on here around this time last year. So its a pretty long ongoing […]

  14. Hi,
    I am a full time youth worker, and I have care child with 2 small children responsiblitites with my wife working 2 evenings a week as a youth worker. I have and do ajust my working week to always fit around the needs of the service.!covering when needed to at a drop of a hat.!No questions asked. I always feel that because I have children it is my fault!!. The employer does not bend themesevles!
    JNC points out working weekends and evenings no more than 8 in 2week period. But if they want us to work every other saturday or sunday that is a change in contract!. My employer (london Borough) they should employ more youth workers on weekends only.
    The Government and Employeers are expecting to much from front line workers. There is a budget for weekending working so they should use it.
    My understanding of reqular weekending working is on JNC as and when required. So over a year I work 15 saturday or sundays.
    Does any body have a direct link of the JNC terms and conditions for me to download. Because there is something about change of contract if you work every other weekend on a reqular basis.

  15. Is this whole weekend working debate not just a bit of a whim. What evidence is there that young people want youth workers bothering them at weekends. Haven’t they had enough of us in the week?

    I know in our area we ask young people – well we ask the young people who can be bothered to complete a questionairre – would you like youth activities at the weekend? amazingly they say YES!

    Maybe we should ask them – would you like somewhere warm, safe, chilled and well lit to be with your mates without fear of being chased bullied beaten or harrassed and when they say yes to that provide them with the space to drink their 2.99 Kirov Vodka and leave them to it.

    Just a thought

  16. What evidence is there that young people want youth workers bothering them at all? Go a step beyond and do a survey to ask how many young people give a toss about youth work at all. When they say no you will be free to find a space of your own to drink a nice glass of sherry.

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