Colin Ward: An Inspirational Anarchist

I was just once in the company of Colin Ward, one of the leading anarchist writers in post-war Britain.  Although I was on the outer edges of the group to which he was chatting, I remember thinking, ‘ what a lovely and fascinating bloke’. Sadly he died  a week or so ago.  He is perhaps best remembered for his writing on housing, his support for the squatters movement in the 1940’s, his advocacy of ‘anarchy in action’, direct, mutual and cooperative self-help.

However his great book from a Youth Work point of view is ‘The Child in the City’. Sadly I lent my copy, never to be returned long ago, but I’ve still got a note reflecting the blurb on its cover.

In an evocative and panoramic account of urban childhood, Colin Ward brings to life the myriad and subtle ways in which the child has used the street in the past and still does today. Against this background he asks whether it is true, as very many people believe, that something has been lost in the way children experience their urban surroundings; why some children show endless ingenuity in exploiting what the city offers while others are isolated and predatory; and what can be done, at a time when a significant proportion of the city’s children have come to be at war with their environment, to make the links between the city and child more fruitful and enjoyable for both.

He wrote in this vein over thirty years ago. And as long as we struggle to ask the questions of and proffer the alternatives to the ‘policing of the child in the city’, his legacy will live on.

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Detached but Defiant!

This year’s Federation for Detached Youth Work  conference focused on ‘detached youth work in a multi-agency integrated setting’. Echoing Aldous Huxley, it pondered whether this would be a Brave New World. As usual the Planning Group led by Geoff Brand brought together a diversity of speakers and facilitators –  at times almost too rich a mixture! Last year I scribbled a report on the stimulating gathering, but in a sense I am saved the task this year. Into the ring of recollection have jumped Roy Smith, the FDYW secretary, aided by self-confessed ‘geekish’ Tim Davies, who in the twinkling of an eye  set up a social networking site for the Federation – go to http://detached.youthworkonline.org.uk

Federation Conference Plenary

Federation Conference Plenary

Having signed up, which is dead easy, you can access videos of almost all the platform speakers, something of a first in my experience.  This does saves you wading through my distorted accounts of what people said. Thus I will comment briefly upon the sessions I attended. I was impressed and moved by the disarming directness of Tania de st Croix’s self-critical exposure of the way in which the pressure to spy and ‘grass’ threatens the very heart of detached youth work. As Tania is less than keen on her video debut, we are pleased to attach the text of her contribution.

bureaucrats-and-spies-speech -Tania de st Croix

Graeme Tiffany, fresh from completing the recent Mountain Marathon in weather that reduced the media to hysteria, brought a vital internationalist dimension to the proceedings and in the process continued to make the case for democratic education. For convenience, find below both an absorbing international paper on street and detached youth work methodology and Graeme’s contribution to the Nuffield Review, which forms the substance of Issues Paper 11, ‘Lessons from Detached Youth Work: Democratic Education’‘, published in June 2008. Earlier this year we welcomed his emphasis on a radical definition of inclusion and engagement.

international street and detached youth work methodology guide

detached youth work and democratic education – Tiffany

At the second plenary, Trudi Cooper, a former Lancashire youth worker and trainer, now a Senior Lecturer in Social Science at the Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia, offered a challenging assessment of the possibilities and pitfalls of integrated working, based on her active involvement in a research evaluation of an inter-agency project aimed at troublesome youth within the rail station! Her grasp of the contradictions was made all the more resonant, given that funding came via the Western Australia Office of Crime Prevention. She was followed by Tim Davies, who, despite a nasty cough, gave a witty and stimulating account of the possibilities of social networking and its potential harmony with the values of youth work as espoused in Bernard Davies’s ‘Manifesto’. On an immediate level Tim’s presence at the conference was dynamic, leading to the Federation’s new site and indeed our humble effort. The final contribution saw Mark Smith ‘safeguarding the essentials’ in a riveting, ‘knockabout’ assault on the contemporary undermining of classic youth work values. Such was its impact – some were enraged by his suggestion that if they were just servants of State policy, they should pack in their jobs – that the ensuing lively argument forgot that Trudi and Tim had opened their mouths. This observation leads me to repeat a concern I voiced a year ago. Sometimes, I think, the Federation overloads the platform.  On occasion there is a strong case for having a single speaker as the stimulus to a more focused collective conversation.

Stand Up Tragi-Comedy from Mark Smith

Stand Up Tragi-Comedy from Mark Smith

For the moment I’ll close this post as further comments relate to my workshop, ‘The Neo-Liberal Project Crashes: Time for Youth Workers to Fight back’ and the final plenary contributions made by Tony Jeffs and Jason Wood, which I missed in person, but now have watched on video. To say the least they are well worth seeking out.  Once again congratulations to the Federation for hosting such an open and engaging gathering. Photos pinched from Roy Smith, the secretary of the Federation. Thanks, mate.

Published in: on November 23, 2008 at 9:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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