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.”

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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 –

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