My background is in working with rural young people and their communities on issues as diverse as affordable housing and community transport on one hand, to tree planting and inter-generational events on the other. My preferred approach is to use imaginative events that appeal to young people in order to encourage their participation in discussion and planning around matters important to them and their communities. These can be simple activities such as sports activities, or more involved projects such as “Breakfast in Paris” events whereby young people from eight villages were engaged in creating their local Parish Plans.
I have over 25 years’ experience of working with rural communities as a youth worker in both the voluntary sector and for county council youth services – developing practice that was recognised as being both the best rural practice in England (OfSTED – Youth Matters Green Paper) and most innovative rural practice in the UK (de Montford University – “Who Says Nothing Ever Happens Around Here?” and Partners in Innovation Projects). A strength I have is in working to identify new ways to address issues that have previously created problems for communities and their young people.
My first professional experience was very much community development based (as opposed to youth) as I headed Greenpeace across Derbyshire. I developed six new groups in addition to those already in Derby and Chesterfield and together we undertook activities as varied as sponsored swims and supporting direct action against serious polluters in the Bolsover area. Derbyshire became recognised as the most vibrant county in the UK and only London raised more funds for the charity in my time as co-ordinator.
Some of my earliest youth work was with Derbyshire County Council working in the coalfield communities of NE Derbys on youth projects that developed youth clubs and other projects for local young people, and also trained adults from the village to sustain this work once our team moved on. This work provided my first experiences of effectively engaging young people with Parish Councils and other local decision making bodies.
My first work with the more strategic issues facing rural communities came through my work with Somerset Rural Youth Project where we continued to develop leisure activities for teenagers – but also worked closely with county and regional agencies to explore ways to provide young people with transport, employment and housing. This involved managing a moped loan scheme and working closely with the county’s Rural Housing Enabler amongst other projects.
My work which was most widely recognised took place within Worcestershire where we worked ever more closely with a wide range of partner organisations ranging from local Parish Councils, through to DEFRA and piloted a wide range of new approaches that embedded young people within the planning and delivery cycles of key agencies. This work was instrumental in developing new approaches to –
- Ensure young people were better included in the Section 106 Affordable Housing Needs Analysis and the planning that followed.
- Ensure young people were better included in the development of the county’s demand responsive community transport system and of the moped loan scheme
- Ensure young people were better involved in the work of the County Council Economic Development Unit, of the Rural Regeneration Zone and that rural youth affairs were properly recognised by the RDA
- Ensure that rural young people had a voice within decision making at Parish, District and County levels and that the ground breaking experiences being undertaken in Worcs influenced thinking at regional and national levels.
Through these efforts I became the Vice-Chair of the Rural Youth Network (the professional body that supported all work with young people in rural areas across the UK – not just youth work)
Since the collapse of youth work capacity in rural areas over the last few years I have undertaken a number of consultancy and training roles including work for Yorkshire First (on rural youth affairs), Bassetlaw District Council (on rural youth democracy) and the Blue Skies Community Project (on the perceptions and aspirations of rural young people). I have also returned to my more conservation focussed work and have led community development projects with hard to reach groups for both Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trusts.
In addition to my consultancy work with Nature People I am currently working with the National Federation of Young Farmers Clubs to explore whether canal boats could meaningfully offer affordable housing to young people in rural areas – and with Notts Wildlife Trust to explore ways in which marginalised groups within our communities can best contribute to conservation and to encourage others to do likewise.
BEd (Hons) – Youth & Community Studies – Crewe & Alsager HE College
Decades of experience!