A fond farewell
Ed Anderton, our outgoing Director of Practice Development, shares some of his learning from his time with the Centre.
As I’m coming to the end of my time here at the Centre, I’ve been reflecting on how much I’ve learned, and what I’ll be taking with me.
Above all, the privilege of getting to work with a wide variety of youth practitioners, and those who support and resource youth organisations, has reaffirmed for me the importance of a skillful, dedicated and compassionate adult presence in the lives of young people. Most especially for those young people who lack such a presence in their personal lives, or who have additional challenges and barriers to overcome in order to find their way to thrive.
For those adults who make a commitment to be that presence for young people, it’s crucial that they have the support and challenge they need to develop their skills. As Charline puts it so eloquently in this video, youth work is “led by people with heart”: compassion is necessary, but not sufficient. Youth work is also a profession, with standards and skills which have been developed and refined over decades. You can be trained to get it right.
With the right investment of time and resources, high quality youth practices can be seen and assessed, improved and maintained. I’m proud to have been involved in supporting organisations to take on practitioner-led improvement work, focused on improving quality, rather than “proving impact”. I am also conscious of the huge pressures bearing down on youth organisations, and how this vital work - observing each other’s practice, collecting data, reflecting together as a team - can be hard to sustain.
Supporting organisations on a one-to-one basis can only be part of the solution. The Centre’s work on shared approaches, building consensus through collaboration, is essential if the youth sector is to create the conditions in which practitioners can consistently fulfil their potential. Local, regional and national infrastructure bodies need to be able to work more effectively together, speak the same language, share data and insights, to be measured in what and how they measure, in order to more effectively ‘cut through’, and win the resources the sector needs to truly flourish.
For me, this means applying the same diligence, reflection and accountability that the best practitioners apply to their work with young people. It means moving beyond a simple, emotive narrative of ‘transforming lives’, to do the difficult work of gathering data, generating insights, identifying gaps, and being open about the questions we cannot answer.
Hence I’m excited to see how colleagues across the sector in London have come together in a coordinated drive to establish a ‘Youth Sector Data Hub’. The ambition is to establish a shared resource, a register of youth organisations which can be used by funders, commissioners and infrastructure bodies to build a collective picture of the needs and opportunities for the sector. It is founded on the principle of ‘collect once, use often’, and seeks, over time, to connect up voluntary sector and local authority youth services in one unified picture.
It is my hope that this initiative will provide an exemplar for others to follow within other regions, and at a national level. The sector cannot continue to operate on the basis of a fractured and incomplete picture of what it is and what it does, with such data as exists being held in silos. In the wake of the covid crisis, grant funders are actively pursuing ways in which they can collaborate more effectively, more meaningfully, and those providing infrastructure support for the youth sector need to follow their lead.
As I move onto my next challenge, working within the local authority of Redbridge to develop its community hubs programme, I’m pleased that I will have reason to keep in contact with many of the inspiring people I’ve had the pleasure of working with here at the Centre. I look forward to seeing the Centre, and the sector, develop and grow next year and beyond.
Stay in touch! @ejanderton.