Farewell for now, Live Magazine

Yesterday was my last day as Senior Editorial Mentor at Live Magazine in Brixton, which is run by social enterprise Livity. Here’s some of the team past and present.

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Live is a brilliant, morphing series of platforms where young people make content with the support of a professional mentor. It was a magazine, then a website and soon it’ll be two new YouTube channels. I worked at Live on and off, and in various capacities, for seven years, which is as long as I was at secondary school. It’s a long time.

I can’t convey all of the funny, brilliant, profound things I witnessed – we’d be here all day (or for the next seven years) but I can tell you that I’ve seen a lot of transition and transformation of individuals, of myself and my co-mentors, and of ourselves as an entity. We’ve been secret agents of change, a journalism project with an agenda to empower and enthuse the young people who’ve passed through our doors. Without sounding too soppy, it’s family. It’s about love.

Most transitions take time and I’m lucky enough to have a long view. I know individuals as they are now, working at Westfield or doing well at college, or working for national news media, and I remember where they were when we first met them. Often, this was very far away from the future they subsequently invented for themselves. Some of the biggest successes appear minuscule by mainstream standards but are epic given the challenges facing the individuals concerned. I’m thinking about the person who managed to get herself back into education after being kicked out and ended up with a brace of GCSEs. Or the 16 year old  who was out of school for years but harnessed a natural talent for social media – and who’s now applying to college.

It’s not just individuals who have changed. Live itself has changed, too. When I joined to run journalism workshops in 2006 it was very local and often very frontline. We were working with young people who were light years away from the mainstream. These were economic boom times elsewhere in society but not behind the steel shutters of Tunstall Road. We were youth workers who didn’t think we were youth workers, doing things we weren’t qualified to do, but doing them anyway. Take this film that Livity co-founder Sam Conniff made over four Saturdays with a group of young people. It’s a deceivingly raw satire on the trend for wearing gang-affiliated bandanas dominant at the time.

Warning: this clip is very sweary.

 

Our videos have evolved. This is future star Eve-Yasmin interviewing MC Mic Righteous. Our new channels that we’ll be launching in the autumn are even more ambitious.

 

 

Live’s now a place where almost everyone is a highly impressive young creative. In the picture at the top of the piece you’ve got writers, film-makers, artists, activists, musicians and a Forex trader. The landscape has changed, and so have we.

Some observations:

Live’s done a great job of trusting young people to make interesting decisions, and to create a fun and safe place in which you can make mistakes. Mistakes are good. But they’re costly if you make them in the real workplace, especially with youth unemployment running at 20%.

Mentoring isn’t about helping anyone. If we’re being honest, no-one can help anyone. Not really. But we can create the space in which people can succeed in a way that’s real and organic, on their own terms. The benefit is entirely two-way. I have got at least as much out of mentoring at Live as anyone has got from me.

I believe there’s something radical at the heart of Live – and of any organisation that genuinely creates opportunities for young people. That might be a youth club, or an arts college, or in our case, a business. We’ve opened up privileged opportunities to people who don’t have them in their family network and supported them in making the most of the door we’re jamming open. Equally importantly, we’ve created a space where broadly privileged people can work in alliance with young people who from a different class background. It’s healthy to test your assumptions. Where else can you do that?

I’m suddenly reminded of a moment from around 2009 where myself and a young man from Live went up to 10 Downing St to attend a reception. The young man was as impressive as he always is and gave a speech to the great and the good and their crystal decanters. A wealthy-looking lady came up afterwards. “Oh that was wonderful!” she said. “Are there more like you?”

The answer, lady, is yes. There are.

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Review: For Youth And Youth Workers

A shorter version of this review first appeared in Children and Young People Now on December 11th 2012. You rarely hear people talking about youth work in this way and whilst I don’t agree with everything he says, I found it a refreshing and illuminating read. 

For Youth Workers And Youth Work: Speaking Out For A Better Future

Doug Nicholls (Policy Press)

At the heart of this book is a simple argument. That youth work is by definition political and that youth workers should be overt in transmitting socialist ideas to young people in order to make them aware of the degree to which they are oppressed  – and to give them a chance of creating a new world order. It’s not an argument you hear very often in 2012. 

This densely argued book is a clarion call for a revolutionary take on youth work where interactions “must be informed by ideas and consciousness that the wider picture is unacceptable and alterable”.

Nicholls presents and contexualises information well: for every pound spent on public services, another £1 is generated in supplies and services, he says, before pointing out that the £6bn bonuses paid to bankers in last January would fund the entire youth service in England and Wales for over 20 years, to name but two.

There’s also great stuff on youth clubs, an area of the youth service that has been decimated by the cuts. At their best, says Nicholls, youth clubs are “utopian commonwealths and mini democracies that provide space for independent self-discovery and an appreciation of the value of free association.”

Nicholls is particularly powerful when scathing. He is brutal on positive activities which he compares to the Roman’s bread and circuses; on the casualisation and outsourcing of youth work (a ‘theft’ which he claims amounts to £70bn removed from the public sector since 1997); on ‘assessination’ or the mindless focus on quantifiable results; on the privatisation of prisons and the damaging effects of IYSS and on the cuts to youth services.

One fascinating suggestion is that all youth workers are working class because they become the same class as the most vulnerable young people they work with. It’s an interesting idea: working with young people won’t change your class but it can make you drop some of your own class-based assumptions.  Another idea I’ll be taking away with me is that of ‘lifeworld’ – a term coined by German philosopher Jurgen Habermas to describe the unregulated, unmarketised space of family, friendships, community and culture. Nicholl is compelling on the disastrous effect of the market moving into this space.

Doug Nicholls has been a youth worker for 30 years and he’s a powerful advocate for the real impact that youth work can have on the most vulnerable and on society as a whole. He’s also a committed and experienced Trades Union leader, and makes an argument you rarely hear about how unions supported and promoted progressive education and youth work. He argues that Trade Union education should be up there with International Women’s Day and Black History Month. A new version of youth work is needed, he says: youth workers must “assert their progressive nature and reconnect with its origins in an alternative socialist education”.

I wondered what serving youth workers would think about this, and so asked a brilliant and committed individual who frequently refers young people to LIVE Magazine where I work. My assumption was that Nicholls’ ideas would be anathema to your average youth worker. 

I was wrong: “It’s a big topic and young people need to get different opinions, but basically, he’s right.” 

Who knew? 

The book asks some really good awkward questions (‘what is informal education for? What is participation for?’). It would be odd if it’s didn’t, as he agues that youth work is built on questioning both its own process and practice and opening young minds to questioning the world around them. Youth workers, he says should empower, and should be empowered themselves. 

For Doug Nicholls, political ideas that were last mainstream in the 1970s and the 1980s, have strong resonance in 2012. I wonder if we’ll be seeing more books like this as austerity bites.   

 

 

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