18 November 2019
Elena from Dare London, our youth advisory board, gave the keynote speech at our London Youth Awards 2019 on 14th November at City Hall. Read her speech below about the power of youth work and how it helped her.
“Youth work. Saves. Lives.
I always get straight to the point, no stalling.
Every single one of you sitting in the audience tonight has been affected by youth work in some way, shape or form.
You may be a young person sitting in the audience. You’re the most important people in the room. You are surrounded by people who care about you and about your wellbeing in today’s society. You have felt the full power of the brilliant work going on, but also the blow of cuts brought to your essential services.
You may be a youth worker, shaping your young people through their day-to-day lives and watching them become the adults of tomorrow.
Or, you may be somebody who doesn’t think that youth work affects you. If you do think that, you’re in the wrong room! And, by the end of this speech, I promise to change your mind.
How youth work helped me
The support that I have received over the years from youth work has aided me enormously.
Someone being there solely for my needs was so important. When I first started my new secondary school in Year 8, I thought I knew everything. I thought I had been through the worst of my troubles, that there wasn’t going to be anymore.
Little did I know, life had a lot more in store for me.
I faced an unpleasant environment at school and, by the time the first month was over, I didn’t want to stay there anymore. However, during my time, I had been introduced to ‘Girls Club’, with Canaan Project by a friend of mine. I stuck school out, through the worst times, and spent Monday evenings at the youth club. After a particularly bad day at school, I showed up, purely to take my mind off of everything that was going on.
I felt scared. It was nothing I’d ever experienced before, so I stayed quiet. What I didn’t know was that somebody had noticed. It was my youth worker, Annie. Annie had noticed. She started a simple conversation and before I knew it, I couldn’t stop the words flowing. I finally managed to express to someone what was going on. I cannot tell you how good it felt to release, to know that what I said was confidential and that she was there to listen to me. At that moment, I needed somebody to show me the way, to help me with my heightened feelings, when I was most vulnerable. I had Annie.
I’ve known Annie for three years now. She has aided me to grow into a more mature, young adult, and to take every opportunity that came my way. Without her, I wouldn’t be standing in front of you today.
Power of youth work
On paper, youth work is the process of creating an environment where young people can engage in informal educational activities. In reality, it is so much more.
As a youth worker, you have to be able to cope with any problem. I know from experience that us young people don’t always make it easy for our youth workers! They have to be adaptable in these ever changing times, because the trends and what we’re interested in can change in minutes.
We know that factors such as mental health issues in young people are on the rise and dealing with everyone’s different needs is a big ask. It’s about perseverance, and making sure that at least one part of a young person’s world is stable and unchanging.
It might seem like each young person is an enigma. We’re all unique and have new problems every week, but all we really want is to be understood, and for our voices to be heard. We want somebody to notice.
That’s why being a youth worker is the most important job in the world. Young people are in a vulnerable transition between childhood and adulthood and they need youth services, as they are crucial in ensuring stability and a positive, meaningful future.
I can say for sure that without the help and support of youth workers just like Annie, lots of young people just like me wouldn’t be where we are. Spending time at youth clubs and the events and opportunities I was encouraged to take, made sure that I wasn’t spending time on other paths and getting into trouble.
Tonight is a platform to celebrate the amazing opportunities provided to us as young people and the incredible amount of time and energy that youth workers invest every day. I just want to say thank you to every single youth worker who’s here tonight, but also to the ones who aren’t.
You probably underestimate the impact you have on young people. I urge you to never give up on this career.
You are saving so many lives. Youth work saved mine.”