04 November 2021
Irfan Shah, Head of Frenford Clubs and Lead Youth Worker at Frenford
What got you into youth work?
When I was growing up, one of the things I loved was being involved with Frenford Youth Club. As I got older, volunteering felt like a natural progression having been part of Frenford; we all had a love of the club and what people gave to us we wanted to give back. I played professional cricket for a few years and when I was 24 I came back, Frenford approached me to be the Club Development Officer. I’ve always had a passion for people and believe that if you have 100 people and you can make one blossom, that’s enough for me.
How long have you been working with young people?
I’ve been at Frenford for 17 years. In that time we’ve gone from being open only in the evenings to one of the only youth clubs that is open seven days a week, 9am to 10pm.
What makes youth work special?
The most important thing is you provide a safe haven where young people can enjoy themselves. 8am to 3pm they’re at school and teachers have a responsibility to look after them. After 3pm, that provision ends; you’re on your own.
My view is that youth work provides the same education 3pm to 9pm. The only difference is that school is compulsory and youth clubs are not. If they come to us it’s because they want to come to us. Our duty is to provide them with as many opportunities to develop and have fun and learn. The government should look at youth workers the same way they do teachers.
What makes a good youth worker?
I think it’s a commitment to want to do better and to make life better for other people. As a youth worker, you’re someone who wants to see people blossom, to enjoy their life and to improve their life.
Helping young people through difficult times is a challenge but that’s what we do. Making those small changes, even the smallest impact, it brings us joy. Ultimately it’s the people around you and those you work with that define your work and make your work successful.
How did you adapt delivery during lockdown?
The main thing was survival. It was about ensuring when lockdown ended and life started to get back to normal, that we were still here.
When we were able to, we did as much as we could outside, working within all the restrictions that were in place. Then when we fully reopened, we offered everything free to young people for the first three months, supported by local businesses. The turnout was amazing. Parents were keen to get their kids involved and young people were really eager to get back out and do things again. The influx of young people was phenomenal.
Celebrating London’s #CommunityChampions
To mark Youth Work Week 2021 (1-7 November), London Youth is taking the opportunity to celebrate youth workers. The work they do makes a huge difference to the lives of young people across the capital. Youth workers are the unsung heroes of our communities. These are the community champions we want to spotlight this week.
Across our network of over 600 community youth organisations, there are thousands of youth workers who are champions for their communities. With young people’s lives massively impacted by the pandemic, youth workers are playing a vital role in supporting a generation to be the best they can be.
Our #CommunityChampions campaign spotlights the youth workers transforming the lives of young Londoners.
You can find out more about Frenford Clubs here >