5 // 2014

Sentamu hosts first National Christian Youth Work awards

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The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, hosted the first National Christian Youth Work Awards at his Bishopthorpe Palace in September.

A partnership between ‘We Love Our Youth Worker,’ (The National Charter for Church Youth Workers) and Youthwork magazine, the Awards seek to honour those that practice and support youth work all over the country. Individual winners such as ‘Youth worker of the year,’ and ‘Volunteer of the year’ were honoured alongside organisations named ‘Best youth work employer’ and ‘Most innovative youth work.’

A youth project working in some of the most deprived areas of Newcastle won the first award of the night. The ‘Best youth work employer’ went to the Newcastle Central and East Methodist Church Circuit. After their nomination from the circuit's youth co-ordinator, Diego Melo, they were represented by Rev. Eden Fletcher. Presenting the award, judge Robin Rolls of the Archbishop’s Youth Yrust said the circuit had demonstrated ‘incredible excellence and commitment to youth work across some of the most deprived areas of the region.’ The circuit ensured that rest and retreat were central to Diego's work pattern. Alongside this an overall strategy had been planned out prior to his arrival, ensuring his employers had a vision for the work.

Three years ago, the Newcastle Central and East circuit commissioned a report into the state of youth work within the area. Eden praised ‘the big commitment from the churches to put in nearly £35,000 to start with.’ The circuit works in a number of areas across Newcastle. This includes a youth centre that has been running for 50 years and Eden said they are constantly looking for new opportunities.

Eden said ‘Youth work is hard work and costly, and so really deserves some good support behind it.’ Eden called the rejuvenation of the 50-year-old youth centre on a sink estate ‘a real testament to the Methodist church.’ Diego said seeing this certain work in new, holistic ways, ‘a privilege.’

A gig night attracting 700 young people to the local student union is the monthly highlight of ‘Create Paisley,’ the winners of ‘Most innovative youth work.’

Established in 2009 out of the desire of young people to have somewhere to go and play their music, the initial event saw 40 young people attend and the project has grown steadily since. The organisation, run on a voluntary basis by Clare McCormack and Alan Clark, centres around a monthly gig night which attracts between 600-700 people to watch other young people perform. 70 volunteers from churches across the area support the event, which recently moved in to the local university's Student Union. Alan said that he was consistently ‘blown away by the way the churches and volunteers come together to put on something like this.’

Clare said that this event was just one part of work Create does and that the shape of any given event ‘is directed by the passions of the volunteers and the young people amazing, with groups coming together
to create something amazing.’ Alan said while some aspects might look similar to other youth work around the country, the attitude and involvement of the young people involved creates a distinctive atmosphere at the events. Clare said the journey there has been organic, ‘At no point did we ever think, let’s do an event with 700 young people in it,’ she said. ‘The key thing with all that we do is relational, and the way we have developed have all come out of these relationships. We wanted to create somewhere safe, somewhere we could get alongside young people, rather than a big event.’ She emphasised the importance of music to the project, calling it ‘The heartbeat of the town we live in.’

Alan said the ability to keep a youth project focused on the relational, while reaching 700 young people sets this work apart, and ensures that the project adapts to the needs of the young people.

Looking forward, Create is looking to form its own separate charity rather than the current set-up where there is no clear distinction from the churches that support it. On top of that, Alan said that they have recently been approached by the student union to do more for young people, including some work on environmental challenges.

Being named ‘volunteer of the year’ may have come as a shock to Sue Fordyce, but not to those she worked with. Sue has been involved with the youth work at Upton Vale Baptist Church in Torquay for the past ten years. The youth group has regular contact with 80 young people, and for a year between youth workers, Sue kept all the groups going. Throughout the week Sue is involved with midweek youth groups, Sunday morning groups and runs her own discipleship group. Outside of her youth work, Sue has been a foster carer for 60 different children, and looks after three children of her own.

Sue said it was the individual relationships with young people that keeps her coming back. ‘I love seeing them grow, and I am constantly amazed by what they come out with.’ Asked what advice she would give other volunteer youth workers, Sue said it was important to put pre-conceived ideas of teenagers aside, ‘They're not scary, they're lovely. It’s amazing the things they will talk to you about. It’s great fun and I do love it.’

A listening project in Harrow which has boosted young women's self-esteem has seen its leader Rebecca Hamer become the recipient of ‘Youth worker of the year.’ Run between Soul Survivor Harrow and St Peters medical centre in West Harrow, the Space project is primarily a listening service, allowing teenage girls space to talk free from judgement. Based on the Acorn Christian listener’s model of reflective listening. The project gives young people space to talk, with no questions or agenda from the listener. Rebecca said she initially struggled with the model, ‘I’m a youth worker, I want to help people.’ However, she found that as she reflected back what the girls were saying, ‘They were able to hear themselves, and once they could hear themselves, they could love themselves. They could then make good choices based on the reality of their situation.’ Rebecca has trained a team of seven volunteers who carry out this service.

The highlight of the project thus far for Rebecca has been the progress in the girls that she works with. Many of these girls have come from tragic, abusive backgrounds, and Rebecca has seen them ‘go through life with courage and grace. And now, two years down the line they are getting in to leadership, and they are beginning to dream. They didn't know if they were going to be alive this year, and now they're talking about their dreams.’

Rebecca and Space are looking to launch a programme on self-esteem and body image. ‘[Teenage girls] know how to critique the media, and they actually know that the box that they're painting themselves into is something that they don't want, but they don't know how to live outside of it,’ she said. ‘They can de-construct it, but they still go along with it.’

There was a feeling of shock among all the winners. Rebecca summed it up best, ‘I initially felt that no-one could deserve this. Then that everyone deserved it, and finally, that what God is doing here needs to be honoured.’

Commenting on the awards, Archbishop John Sentamu said, ‘I’m delighted to be able to host this prestigious event at Bishopthorpe. To see Christian youth work going from strength to strength across the country is both inspiring and challenging, particularly in these difficult times. I'm humbled by the example set by those who give their time to Christian youth work on a voluntary basis. We need to encourage innovative youth work that puts the needs of young people first.’

The Youth Work Awards will return in 2012. www.youthworkawards.co.uk

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