A Transformative Summer of Youth Work

We’re back to school, back to the office, buoyed and brimming with the joy of reconnection with others, and transformed in ways that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. Danny Whitehouse, who leads the youth work teams reflects on the transformative summer of 2021…

This summer, MAP staff and more than 200 young people have completed over 400 hours of adventures across Norfolk. During 74 day-trips over 6 weeks, young people took part in everything from camel-riding to boating on the broads, podcasting, and an impromptu prom with every pizza topping. MAP’s youth work team has pulled out all the stops, responding to young peoples’ pleas for some excitement, some social time at last, some support to make sense of the past year, and a chance to reimagine their futures.

Painting our faces with charcoal, talking round the fire, giggling and sharing hopes and dreams, it reminds us that the activity itself is the least important aspect of our youth work. It’s all about the relationships we form, the new goals we set together, the moments when young people think about themselves differently. It’s a chance for young people to figure out their place in the world. Many of our projects are about helping young people to change and improve the world around them. In-between the sea lion show and rolling around with pigs in the mud, young people participated in discussions about wellbeing and had a chance to share their opinions of mental health services.

Slipping in something squishy in our sandals and falling off our paddleboards, MAP’s youth workers have been enthusiastically adjusting to face-to-face delivery after months on screens. Although we’ve managed to maintain all the essential elements of our work throughout COVID – we’ve always been there for young people – nothing beats whizzing round the go-karting track together and swinging from the trees of Thetford forest, a picnic in the park and a drumming circle. Organising it all wasn’t without difficulty, but through grit and creativity we managed to avoid having to cancel a single activity due to COVID. An entire activity centre shut down due to isolation a week before our booking; we found another venue. A minibus driver had a positive result the day before our trip; we hired a fleet of taxis. Staff covered for each other and jumped in to ensure that we kept all of our promises to young people.

This summer, young people have been expanding their comfort zones, catching up with friends and making new bonds. They tell us that it has eased their anxiety to be out and about again, and to talk about how things might be different now, in a COVID world. To some extent, they are inheriting a world that has been created by other generations of people. As much as possible, we want to help young people to shape and make that world better, now and in the future. This summer was the start of many of those conversations.