Youth and Community work is a contested profession which, over several decades, has been reduced, challenged and required to adapt to address social and political priorities and emerging concerns around young people. Open Access Youth work, widely valued as ‘traditional’ youth work by many practitioners has faced most criticism and change in favour of target driven, results-based methods. Left thus in professional crisis, questions arise as to whether open access youth work can be meaningfully applied in a contemporary context.
This thesis aims to investigate the practice of open access youth work and identify what the contribution of youth and community work is to the improvement of young people’s lives in contemporary urban settings. To determine how youth and community work practices aim to explore the difficulties and challenges experienced by young people, how young people potentially benefit from youth and community work, and how can these benefits be characterised and conceptualised. It explores and assesses how youth and community work contributes to improving the lived experiences of young people in those settings, and how these contributions can be identified.
The study is a single case study; Hub67 in Hackney Wick, East London, focussed on the development and delivery of a unique youth and community space, generated as a result of the 2012 Olympic legacy to respond to community needs and concerns for young people during this period. It records, assesses, and critically evaluates the development of Hub67 in three phases; the period leading up to the Games in 2012, immediately following the event and the period in which neighbourhood structures and opportunities were reformed. Thus, it takes a chronological approach to understand the developments and challenges for youth workers, local and national supporting organisations, decision makers and young people. The author has a key role in developing the provision of Hub67, and therefore is both practitioner and researcher. The insider positioning is reflected in the methods, which applies an ethnographic approach bounded within a case study protocol. Multiple data sources were used; ethnographic fieldnotes, interviews, focus groups and minutes of meeting (in and about Hub67). The data was analysed using thematic analysis.
The study identified two key themes; Civic engagement and Self-awareness, over the three time periods; and applies Bourdieu’s Concept of habitus, field, capital and doxa to inform how young people perceive and experience social geography, agency and interaction throughout the case study. Social capital, as perceived by Bourdieu, is central to this study which aims to identify the multi-faceted characteristics and qualities of open access youth work and how young people’s lived experiences are impacted by its interventions.
The study contributes to the current and historical debates about open access youth work and its place and purpose in urban environments and beyond. The data provides enriching and frustrating questions about youth and community work and raises challenges to new and established youth and community workers in locating themselves and their work in a professional and relevant context as well as to funders, communities and decision makers as to the potential role which open access youth work can play in social and environmental dynamics and tensions. The study identifies the significance of ‘community’ in the foundations of youth work and demonstrates the therapeutic and developmental benefits offered to young people through this.