So Madge asked me to write a blog about walking and talking with young people.
Walking and talking isn’t new but it’s new to us, it’s been around for many many, years and dates back to Ancient Greece, who coined the term pedagogy – when servants were paid to walk with children and to review their day and help cement their learning. We have kind of been forced into walking and talking as an organisation due to Covid, we haven’t got many other options. We can’t meet young people in their space, in their schools, in youth clubs, or in their homes so we have taken to walking in their environment near their homes and in their towns.
So when you’re out walking and talking with young people it’s very different to centre based work, there is no eye contact, there is no physical closeness, however there is a level of intimacy that is difficult to describe because it’s just you two (maybe sometimes three) and nature. When you’re walking, the monotonous pace and the rhythm of your walk can create quite a meditative state your heartbeat increases slightly because of the physical activity and your breath can shorten. This means words and conversation are chosen carefully and often thought about.
I believe being in nature, having a rhythmic meditative walking state and that slightly out of breath feeling has encouraged lots of young people that we have worked with, to really open up about how they’re feeling; young people that have been quite stressed before meeting with us have left appearing lighter, like they’ve just left something horrible behind.
The topics that you cover whilst walking and talking can be anything and everything because there are lots of distractions. If nature wanders into your path when you’re out walking that is almost definitely going to come up in a conversation if a giant lorry travels alongside of a motor enthusiastic young person the conversation will probably be steered in the direction of careers and hobbies and ‘I’d love to drive one of those trucks one day, they’re great!’ Also, when you find yourself in a quiet area where you are not being disturbed by cars and lorries or nature, the quiet time in this secluded space opens up an environment that feels safe and intimate, and this often helps young people talk about some of the difficulties they are experiencing, The lack of eye contact, the closeness but separation, helps young people feel connected to their youth worker. We’ve had conversations about what is anxiety? Parental health, mental health, what am I going to do with my life? I actually think I wanna stop smoking? How do I cut back on smoking this drug? Do you think that if I engage more in school and I try little bit harder I might just get the grades I need to get into college? Is there any way you might be able to help me find someone who I can talk to about my self-harm? Sometimes I look at my body and I hate it. I hate feeling like that because I never used to feel like that! I’m really scared about my family and the coronavirus.
When you’re walking and talking it can feel like, as a youth worker, that the boundaries are lifted; the restrictions of communication are gone and you are just a tool there to help young people explore and question their own capabilities and abilities. Obviously, we use traditional methods like asking the right questions, we might steer some conversations into talking about things that we know that young person is struggling with, but actually when you’re out walking that’s not necessary. It feels like you become a channel you become an ear, a friendly listener to the untamed internal dialogue from the young person, to hear their musings, worries, anxiety, the “what if’s, should I?, Could !?” The “What would happen if I dids?” The thoughts that wizz about in the young person’s mind.
This is a very special sacred place to be, a very trusted and privileged place, that you don’t often experience in the confines of a building.
When you’ve worked with young people for a number of years there isn’t much that shocks you. You get to hear about the best and worst of humanity. Sometimes young people share things with you that are incredibly hard to listen to and at other times they amuse you with their childlike antics.
Just the other day a group of 14 year olds said they had played knock-a-door-run, an activity that generations of children and teenagers have played. There is something reassuring to know that those young people still have enough innocence and naivety in their characters to engage in such games when so often they are portrayed as being weed smoking hooligans with no regard for societal expectation.
Then out of the blue comes something truly shocking. During a getting to know you activity with a new group of 13 year olds last week, I asked the question “If you could time travel either backwards or forwards, where/when would you go to?” Imagine my horror when one young person replied “The 1980’s because I have heard that video games were really good back then”. I was mortified to have to explain the shocked expressions now clearly visible on my face was due to the fact that I left school and passed my driving test in the mid 80’s!
This got me to wondering when are you too old to be a youth worker? One of my workers, back in the day, is now in her 90’s so she would have been in her 50’s at the time. Although I was aware of her being older than her fellow youth workers, she did not present herself as old or fuddy-duddy in any way. In fact she exuded more energy and enthusiasm than many of the workers.
I remember my mother had a wooden plaque above the kitchen door. In true British 70’s seaside style it stated “You’re only as old as the person you feel, and when you stop feeling you’re old!” Double entendre aside, I really believe that youth work keeps you feeling young and that in itself is a good enough reason to carry on. So putting aside my bruised pride I have picked myself and reminded myself how fotunate I am to be working with so many brilliant young people. Together we can grow wiser not older.
Over recent Months there has been local concern about the behaviour of Young People at the Leys in Witney. With local newspapers headlining the following:
10th July ‘Witney supports petition for CCTV in The Leys’
December ‘A Spate of anti-social behaviour and vandalism in Witney
has prompted calls for increased youth services in the town.’
July ‘Boy attacked in The Leys park in Witney after LibFest’
The Coffee Shed on the The Leys became a target of vandalism and sadly relationships between staff and young people became strained. Working with the backing of Councillor Laura Price who is a Town Concilllor and also represents Witney at County Council Level, Got2B approached the Coffee Shed Team with the idea of a Youth Cafe.
The main aim of the 8 week project is to reduce anti-social behaviour and build relationships between young people and the coffee shed staff. We hope that funding can be secured to continue the Youth Cafe and wish to develop future work in the Witney area. The Youth Cafe creates a safe space and gives the young people a sense of ownership of the Leys area including the Coffee Shed. We are providing young people with an opportunity to experience the benefits of engaging with Youth Workers. envisage the wider impact to be positive within the community.
The Youth Cafe is on Wednesdays until Christmas 4.30-6.30pm and is open for 13-17 yr olds. We are offering free/subsidised refreshments, issue based conversations and activities, games, pizza, miniature golf, as well as friendly, qualified and experience workers.
Wow! what a learning curve this has turned out to be!
As we are starting with a zero budget, money for website building was non-existent. For once I praise Facebook’s targeted adverts because it gave me the opportunity to be a beta tester for a 21 day online wordpress course.
That was a week ago, and hopefully you’ll agree that the fact you are reading this having found it on the Got2B website, is testimony the to course. Having said that things are still not perfect, so bear with us while pages and content change. When the testing has finished I very much hope to be able to recommend the company to you.
Also in the diary this week are meetings with a councillor and a new head teacher, to look at ways of working together in the near future.
Exciting times ahead.
See you soon