not only divides our cities, it also pollutes our minds and sensibilities.”
(Will Hutton 2000:19)
White City is a
small housing estate about two miles from the city centre of Gloucester. It
rests next to an affluent area of the city; home to the local MP and many of the
local school head teachers. During the latter part of my time in Gloucestershire,
I was employed by the Youth and Community Service to deliver half time detached
youth work across the estate with the sole purpose of making contact with young
people who were considered “socially excluded”, “disaffected” and
“marginalized”. These concepts, I shall return to later in this paper.
Firstly, I wish to present an image of White City for the reader to conceptualize
the community I want to prepare a development agenda for.
It is fair to state that White
City is not represented within the idyll of Gloucester. Within a city that
boasts skills, employment and ownership of cars above the national average
(Gloucester City Council 2000), examination of White City presents a wholly
different picture. It is a striking picture of poverty, crime and unemployment.
Particularly, young people generally seem to get a raw deal, both in terms of
the local press and the educational services. Finlay Community School, the
primary school that serves White City as its’ catchment area is now under
“special measures” as a result of a damning inspection (Ofsted 1998). The
Youth and Community service also holds responsibility for failing young people.
Following the sick leave of the full time member of staff on the estate, the
service did not employ a replacement for 18 months – even though the youth
worker had begun proceedings for retirement. During this time, the first phase
of an urban renewal project went underway and a great unsettlement in the
In line with the
government’s Social Exclusion drive, such initiatives as the Single
Regeneration Budget (SRB) were initiated within the community, together with a
complete overhaul of the housing in the area. The existing housing was
demolished, replaced with newer accommodation. Further to this clear physical
restructure of White City, in line with national drives to reshape housing
estates (see Anderson & Sim (Eds.); Social Exclusion Unit 2000), Counsellors
and other figures debated the possibility of a name change for the estate. This
has since been abandoned, due to strong opposition from the community. More
recently, SRB phase five has been granted to a project in Gloucester called
“Change” aimed at tackling social exclusion, unemployment and health
problems in key neighbourhoods (DTER Deprivation Index 1999). White City
Community Project was involved in the bid for this funding.
Local statutory service
failings within White City are, in part, compensated by the voluntary sector,
again a reflection of a national “revival of interest” in his method of
social policy delivery (Deakin 1998:161). A very successful “Adventure
Playground” was established during the 1970s and has continued to a useful
play work feature throughout school holidays. The local community project,
designed in principle to increase access to employment opportunities, has
entered much political representation, together with hosting a range of welfare
services. The City Council had broken new ground by piloting its first form of
youth consultation in White City, arguably more than the County’s Youth
Service had done for the period of 1997-1999. Another social policy initiative
tied in well with the housing regeneration on the estate. The “build and
learn” scheme was specifically aimed at young people who were outside of
training and education, giving them vocational training at the college, and the
chance to work on the developments in the area (Gloucester City Council 2000).
All of these snapshot facts
help to build a profile of White City, but I would like to present the soft
facts – information and perceptions that come from members of the community
and those outside of it. Particularly, I am keen to relate to the opinions and
feelings of young people during the time that I worked there.
you’re born in to White City, you’re done. That’s it, its like we’re
destined to be here forever and to just get on with it – no matter if things
go wrong for us. My whole family, three generations, have lived here…what hope
is there for me?”
("Sarah" – White City Adventure Group)
Essentially, the young people
of White City feel left out when it comes to changes, developments and welfare
provision in their community. With their one true ally, the Youth and Community
Worker I discussed earlier, no longer on the estate, there was definitely a
sense of loss when I arrived. Immediately, the young people presented feelings
of scepticism, suggesting that I was another “plaster” to put on the wounds
of White City’s youth. Discussions around the housing regeneration programme
and other initiatives showed that they had not had any involvement in the
consultation process, and the stigma of White City youth being problems for the
The sense of belonging to the
community they lived in was always alive in their glowing talk of growing up in
White City. Conversely, the continuation of White City’s norms and values with
regards to achievement and opportunity impose themselves upon young people who
are at a time of absorbing the external influences that will shape their lives.
There is little belief in the education system and a loss of aspiration.
As a teenager, I was warned
away from White City and the problems there. The whole estate is like a spot on
the map of Gloucester that is ignored. There are no signposts that point you
there, and rarely any references to it in any positive light.
For the young people of
present times, this is a norm that they have learnt to live with. More
important, they stress, is their complete anger towards the changes on the
estate, and the reinforcement of “area embarrassment” that was promoted by
the intended renaming of White City. This anger was transposed into vandalism
and damage targeted at the new housing. The more the young people rebelled, the
further they were ignored and more they became intolerable to the decision
The young people want to be
engaged in the decisions that affect them, but there is a danger that this will
be replaced by a sense of further loss, and of apathy towards their community.
The cycle of deprivation is in place, but a successful development agenda that
is truly democratic and inclusive for young people will make some change. As
David Robinson notes that as the agencies have failed time and time again, it is
now that change needs to be in the hands of organised community action (Robinson
As Community Workers entering
a new field of work, we carry ideologies with us. Those with a true humanistic
outlook, displaying Marxist critique will no doubt agree that: “deprivation
must be seen in terms of structural oppression” (Salmon 1978:69). Although, as
Salmon identifies, there is likely to be little support from local authorities
for these radical ideologies in present “professional” community work, there
is still scope within the new initiatives of funding and renewal to provide
democracy for young people.
I wish to present my
development agenda as the first stage of young people becoming involved in the
local political processes that directly affect White City. I present the idea
for a youth council that will contribute towards the management and deployment
of future funds. Moreover, I dream of a group of young people, organised and
conscious enough to influence change rather than live with the decisions
made for them on a day to day basis.
A youth council is a useful
tool for employing one of our principles of informal education – fostering
democracy (Jeffs & Smith 1999). Adopting the philosophies of Paulo Freire,
we seek to educate people to become conscious of the oppression that is
disengaging them from the political process, their basic human rights and
freedom. In the past, White City’s objective funding priorities and indeed a
wider Conservative agenda have led to a climate whereby:
charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the “rejects of life”, to extend
their trembling hands.”
The “false charity”, or
allocation of economical incentives and even pure neglect towards neighbourhoods
similar to White City, have done little to free the oppressed, but rather -
The wider Conservative
ideology assumes that an underclass was beginning to form composed of
welfare-state dependents, which enjoyed the benefits system and chose to remain
excluded (MacDonald 1997; Anderson 2000). This radical right ideology managed to
shift the blame of social exclusion firmly at the hands of the individuals
concerned, in support of their anti-collectivist ideology and belief in
inequality (George & Wilding 1985:22).
The formation of a youth
council and consultation among young people is in line with a pluralist
community work theory that:
a role that is active in supporting and encouraging participation in the
political processes as a means of increasingly the accessibility of and
accountability of services.”
However, my rationale is more
radical. It leads us full circle to Freire’s “false charity”; consultation
for the sake of it is not enough. What is needed is a clearer model of work, so
as to encapsulate both the radical (change) and the pluralist (stability) angles
that will satisfy the funding agencies and sceptical staff who often do not
share Marxist or Humanistic ideologies (Salmon 1978:74).
Popple’s (1995) summary of
community work models presents community development as:
groups to acquire the skills and confidence to improve quality of life…Active
The role of the worker here is labelled as the “enabler and
facilitator”. It would be fair to assume that models, roles and
responsibilities can cross over and I would apply the term of “educator” to
the development angle. For, only by raising a consciousness of the oppression
that is exacted upon the oppressed, can they embrace a stake in change (Freire
1998). The raising of the consciousness is to know the reasons for oppression,
or the questioning of “why” before “how” (Boeck & Ward 2000:45). In
questioning why something has occurred, that will tackle the root cause, as
opposed to the jumping straight for a solution on symptoms. Further, as an
educator, with a target for a youth council, my role in raising the
consciousness will need to praxis or action whereby young people:
a voice…to become a powerful motif in the minds of the dominators.”
Having examined and touched on
a rationale, how do I exact this in practice? Popple (citing Henderson and
Thomas 1987) presents ten stages that community work moves through. Assuming
that the initial needs have been identified in relation the assessment detailed
in the first part of this paper, I would like to summarise the key work using
the diagram below (Fig 1.1). One central criticism of this model of work
(mindful that Henderson and Thompson suggest it is not linear) is the emphasis
of the worker having identified all needs, objectives and roles prior to
consultation, whereas newer research suggests that “service providers and
users formulate the issues…control, perhaps shared with researchers and
funders, in shaping the agenda (Boeck & Ward 2000:48). The earlier that the
agendas of the users is aligned to that of the professional, it can be argued,
the more positive the outcomes.
Fig 1.1 The White City
Process Model (Assuming needs and consultation have been identified and carried
goals and roles?
– political involvement of young people in the distribution of funds in
White City. Goals – a council of young people who influence and actively
participate in the decisions made about their estate. Roles – worker as
facilitator and educator, encouraging development but in a background
role. Bearing in mind that there have been continuous “let downs” by
the Y&C service, a stable presence of the community worker is
contacts and bring people together
Provide youth work based activities to build trust
and honesty in the group. Tackle issues through education and awareness of
oppression. Prepare skills for managing an organisation.
and building organisations
Continue to provide support. Act as a mediator for
the common “storming” phase in group work.
to clarify goals and priorities
Examine progress, look at merits to work done,
initiate a key event that will “signify” achievement
the organisation going
Provide a non-active, advisory role to young people.
Examine key funding opportunities, develop charity applications etc.
with friends and enemies
Network with local services and community
associations. Provide a continuous stream of information to the services.
Manage media profile – positive inclusion.
Continuous reflection throughout the process to
ensure power is transferring more to young people. Lower active worker
Henderson & Thomas 1987: in Popple 1995)
The importance of networking
cannot be emphasised enough. The local ward councillors must be involved in
processes that develop the group. After all, it is the local politicians who
inevitably decide upon resource allocation, policy changes etc (Twelvetrees
1991). By establishing an early relationship with the politicians and with the
media, there is more chance of a stable partnership that will create more
friends, than enemies, for White City.
Whilst there has been a
tendency to refer to youth work throughout this paper, it is important to
reinforce the notion of community work once more. Young people are part of this
community, oppressed by the social forces around them and have limited influence
as a result of various issues relating to social exclusion and the
“underclass” label. The principle reason for referring to youth work is to
fit with the development models of work and the social action questions that I
have presented. It is a tool for making the community development process
successful with young people, and its very nature is the understanding that we
support moral deliberations and enable young people to transcend from their
oppressions (Young 1999).
I presented White City as a
community of place that can be defined as socially excluded. Using local and
national information, together with the views of the young people living in the
neighbourhood, I developed an analysis of the influences on their lives –
principally the lack of involvement they have in decision making.
I went on to explore the
ideologies and theories that explain why previous attempts to work with White
City have failed.
Using all this information, I
developed an agenda for action based on a community development/social action
model. I presented a process by which this could take place.
One of the key reoccurring
themes of this analysis has been the need to implement a collectivist ideology
within the work that will take place. This involves recognising that the
structural forces and oppression are the central explanations for young
people’s political exclusion. It also acknowledges that in order to tackle the
problems, we must first attempt to understand the reasoning behind them.
For, in order to exact any
lasting change, we must firstly reject the individualist assumptions laid down
by the Conservative ideology and secondly, adopt a Freire-based approach to
Student Youth Work Online 1999-2001 Please always reference the author of
Note: This is purely a theoretical piece of work and does not serve as a
recommendation for Gloucestershire County Council.