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Title Awareness to Action
Author Jason Wood
Key Concepts Oppression, Anti-oppressive Practice, Community Work, Empowerment, Education



“Inequality not only divides our cities, it also pollutes our minds and sensibilities.”  

(Will Hutton 2000:19)

White City is a proportionally 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 community occurred.

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.

“If 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 city remained.

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 makers.

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 2000:55).

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:

“False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the “rejects of life”, to extend their trembling hands.”

(Freire 1998:46)

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 - contain them.

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:

“Suggests 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.”

(Popple 1995:33)

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:

“Assisting groups to acquire the skills and confidence to improve quality of life…Active participation”

(p56: Table 5.1)

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:

“Gain a voice…to become a powerful motif in the minds of the dominators.”

(Smith 1994:25)

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 out)

Needs, goals and roles?

Needs – 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 essential.

Make 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.

Forming and building organisations

Continue to provide support. Act as a mediator for the common “storming” phase in group work.

Helping to clarify goals and priorities

Examine progress, look at merits to work done, initiate a key event that will “signify” achievement

Keeping the organisation going

Provide a non-active, advisory role to young people. Examine key funding opportunities, develop charity applications etc.

Dealing 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.

Leavings and endings

Continuous reflection throughout the process to ensure power is transferring more to young people. Lower active worker involvement.

(From 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 developing consciousness.

© Student Youth Work Online 1999-2001 Please always reference the author of this page.

Author's Note: This is purely a theoretical piece of work and does not serve as a recommendation for Gloucestershire County Council.

References & Recommended Reading

Anderson, I. & Sim, D. (2000) Social Exclusion and Housing, Coventry: Chartered Institute of Housing 

Boeck, T. & Ward, D. (2000) The Social Action Research Contribution to Local Development, in Javela, M. et al (Eds.) From Social Exclusion to Participation, Finland: University of Jyvaskyla 

Deakin, N. (1998) The Voluntary Sector, in Alcock, P. et al (Eds.) The Students Companion to Social Policy, Oxford: Blackwell Books

DTER Deprivation Index (2000) at 

Freire, P. (1998) The Paulo Friere Reader, New York: Continuum

George, V. & Wilding, P. (1985) Ideology and Social Welfare, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul

Gloucester City Council (2000) Gloucester City Council Portal at

Hutton, W. (2000) The Economics of Poverty, in Carpenter, A. et al (Eds.) What If…?, London: Community Links

Jeffs, T. & Smith, M.K. (1999) Informal Education – Conversation, Democracy & Learning – 2nd Ed, London: Education Now

MacDonald, R. (1997) Dangerous Youth and the Dangerous Class, in MacDonald, R. (Ed.) Youth, the ‘Underclass’ and Social Exclusion, London: Routledge

Ofsted (1998) HM Inspection of Finlay Community School at

Popple, K. (1995) Analysing Community Work, Milton Keynes: Open University Press

Robinson, D. (2000) Accounting for the Uncounted, in Carpenter, A. et al (Eds.) What If…?, London: Community Links

Salmon, H. (1978) Ideology and Practice, in Curno, P. (Ed.) Political Issues and Community Work, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd

Social Exclusion Unit (2000) at

Smith, M.K. (1994) Local Education – Community, Conversation, Praxis, Milton Keynes: Open University Press

Twelvetrees, A. (1991) Community Work, Basingstoke: MacMillan

Young, K. (1999) Youth Worker as Guide, Philosopher & Friend, in Banks, S. (Ed.) Ethical Issues and Youth Work, London: Routledge 

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