Within five minutes of arriving at St
Gabriel's Community Centre in Leicester, you get the sense that an interview
with Alphonso Hunter is going to be a laid back, relaxed affair. You also know
that he is going to be straight with you in his responses, honesty that comes
from many active years in youth work.
Alphonso has good reason to be relaxed as of
late. He just completed his degree course in youth and community development,
some 15 years after he took the course's predecessor - the Certificate in Youth
and Community Work. He's been in practice for as many years, and talks of his
strong commitment to the young people that he meets on a day to day basis. So, I
ask with some hesitation,
how was it going back?
"The University system doesn't really
change that much." He reflects, looking to the floor in a hope that
it will back him up on the point he is so tactfully making. "The real benefit of going back after so long in
practice is to know that it is not the be all and end all of youth work life.
After all, a lot of what the youth work training system does, contributes to you
losing that natural ability to 'do' youth work."
is keen to stress though that there is a balance between the sense of loss with
a sense of gain. "Sure," he says, "we lose stuff, but I also
gained a discipline like no other. I engaged in the reading, the learning and
found it pretty much a useful exercise."
work has taken him far and wide. He likes very much to specialise in
international work, with much of Europe all ready covered with different groups
of young people. His most recent exploration was further a field, to Canada.
His eyes light up
with a sudden spark of enthusiasm. "There is something of a buzz about it
all. We had these young people, working together on a massive peer-education
drugs project, here in Leicester and then we found ourselves in Canada, taking
the achievements to other places." The Canada youth exchange had been about
information and experience. "We tried to start, as always, at where young
people are at - something that University doesn't seem to be able to do, and
then we help them learn and develop their knowledge of drug misuse."
youth work is certainly a well established field for Alphonso, and a consistent
theme seems to be drawn from his experiences. "We're out to support young
people, in whatever they do. Support in work, support in education, support in
Young People's project, the youth work at the community centre, is developing
unique personalised support services for young people. Together with the
centre-based activities that take place on Tuesday and Thursday nights, a new
one-to-one service is integral to what the workers provide. Young people
register as 'members' when they attend the club for the first time, become
'assigned' to a keyworker and then attend the club as normal. If the need for some
one-to-one support arises, on practically anything from drugs to education, the
workers can provide the equivalent of 50 years worth of combined experience and knowledge.
Using recent Neighbourhood Support Fund money, the project has a committed source
of financial aid, together with a structure to make it work effectively. Young
people's details are entered into a confidential database with all the
information they gave at interview, and then the worker makes contact with them
in an informal way throughout their attendance at the centre.
what Connexions is trying to do now," Alphonso muses. "Something that
I've been trying to sell to people for something like 3 or 4 years now. They
have obviously got a lot of catching up to do. Because we're natural with the
young people as well, the structure isn't the main focus - rather the young
people are and we will continue to work from where they are at."
the coming months, Alphonso is going to get an opportunity to realise his vision
fully in practice. He is integrating the support project fully, with workers
already gearing their discussion groups, activities and one to one encounters
around careful and planned recordings that fully match young people's needs.
Alphonso jingles together his keys for the front door of the Thursday evening
club, he has a slight grin on his face. I get the sense that he wants to add
something else to the interview.
that youth work students must remember that they shouldn't take it all to heart.
We don't want clones coming out of places like Leicester. In the end, with the
benefits and negative aspects of training aside, youth workers need that sense
of realism - right?"
of young people rush past the worker as he opens the door to them. Alphonso lets
out a smile and looks firmly into my eyes.
let's go and deal with these hooligans..."
Hunter is the full time youth worker at St Gabriel's Community Centre, in Kerrysdale
Avenue, Leicester. He is taking part in our Profiles feature in September 2001.
If you would like to have a go, find
out more here.