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Leicester youth worker Alphonso Hunter talks to Jason Wood about youth work training, realism and the future of his youth work world...

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."

He 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."

Alphonso's 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."

International 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 experience." 

St Gabriel's 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.

"Its 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."

In 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.

As 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.

"Only 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?"

The group 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.

"Now, let's go and deal with these hooligans..."

Alphonso 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.



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