I kind of stumbled into youth work. After uni I took a graduate role in a Council department who needed help bringing their communications into this decade. I’d been involved in web and app development for years because being able to code as a kid back when that was unusual had been beneficial in the Myspace era.
I didn’t really know what Community Learning and Development was, despite my research. I did know a hundred ways I could improve their online presence, and I was tactful in proving it, so I got the job.
We were painfully understaffed, and I have a fairly generalist skillset. I can do a bit of everything, and have a smile on my face whilst doing it.
At first I was filming and photographing events and training and anything of note within our work. Then I was organising these things. Then I was delivering, often still with a camera around my neck and a Tweet deck blowing up with my updates.
My contract got extended and extended, my role growing and developing over time. I got roped into boards for everything and was poached for projects that weren’t even for my department quite often. Working with young people in any capacity was something I had been completely put off of during high school, when my work experience taught me that the kids who spiked, bullied and harmed their peers got rewarded, whilst the rules were only enforced when the meek drew brief attention. This job was totally changing my outlook on working with young people. I loved it.
I loved working with young people far more than the dubious working environment. There were some great people there, but there were also a lot of problems.
I was offered another change to my role when my contract was coming to a close and decided not to take it. There was nothing quite like my varied role on offer, but I took interviews for a lot of social media and digital comms roles that worked with young people. I kept coming second to people with a little more experience, but was told I was overqualified for more junior roles. I was feeling kind of stuck by the time a few interviewers offered me a role during the interview only to be told later that they changed their mind because they thought I’d ‘get bored’. What did that even mean? I was always taking on projects no one wanted and turning them around into really positive things. My stats almost always beat every other region, and even places down in England with a far bigger budget. I never dropped below 91% engagement for our most hard to reach and maintain target groups. I was utterly organised and motivated, slotting in further education and volunteering amidst my schedule. How was my drive not an asset?
Disheartened, I agreed to start with a headhunting company who at least wanted to give me something I could get my teeth into. There were a number of red flags as I went through my training and I hated it. I’d been with a startup before who’d used our wages to go on expensive holidays with, so I had a rough idea of what working for a bad company was.
I’d been foresightful enough to have saved money to be living on during all of this, but I was starting to get worried. What was wrong with me?
I’d been involved in various bits of youth activism through working with Community Learning and Development, and had used my connections with schools, colleges and our Youth Parliament to try to educate about and eradicate issues like youth homelessness. We had a lot of areas of multiple deprivation in our localities, some of the worst in the country, and I had grown up alongside teenagers who had slept rough in -13°C weather.
My Twitter feed is predominantly full of third sector and humanitarian accounts. As I was retweeting fashion and film opportunities relevant to my followers I noticed someone talking about Move On.
There were a few steps required to apply that I was unsure about, but had been getting bugged for months to do. I’m fairly self-sufficient and am particular about the sort of help I’ll ask for, so the process rose my stress levels. Should I let it pass?
Move On was pretty much the only homelessness account I hadn’t already been following. I looked into them a bit more.
They seemed like a pretty good fit.
I sucked it up, signed on, and got told there wasn’t actually anything wrong with me. The job market was horrible at the moment, I had plenty of skills, and I was bound to get a job in no time. My confidence had been pretty hammered by this point, so that kind of helped a lot to hear.
I mentioned the CJS role with Move On. Normally I did everything I could to avoid people knowing I was sick. I’d sometimes had to reduce hours or find workarounds for difficulties, but I never wanted to be the sick one. You know, the liability. The drain. So I was pretty good at hiding it, and since I had about thirty schools and various localities to visit during my previous role it had never been noticeable when I was out of the office for hospital stuff. I had learnt to manage.
I’d been a civil servant at one point, and my delightful manager would yell at me for things like blacking out, so quite honestly an employer knowing I got sick didn’t make me comfortable. Even though I didn’t tend to black out anymore. Being sick can make my concentration and retention a little less than someone else’s, but not enough that people tended to notice. The pain and nausea’s not great, but that was generally easy enough to dismiss too.
People knowing I’m sick just felt weird.
I applied for the role despite my nerves, and I was successful. I actually got a few job offers all at once, which again helped rebuild some of the confidence that had been chipped away.
Move On appealed to me the most out of my offers. I have a genuine interest in homelessness and I’m back working in schools again, which I love. I’m also working more closely with adult learners than I did before, and I adore that too.
My role within Move On is quite varied, but is mostly hands on delivery and planning. It feels safer than working for the Council, because you’re never sent into anywhere alone. We actually have some guidance on our physical safety, although it does seem to get imparted in bits and pieces. I’ve never been in a situation working for Move On where I felt unsafe due to staff or service users. I’d never worked anywhere before that didn’t feel unsafe.
It’s also a far friendlier working environment. Admittedly the last place I worked was notoriously the opposite, but it’s a massively welcome change. I actually always enjoy coming to work. I love the company of my colleagues and I’m a lot more relaxed in our office. There’s also more people in my age bracket here, which makes it feel a bit like the good parts of school. There’s always humour and company, whether our workload is busy or quiet.
Being comfortable with each other doesn’t just make it a more enjoyable environment; it makes delivering to service users easier. We do a lot of homelessness preventative work in schools on topics like employability, drugs and financial capability. Being able to work together seamlessly feels good, and it also engages the young people more when we are creating a good atmosphere. This feeling also helps when we are sharing information or skills with each other. It’s a supportive feeling.
I already had a lot of experience working with young people, but I have had more opportunity to create and properly plan workshops. I’ve learnt a lot more about game-based delivery and find it really helpful to engage classes. It’s also a lot more fun.
Move On delivers various training and qualifications, and I get to be a part of that. Whether I’m training mentors or service users it’s always enjoyable to see people grow and develop throughout a period of time. And my colleagues genuinely take an interest in the journey of service users: when a young person moves from one service to another my peers keep each other updated on that person’s achievements. Everyone takes pleasure in helping our service users and those service users know it: I’ve met so many people since starting here who thank Move On for improving their life chances.
People actually care.
Mostly I work with young people but this genuine interest is apparent when working with our adult volunteers and adult service users too. People build warm working relationships with each other and take an interest in the details of their lives. It’s not just a job, and we’re not just staff. We care about the development of our service users and the wellbeing of our peers. Our service users recognise that and respond to it. It shows in their development, but it also shows in the way they ask after the wellbeing of staff if someone is elsewhere that day.
For a lot of our services we get participants to fill in evaluations to help us record and respond to how they feel our delivery has helped them. We’re hoping for things like increased knowledge, skills, and confidence.
I’m not totally sure what I’d write if I had to give an evaluation of my own time here. I already had a lot of skills, confidence and work experience to bring to the role. I guess my route to working in the field I love is a little backward compared to what people normally do.
Something has changed though. I’m not entirely sure how to explain it. I think I’m more content. I get to build the enthusiasm and skills of others, which is one of my favourite things in the world, and I get to work alongside people I feel good around.