Connection: Our pathway, stage 1

Connection: Our pathway, stage 1

By Tim Evans & Debbie Garden - 15 April 2019

Some years ago at Worth Unlimited, we reflected on the film Crash.  It's a story that starts with a minor collision between two cars, but ripples caused by racial language used manifest themselves through a series of separate but connected incidents.  One of our team picked up on this quote:

"In L.A, nobody touches you.  We're always behind this metal and glass.  I think we miss that touch so much that we crash into each other just so we can feel something."

For a while, we used it as a central motif to describe what was going on for many young people on the margins - the idea that much of what they said and did was actually a cry for deep connection.

 

People need people

From anthropologists and sociologists to psychologists, philosophers and theologians, thinkers and researchers have dedicated immense amounts of time and resource into exploring the human need for relationships and the impact of those relationships breaking down or not being formed.

Some talk about this yearning for connection in spiritual terms, such as Augustine's famous quote that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. At Worth Unlimited, our vision of human wholeness encompasses people having peace with themselves, with others, with their place and with God. That journey to wholeness starts with connection, leading to deep, meaningful, trusting, reciprocal relationships.

This is why stage 1 of our youth work pathway is making a connection.

The main goal at this stage is to establish and foster meaningful and trusting relationships with young people. One of the primary ways that we discover our value and develop our sense of identity is through healthy, significant relationships. When a youth worker intentionally builds a relationship with a young person, they are demonstrating that they regard the young person as worthy of time and attention. This is crucial in enabling young people to see their own unique worth and significance.

We run open access youth clubs, events, activities and drop-in sessions, which are the environments in which we meet young people for the first time and begin that relationship-building process. 'Open access' means that anyone of the appropriate age can choose to attend (there is no need for them to be invited or referred) and that the activities are accessible to marginalised young people, in terms of location, cost and relevance. This means working with young people in the communities where they live and may include going to where they are, rather than expecting them to come to a building. The vital thing is that the environment feels safe, comfortable and non-threatening to the young people.

 

A bit of theory

Asset based community development, from which we take much of our thinking, talks about the importance of 'bumping' or 'connecting' spaces.  This approach is behind a growing movement of 'Places of Welcome' which offer opportunities of hospitality in which people can build connections and friendships with each other, tell stories, share life and discover what they care about and what they want to do together.  In youth work, we do the same: create and indwell spaces where young people and adults can be together, where a sense of connection can be built.  By creating healthy and safe spaces, physically, emotionally and spiritually, young people can learn that they don't need to crash into each other and into society, in order to feel something. 

 

Building connection in practice

For 11 years, we have been running the Waltham Forest Youth Bus, holding weekly sessions in locations across the borough. It's a safe, comfortable space for young people to gather and take part in positive activities, such as cooking, games and quizzes. The youth bus is kitted out with three computers with internet access, an x-box and play station. It's also a place where young people are able to access information and support from trained youth workers as well as developing social skills and friendships with their peers.

 Youth Bus
 

These sessions are open to all young people and - because we can drive the bus into the heart of a neighbourhood - they're easily accessible to anyone who wants to come.  The ability to go right to their doorstep has made it possible for us to meet and work with young people who wouldn’t have engaged in other youth activities.

Going to where the young people are and spending time with them week in, week out, year after year, establishes genuine relationships and bonds of trust. We work with a lot of young people who are dealing with very difficult circumstances and various agencies are involved in their support, but it's common that the individual person representing an agency will change over the years. We are able to build consistent, long-lasting relationships to journey with them through times of change.  One of the great things about the Youth Bus is that it's so recognisable and familiar to local young people.  We're not only continually meeting new people, we regularly have old faces popping in to catch up and fill us in on their news.

The significance of these well-established, trusting relationships was brought home to us again recently, following the murder of 14-year-old Jaden Moodie 3 months ago.  On the night that he was killed, Jaden had chatted with the Youth Bus team at the start of a session. He was still in the same street as the Youth Bus, where the session was still going on, when he was attacked. It's not surprising that many of the young people have been deeply affected by what happened.  Over the last few weeks, the team have been supporting them, listening as they talk the shock and trauma of that night and working with them to manage the grief they're experiencing.  In a number of cases, these conversations have led to young people sharing other vulnerabilities and struggles - about family, school, the future.  The relationships we have built over the years meant that young people felt have comfortable turning to us in their pain.

 

Over to you

Some questions for you to consider...

  • What's impact have strong or weak connections had in your life?  How might things have been different if you'd felt more connected? Less connected?
  • Who in your life might need a safe place where they are valued and cared for?  How could you offer that to them? 
  • In our society, where the absence of peace is so obvious, will you stand with us to create those safe connecting spaces where that journey to wholeness, to peace, can start? Will you give, pray or volunteer?
 
 

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