Youth and community work has been hit hard by the triple threat of austerity, Brexit and COVID-19 – but a new university degree could prepare professionals to help repair the damage.
A first of its kind in the North West, course providers say the degree will ultimately benefit some of the most vulnerable communities in the region.
Hayley Thomson, professional tutor in youth and community at Hope, says the programme is about promoting education, empowerment, equality and participation for young people and adult community members from all walks of life. It covers everything from helping community members to develop skills and engage in valuable projects, to promoting wellbeing and access to the arts.
Hayley said: “We’re excited to announce our new Youth Work and Community Development Degree, providing professional training for graduates to meet the growing demand for youth work across the UK.
“And we believe there’s never been a more pressing time to introduce such a programme, given the struggles facing our local communities, and particularly young people.”
Hayley points to research undertaken by the YMCA, and published in January 2020, which highlighted how almost a billion pounds – £959m – of local authority spending has been removed from youth work between 2010 to 2019, a 71 per cent reduction.
Similar research by the trade union Unison highlighted the impact of those cuts on the lives of young people and local communities.
Unison’s ‘The Damage’ report from 2016 showed 600 youth centres across the UK had been closed – with young people feeling less empowered, less secure in formal education, less confident about finding employment and with increased prevalence of mental health issues because of the reduced availability of youth services in their local areas.
Hayley said: “The impact of funding cuts to youth services has been felt most acutely by young people from poorer communities, and particularly young women, young people from LGBTQ+ communities, and young Black, Asian and diverse communities.
“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many communities faced increased social, economic and political inequality as a result of funding cuts and re-distribution of government funding away from universal services, sparking division and disharmony at a local and national level.
“Add to that the impact of the Brexit referendum and for some communities tensions escalated further, creating widespread disconnection at a neighbourhood level.
“Meanwhile the pandemic wreaked its own havoc on communities already suffering. The ongoing cost to human life, mental and physical health and economic stability continues to be impacted.
“Yet, across the UK, one of the responses to the pandemic has been an increase in community participation and support.
“There have been significant reflections both locally and nationally on the way neighbourhoods have responded to look after each other.
“This resurgence in community engagement and participation is central to the rebuilding and recovery for communities post pandemic – and is also central to Liverpool Hope University’s new BA in Youth Work and Community Development.”
The undergraduate course is accredited by both the National Youth Agency (NYA) regulatory body as well as The Endorsement and Quality Standards Board for Community Development Learning (ESB).
The new BA joins Hope’s Master’s degree offering – MA Youth and Community Development.
Meanwhile Hayley is confident graduates from the BA in Youth and Community Work will be swift to find professional employment based on the employment success of previous graduates of the MA Youth and Community Development Course.
Hayley said: “Our communities are facing some unprecedented challenges right now – which is why neighbourhood-level support is needed as part of a far wider response and recovery plan over the coming years.
“There are currently local and national indications that this development is growing in response to the need. And we strongly believe this is now being reflected in the jobs market at a national level. Our youth work and community development graduates are going to be in great demand.”