Youth work matters! - YMCA DownsLink Group

Youth work matters!

Eli Adi, youth worker, smiling

As YMCA England and Wales’s report, Generation Cut, reveals a 73% decline in spending by local authorities for youth services, due to pressures on their central budgets, we speak to two passionate youth workers who share their personal experiences of how youth workers changed and inspired their lives.

Eli Adie runs our Youth and Advice Service (YAC) in Crawley. She’s very open about the difficulties she faced in her childhood and adolescence. Youth workers changed her life and inspired her career:

“I was incredibly lucky to have access to a range of great youth work projects in my youth – all of which have contributed to making me the youth worker that I am today. In primary school I was an excitable bundle of energy, but really struggled to make friends easily and family life was complicated. By my early teenage years, I was really struggling with my mental health and didn’t want to be around anymore. It wasn’t until I moved away from home and got to university that I accessed formal mental health support. Throughout my early years, it was youth work that kept me going. I went to early morning club, after school club and Scouts – anything they could do to get me out of the house. Holiday clubs in the school breaks, sports clubs and arts projects – youth clubs were the one place I truly just got to be a kid and avoid what was going on at home.

Eli Adi, youth worker, is interviewed by a man holding a microphone
Eli Adie being interviewed by BBC Radio Sussex after being nominated for a ‘BBC Make the Difference Award’ for her youth work

I remember Alison from my after-school club, who would make me pancakes after school with cheap chocolate spread. And Mark, who taught me to ride a bike. And then a unicycle. I remember Saskia, who ignited my love for music with drums and guitars. I remember Skip, Jo, Ben and Andy, my Scout Leaders, who provided me with countless opportunities to have fun, build my skills, understand the true value of volunteering and become a young leader. I remember Dr. Durkin, the only teacher to pull me aside at school and ask me if I was okay, rather than tell me off for misbehaving.  I remember Ian, my band mentor at Rhythmix who gave me the space to play music with my friends, who encouraged us to take risks, push ourselves and experience the joy of performing. I remember Andre, my line manager in my first full-time job, who not only helped me progress into the professional I am today but supported me through a time when I was just learning how to manage my mental health as a working adult. Not all of these people would call themselves ‘youth workers’, but they all had an enormous impact on me before I turned 25 – and so I challenge anyone who works with young people to consider that they are a youth worker and they have an amazing opportunity to positively influence someone’s life.

I am the person and the youth worker I am today, because of all these people. Whilst the impact they had was great, their actions were simple. They built trusting relationships with me, saw me for who I truly was and encouraged me to be my true authentic self. This is the power of youth work – it’s a fundamental part of a healthy society – and a crucial safety net for so many young people. There will always be young people, so we will always need youth work. We can’t let it die out – so we have to address this funding crisis.”

We also heard from Gary Crowhurst who runs our youth clubs in Eastbourne. He explains how youth workers influenced his life, when he needed it:

Man, who is now youth worker, on a hill with outstretched arms“Growing up, I was no stranger to trouble. I was lost, and I didn’t know how to find my way. But then a youth worker stepped into my life, and everything changed. They believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. They gave me a sense of purpose and direction, and they were always there to guide me back onto the right track. With their unwavering support and encouragement, I was able to reach my full potential and become the person I was always meant to be. I owe everything to that youth worker who changed my life forever.”


Eli also gathered some quotes from children and young people who are currently using our youth services.

My worker is incredibly important to me because I simply wouldn’t be able to function without her help. I’ve learned day to day skills that I can carry forward when I move on from YMCA housing and it’s been an incredible help to my self-confidence.

My worker makes me feel understood and listened to, and she does not talk down on me for not knowing certain things that other people might take for granted. Because of her, I have gained a lot of confidence in myself that I didn’t have when I started attending the YMCA.

youth worker on a basketball court with a group of young boys smiling and talkingYouth work is often misunderstood and undervalued. Youth work can happen anywhere and comes in lots of different guises, from after school clubs, sports activities and youth centres to specialist youth workers and advice services. In the past, these places have provided a much needed ‘safety net’ for children and young people and given them a safe and supportive space to connect with peers, engage in positive activities, and access support from trusted adults.

That is why we are so concerned about the figures that have been released by YMCA England and Wales. As an organisation we are only too aware of the lack of funding for these services. Although we’ve managed to maintain some essential youth services, such as our Youth Advice Centres in Brighton and Crawley, financial pressures have forced the scaling back or closure of some key projects tackling pressing issues, such as county lines drug dealing.  In our region, West Sussex, which includes Crawley and Horsham, is in the bottom 50% across England for spending on youth work, equating to a 68% real terms cut.

To read the full YMCA England & Wales report click here and to find out how youth services have been affected in your local authority use their interactive map.



YMCA enables people to develop their full potential in mind, body and spirit. Inspired by and faithful to our Christian values, we create supportive, inclusive and energising communities, where young people can truly belong, contribute and thrive.

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