Meet the Finalists: Youth Worker of the Year

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Gerard Martin, St Paul’s Youth Forum

Described by a colleague as being “the epitome of what a youth worker should be”, Gerard Martin is quite literally saving lives through his compassionate, unwavering dedication to youth work. 

Receiving a distressed call from a young person in crisis in the early hours, long outside his working hours, Gerard didn’t hesitate for an instant. Making himself available for as long as he was needed, Gerard’s patience, empathy and compassionate dialogue ultimately saved a life that night. 

Operating in an area that has long-standing issues with gang-related violence and crime, Gerard’s communication skills and ability to attune himself to the most acute social issues allows him to work with some of the most aggressive and at-risk young people at St Paul’s, diffusing tense situations with his sharp sense of humour and helping to avoid conflicts that look all but inevitable.  

Innovative in practice, Gerard initiated a football club that promoted health and wellbeing while also tackling food-poverty, a prevalent issue in the area. This evolved into establishing a local team and, even more ambitiously, a £750,000 health hub, answering the community’s long-standing need. This project promises access to sports facilities and represents the fruition of Gerard’s dedication to enhancing local youth opportunities. 

Gerard’s transformative influence has led to a noticeable decline in criminal activity among the area’s youth, highlighting his role in their personal, social, and educational development. Beyond creating a safe and nurturing environment, he ensures every young person feels valued, respected, and part of the St Paul’s family, embodying the life-changing impact of a life dedicated to youth work. 

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Kenny Cameron, Spartans Community Foundation

Spearheading the youth work offer at Spartans Community Foundation, Kenny Cameron deals not only in goals on the football pitch but goals in life. Kenny’s approach to leadership, prioritising inclusivity and a strong youth-led ethos has inspired both his team and the young people he serves. 

With the on-field success of Spartans FC, now plying their trade in SPFL League Two, ultras culture began to take its grip on young supporters of the club. Under Kenny’s guidance, the foundation has seen the creation of Spartans Ultras North Club, an initiative that channels the enthusiasm of young football fans into positive community engagement, while addressing and mitigating the potential negatives associated with ultras culture. This project exemplifies Kenny’s aptitude for combining passion with purpose, steering young fans towards positive citizenship and pride in their community. 

Kenny’s focus on child protection and creating a safe space ensures that young people have the support they need in times of challenge, teaching his team the importance of mutual care and vigilance. His efforts have cultivated a culture of positive identity and belonging among the young people of North Edinburgh, significantly influencing their self-esteem and ambition. 

Beyond Kenny’s role in the community, the direct impact of his presence and mentorship has been truly lifesaving. His intuitive approach to youth work marks him out as a trusted confidant for those in crisis. Highly attuned to the young people he supports, he can intuitively recognise when a person is suffering in silence or experiencing a crisis. 

A role model to the young people he supports and the community he serves, Kenny is the first name on the team sheet when it comes to youth work in the north of Edinburgh. 

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Laura Kiltie, Dumfries & Galloway Council

Speak to anyone in Dumfries and Galloway about youth work and Laura Kiltie will pop up in conversation, so synonymous are the two. 

A youth development worker in Wigtownshire area, historically famed for its textile industry, Laura is not only part of the fabric of the local community, but actively involved in pulling various threads together to weave and spin a rich tapestry of support for young people in the area. 

Laura has been instrumental in the coordination and delivery of local youth work and schools partnerships, while also providing a guiding hand in the creation of a thriving young women’s network. She was also the creative force behind D&G Youth Work’s Year of Young People programme. 

Laura embodies that quintessential ‘can-do’ attitude that lies at the heart of all high-quality youth work – everything is seen as an opportunity. When young people’s relationship with a local school deteriorated, Laura secured a dedicated youth work space within the school. When a lack of junior and afterschool care was identified, Laura sprang the Newton Stewart initiative to increase provision across the local authority. Cultivating strong relationships with third sector organisations from far and wide, Laura is a monumental part of the reason that young people are so well represented in Dumfries and Galloway. 

Laura is also inspiring the next generation of youth and community workers, developing a youth work trainee programme and gaining funding for six trainee youth workers to support the delivery of these services to safeguard the future of youth work in Dumfries and Galloway. 

Hanna Birse, who is “incredibly proud to be one of Laura’s young people”, said: “Laura has been there on the hardest days of our lives with a cup of tea and a biscuit, no matter what goes wrong she is there and will do what she can to help. Some of us don’t have family who we can go to for help, but Laura makes up for that by being there when we need her, she is our biggest advocate.” 

Let’s raise a glass to that. 

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