Meet the finalists: Youth Worker of the Year

Sponsored by Education Scotland

These finalists are respected by young people, youth workers and partners alike. They embody the skills, knowledge and values of youth work, making sure that young people have the opportunity to learn and develop.

Youth worker of the year finalists

Vicki Jeffrey (Tayside Council on Alcohol)

For many of the girls and young women that Vikki Jeffrey works with, she is the sole positive influence in their lives.

The charity she works for, Tayside Council on Alcohol, has an extensive record of delivering person centred interventions to some of the most vulnerable young people in the area.

Vikki’s ability to get alongside young people who are living in complex, disadvantaged, and often high-risk situations makes her an outstanding youth worker. The young people she works with are typically disaffected and are distrustful of services. Through relationship building, she creates a platform for positive change; change that is led by the young person.

Although relationships are key to this transformational work, it is complimented by Vikki’s strength to fully understand the needs of the young people she works with and create a safe, nurturing and trauma-informed space that reflects these needs.  Her youth work practice is focused on preventing exploitative relationships, substance use and challenging behaviour.

In the past year, she has achieved incredible outcomes, empowering young women to secure employment, pursue higher education, and even start their own businesses.

“Vicki has helped me more than doctors and therapists, she didn’t speak to me like I was a patient but rather a caring and kind friend with the best intentions. Because of her I’ve stopped smoking weed, cut down on my alcohol consumption and she has helped me with my social anxiety a lot.” Kaitlyn Wilson

Graeme Johnston (Arran Youth Foundations)

“Simply, the best.” That’s how young person Megan Barrie describes her youth worker, Graeme Johnston.

“He supports anyone who needs it with personal or family issues. He will do everything in his power to help anyone who is struggling. If he can’t help, then he will reach out to people and other support networks that can help.”

In just 12 years, Graeme has transformed Arran Youth Foundations (AYF) from a poorly attended youth work project into an award-winning organisation offering free sessions every day of the week.

Despite commuting from the mainland and having a young family, his dedication to Arran’s young people is unshakable. AYF now boasts exceptional participation levels, with over 200 young people engaged from a school of under 230. The young people of the island once felt ignored and without purpose, but now they credit AYF with changing and even saving their lives.

Island life can be isolating for young people, especially when poverty and poor mental health is a factor as well. Graeme has personally met with homeless young people, connecting them with services they need. He also works with young people to address addiction and depression, making referrals to addiction workers and offering additional support. His efforts have even included arranging grants through the Winter Fund to assist children in crisis with essential needs.

Every young person receives Graeme’s dedicated support, ensuring they have the assistance they need. He acts as a listening ear, developing a team to provide similar support to others.

Marc Smith (St Paul’s Youth Forum)

Marc’s journey from a challenging young person to an exceptional youth worker is a testament to his resilience, determination, and commitment to making a difference. Despite growing up in a deprived area and facing personal challenges, his involvement with the local youth club from a young age ignited his passion for supporting others.

Since completing his PDA in youth work, he has become a highly effective youth worker, drawing on his personal experiences to guide young people away from anti-social behaviour and seek out a more positive path in life.

In the past year, Marc has truly thrived and made significant contributions to the project. He played a vital role in establishing Bolt FM, empowering young people to express their voices and conduct impactful interviews with politicians. He has also supported peer educators in addressing gender-based violence, leading to the creation of a monthly football and talk session.

Many of the young men involved have to navigate a range of difficult issues, and following a tragic suicide, he set up the project’s Boys Group. The group are supported to talk and explore topics such as masculinity, relationships and pornography.

His nominator says his youth work practice goes much further than his relationships with young people, establishing strong connections with families, community members, partners and colleagues:

“If it were possible to clone Marc, his exceptional qualities and dedication would resolve issues faced by young people in communities across the city and country. He is a true asset, transforming lives through his comprehensive approach to youth work.”