Youth work changes lives - it certainly changed mine

The Very Rev Dr Lorna Hood OBE reflects on six years as the chair of YouthLink Scotland – six years that have changed her life.

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So, what is YouthLink Scotland? So many times, I’ve been asked that question over the last six years. In fact, that was my first question when I was asked if I had any plans for retirement, and would I perhaps consider chairing YouthLink Scotland. 

The standard answer of “the national agency for youth work, representing more than 100 youth organisation members across Scotland, both voluntary and statutory” doesn’t really do the organisation justice. It fails to capture the extraordinary commitment and unbridled enthusiasm of all the YouthLink staff, and the passion and knowledge of the youth workers I’ve had the privilege to meet at conferences and field trips over these years. 

YouthLink Scotland is more than just the national agency for youth work, it is a unifying force for the sector – and to say my journey has been eventful is an understatement. It has been a learning curve that continues to challenge and astound me. 

Throughout my working life as a minster in the Church of Scotland I engaged with the voluntary youth sector in a myriad of ways but mostly with the uniformed organisations. Other work was more sporadic. It was only stepping into my role at YouthLink Scotland that I began to realise the incredible diversity of youth work, matched by a highly skilled and educated staff who make up the workforce – the youth work managers, workers and volunteers. All united in their belief summed up in our strapline ‘youth work changes lives’ – a belief underpinned by their encounters and wealth of experiences.  

An organisation’s strength and adaptability are truly tested in times of uncertainty and instability. That came for all of us in 2020 as Covid-19 dominated our every waking moment and continues to challenge the sector as we slowly edge towards a post-pandemic age. But this was a challenge that the youth work sector embraced, showing amazing resilience and adaptability to change. Throughout that time the staff at YouthLink Scotland continued to support the sector far beyond what could have been asked of them.  

Without a blueprint for action, we had to ask how we could support young people’s health and wellbeing as the unthinkable happened – schools, youth centres and church halls across the country turned their lights out and locked their doors. Under such extreme circumstances, what hope do you have of providing an environment for our young people not only to survive but to thrive?  

A report to be published shortly bears witness to youth workers’ nimbleness and adaptability, finding new and diverse ways to connect and engage. They rose to the challenge. 

Covid was a dreadful time for our young people but without the youth work sector and the support they had from YouthLink Scotland it could have been so much worse. And the staff here at YouthLink Scotland really were at the forefront of that drive and support, deciphering the extensive regulations which changed almost weekly and sometimes daily, and providing the government with a conduit for the grants that became available.   

This must be recognized and in more than words. Supportive rhetoric must be matched with supportive funding ringfenced for that purpose, giving the sector security and importantly confidence to plan for the future, not as an afterthought to formal education but as equal partners. When and only when that happens, will we truly be able to claim that Scotland is the best place for a young person not simply to grow up but to thrive and reach their full potential. 

I am delighted that the baton is passed to Angela Leitch, who comes with vast experience in the public and voluntary sector. Youth work changes lives. Being involved for the last six years certainly changed mine. Thank you!