Creativity of purpose


Launch of ScotlandÕs Youth ArtÕs Strategy Time To Shine

Time To Shine. Strangetown Youth Theatre, Edinburgh Picture : Drew Farrell

Joan Parr, Head of Creative Learning at Creative Scotland, talks about the special synergy between the arts and youth work.

Joan Parr needs cropped

The value of youth work

Looking at the youth work outcomes and at what we want to achieve at Creative Scotland through ‘Time To Shine’, our youth art strategy for young people, there is real common purpose and shared approach. We all want to support and empower young people to be confident individuals, to have the opportunity to contribute and have their voice heard, to have fun and to be responsible citizens. We at Creative Scotland know that arts can effectively bring about these outcomes and that partnership with the youth work sector extends and adds value to what we do.

The benefits of youth work and the arts working together

In order to deliver high quality programmes that achieve the best outcomes for young people partnering with the youth work sector is crucial. Both youth workers and artists bring extensive skills and expertise to bear that can transform the lives of young people. Working together they can achieve more than they could separately. The value of professional collaboration is clear at every level, from looking at the similarities in desired outcomes in youth work strategic documents and youth arts strategic documents, to seeing the impact on young people taking part in youth arts activity. We are particularly pleased at the increase over the last few years in the levels of youth empowerment in decision-making.

Shared ambitions

The ambition of ‘Time To Shine’, our youth arts strategy, is that all young people in Scotland have access to high quality arts experiences and we believe very strongly that equality underpins all that we do. We want every young person in Scotland to have access to those opportunities and to have that enrichment in their lives. I think it’s that partnership between ourselves and the youth work sector, with our shared ambitions, that can really achieve that.

Case Studies

Artcore (Edinburgh) – have worked to develop a youth training initiative which builds on the ‘Out of the Blue Drill Hall’ cafe training model. 16 young people will undertake training and work experience integrated into #artcore programmes. The project is aimed at the most excluded groups who face the most barriers to involvement in the arts, and capitalises on the work of the #artcore project partners throughout the city, specifically with the Thistle Foundation who work with people with disabilities to support their independence. The first Thistle Foundation supported trainee started in March 2016. A bespoke training programme has been designed for the young person’s needs.

FreshCreations – this project offers free travel and workshops for all. They work closely with other youth organisations and services to target some of the hardest to reach/disengaged young people in West Dunbartonshire. They work in partnership with children’s units (Prep For Life) and alternative educational services (The Choices Programme), to work with young people at risk of antisocial behaviour or isolation. They are also using the ‘Y Sort It’ youth project bus to travel to smaller communities to deliver art workshops in more isolated communities.

T: 0330 333 2000 | W: | E: | Tw: @CreativeScots

Joan Parr’s article is taken from the latest The Link, the youth work sector’s magazine, you can read the full magazine here:

Contribution to health and wellbeing


Pg 13 The Place, Alness

The Place Youth Club, Alness

Gregor Smith, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Scottish Government, believes youth work is an essential part of the preventative agenda.

Youth Work Changes Lives Expo

Youth Work Changes Lives Expo RBS Conference Centre 27 January 2016 Programme #YWExpo Picture: Alan Rennie

Early in 2016, I attended the Youth Work Expo to talk about the contribution youth work makes to health and wellbeing in Scotland. I heard a wide range of people talk about their experience and how it had made a difference to their lives; it was impressive stuff.

My role as DCMO includes shaping the direction of Scotland’s future health policies and leading medical and public health professionals in driving forward improvements to ensure a health service fit to meet the challenges of the future.

The CMO launched her first Annual Report in February 2016 with a call for a debate with doctors on how we can improve shared decision-making; ensure we deliver person-centred care; reduce unnecessary variation in treatment and outcomes; as well as reduce harm and waste (including over-treatment) for the people doctors treat.

Doctors are well placed to help provide these answers but they are not the only ones who can help the health and wellbeing agenda. For the NHS to be an organisation which realises its potential – not just to treat illness – it must also promote health and wellbeing as a means of preventing illness.

Youth work has a key role in that: by building communities who can take interest in others’ health and wellbeing, encouraging healthy choices and promoting health improvement.

Scotland is now in the midst of challenges brought about by a growing and increasingly elderly population with more complex illness. Youth work has a key role to play in turning this around – it needs to act as a role model, continuing to display all the kinds of behaviours it is so respected for. With your support there are so many advances youth work can make in population health,particularly for young people.

If there is scepticism from parts of the health and social care system about why we should spend so much time trying to get the health and wellbeing of the child right, then the impact of dealing with the physical and psychological fallout of poor health is a very sound argument for this policy approach.

Three children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health disorder and nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression.

There is still a huge stigma around mental health which means children and young people are not getting the support they need. So many of the organisations who deliver youth work deliver benefits by:

  • helping young people engage, overcome barriers and build their social interaction skills including inter-generationally.
  • building communities of support and providing the links to employment and positive volunteering opportunities as part of that community structure.

A child brought up in a stable and nurtured environment is better placed to succeed in life than a child from a less secure background. For many young people that stability is not there and youth work can and does make a suitable intervention that can prevent impacts to health and wellbeing.

W: | Tw: @ DrGregorSmith

Gregor Smith’s article is taken from the latest The Link, the youth work sector’s magazine, you can read the full magazine here:

Reforming our public services – Fire and Rescue


In the last five years there has been a 50% reduction in deliberate fire-raising. In our interview with David McGown, Deputy Chief Assistant Officer with Scottish Fire and Rescue, he explains the crucial role of youth work in reducing criminal behaviour and improving communities.

Youthlink Scotland Award ceremony

Youthlink Scotland Award Ceremony 12 March 2015 Picture: Alan Rennie

What is your experience of youth work during your time with the Fire Service?

I have been with Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) for 29 years. In that time I have seen a significant increase in our initiatives with youth work organisations, and we have developed a range of programmes to either develop young people’s skills or educate them on safety. Currently we have the ‘Fire Cadet/Young Firefighter’ schemes, multi-agency safety courses, ‘Fire Setters’ programmes and bespoke ‘FireSkills’ sessions. More recently, the SFRS has developed, and published, its Youth Engagement Framework, setting out why, and how, we will work with young people to promote safety and prevention, while developing their skills at the same time.

What has been the benefit to SFRS of working in partnership with youth work organisations?

Nationally, key agencies such as YouthLink Scotland, Young Scot and the Scottish Youth Parliament have been influential in the development of our Youth Engagement Framework.

Locally we have worked closely with many youth workers in the delivery of our services. This has enabled us to engage with a larger, and more diverse, group of young people than we would have been able to working on our own. It has enabled us to work with young people who may have previously been beyond the reach of our staff. This has also helped develop the skills of our staff and we have been able to access local training provided by our partners. For instance, in North Lanarkshire we have had front line firefighters trained in the Solihull Approach, helping them to understand the emotional wellbeing of young people, and how their life experiences influence the way they may react in certain situations.

How does youth work help you connect with young people?

The development of our services is carried out by our Youth Engagement officer, a role filled by an experienced youth work professional, registered with the Community Learning and Development (CLD) Standards Council for Scotland. Having this role within the service has been vital to ensure that our staff develop the appropriate skills and have access to resources that enable them to engage positively with young people. A youth work approach features strongly in our Youth Engagement Framework where we highlight the importance that the CLD regulations play in the development and delivery of our services.

Does the youth work approach need to be more widely recognised through national and local government policy?

I believe that youth work is already rightly gaining more prominence in both national and local policy. What makes a difference, however, is true partnership working at a local level. To provide positive opportunities for young people, and ultimately to improve communities, the value of youth groups, charities and public services working together cannot be overstated. Policy is required, but it is the practical implementation of policy which is crucial.

Deliberate secondary fires (involving grass, refuse, bins, etc) almost halved in 5 years (from 25,676 in 2010/11 to 13,533 in 2014/15). “We believe that our partnerships with the youth work sector, and our engagement with young people, have made a significant contribution to this reduction.”

T: 0141 646 4501 I W: | Tw: @fire_scot

David McGown’s article is taken from the latest The Link, the youth work sector’s magazine, you can read the full magazine here:

Pregnancy, Parenthood and Young People


Citadel young mums group meeting Minister for Public Health

Former Minister for Public Health Michael Matheson discusses the Scottish Parliament’s teenage pregnancy enquiry with young mums from Citadel Youth Centre who submitted evidence to the Scottish Parliament to inform the PPYP strategy.

In March the Scottish Government published its strategy on ‘Pregnancy, Parenthood and Young People’. This is a welcome addition: preventing pregnancy at an early age and supporting young parents can make improvements to children and young people’s health in Scotland.

Dona Milne Specialist in Public Health

Dona Milne, Deputy Director of Public Health, NHS Lothian talks us through the recent publication of the Scottish Government’s Pregnancy and Parenthood in Young People Strategy.  

The most welcome part of this strategy is the focus on the social determinants of health. We know that unintended pregnancy in young people is largely due to the effects of deprivation, a lack of connectedness with education, few prospects of meaningful employment and a lack of (interpersonal) skills to negotiate sexual relationships based on mutual respect. A pregnancy at an early age can lead to poor outcomes for the young woman and her baby, sometimes creating a cycle of deprivation that can continue for generations.

We have, of course, seen significant reductions in what is traditionally called ‘teenage pregnancy’. Today sees the release of the annual teenage pregnancy statistics. The most recent information is for conceptions in 2014. In Scotland, teenage pregnancy rates continued to decline in all age groups in 2014. The teenage pregnancy rate for under 20s has decreased from 57.7 in 2007 to 34.1 per 1,000 women in 2014, a decrease of more than 40%.

However, a closer look at the numbers shows a strong link between deprivation and teenage parenthood. Young women under the age of 20 living in the most deprived areas in Scotland are 5 times more likely to experience a pregnancy than their counterparts living in the least deprived areas.

For some young people, parenthood at a young age is very much a planned and positive experience.   For others, a couple more years, a wee bit more life experience and dealing with all that parenthood throws at them might be better.

The Scottish Government ‘Pregnancy and Parenthood in Young People’ Strategy reflects on the impact of pregnancy at a young age and what we need to do in Scotland to reduce the negative effect on young people and their families.

It talks about how we can prevent early pregnancy by increasing attendance at school, ensuring continued opportunities for education and training, having good sex and relationships education and accessible young people’s services. The strategy sets out how we can support young women who do get pregnant and continue with that pregnancy by helping them to stay in education, providing a key worker and good services for young parents. It makes a clear commitment to reduce the cycle of deprivation created by early pregnancy and parenthood.

The strategy also reflects on the need to reduce the stigma faced by young parents (especially young women) and it challenges the way in which young women are judged for what is perceived (wrongly) as a lifestyle choice. My experience of working with young parents is that they are doing their best for themselves and their children despite some very difficult living circumstances.

We need to trust and support our young people to continue to do the best they can. We need children and young people to feel welcome and included – in school and in their local community. They need to experience the benefit of positive relationships with parents, teachers, youth workers, health visitors, school nurses and others who can support them to participate fully to realise their ambitions.

This is the first Scottish strategy which focuses on pregnancy and parenthood in young people and it needs to be implemented. It will need a concerted and coordinated effort from all of us and I am pleased to say that we are very much up for that challenge.

Dona Milne: @donamilne

The Pregnancy and Parenthood in Young People Strategy can be found here

The most recent teenage pregnancy statistics can be found here



Looking forward not back

LFNB Balloon 2

‘Looking Forward Not Back’, based at YouthLink Scotland, was funded through the Scottish Government’s ‘Tackling Sectarianism’ programme. The project worked with five youth work organisations across Scotland, examining the nature of the contribution youth work can make in tackling sectarianism. As part of this, young people in each of their communities were supported to conduct their own research on sectarianism.

Adele Martin LFNB 116 year old Adele Martin from South Lanarkshire tells us why her experience of anti-sectarian project, Looking Forward Not Back, was a personal turning point for her.

I have been involved in the Looking Forward Not back project for two years. Over the two years I have been working on two different projects with other young people in Hamilton Universal Connections. Hamilton Universal Connections is a youth project and allows young people to explore topics and issues in a safe environment to develop knowledge and understanding, which allows myself and other young people to make positive informed life choices.

This project has helped me to learn lots of new skills and has helped to develop the qualities I will need to become a youth worker. I would never have got involved in anything like this at school because I was never confident enough to mix with people or talk to them, now after taking part in this project I can speak with people very easily and I now have the courage to stand in front of an audience and my peers. This is all because of the youth workers who have encouraged me and always believed in me. They have given me the chance to actually become a youth worker. They have encouraged me to become more involved in the centre’s activities and volunteer to help other young people. By doing my volunteering I have achieved my 200hrs Saltire Award. I would never have achieved this if I hadn’t been involved in LFNB.

Adele Martin LFNB 2As well as becoming more confident I have learned how to do new things. I helped to make a DVD for our first Looking Forward Not Back task, and to do this I had to be part of a bigger team, this has given me the confidence to speak up and put my voice and ideas forward. I had to be able to help solve problems and doing this during the project has improved how I communicate with people, this has also helped me when I went to get an interview for college and when I got interviewed for my job. Without the confidence and being able to speak to people I would never have been successful. I now have a job as an escort taking young people to school and back home every day.

During the project I also learned that I did not need to read and write to learn, the youth workers did lots of different activities with us so that we could learn all about sectarianism but because I wasn’t good at reading and writing I was afraid. But my youth workers helped me they gave me loads of support and guidance and helped me to learn using different ways, when I was at school this never happened I always felt I was left to struggle on my own.
When I was asked to be part of the second project I really wanted to do it. I had the chance to get another qualification for doing research into sectarianism in our communities. I knew this was going to help me more, I had to speak to people, I had to collect information (I had never done anything like this before), then I had to stand up in front of people and present the findings. I knew I could do this because I was more confident and I knew the youth workers would always be there to help and support me.

Being part of this project has been great for me and if I could I would tell every young person to get involved with youth work it has helped me to become much more confident and have belief in myself to make the right choices in my life all thanks to youth work and youth workers who cared about me.

A toolkit produced by Looking Forward Not Back on supporting young people to take action on sectarianism, can be found here:

Falling pregnant versus preparing for parenthood

Pregnant Petr KratochvilDr Jonathan Sher discusses what the links are between the upcoming Olympics in Rio and becoming a mother or father in Scotland? And, why should you care as a youth worker?

Jonathan SherZika virus may be the first association that comes to mind. Brazil has been the epicentre of this mosquito-borne infection that can cause such severe birth defects as microcephaly (too small brain and head). Anyone going to Rio for the Games who is trying to conceive, or might become pregnant anyway, should be having second thoughts about these travel plans. Public health officials say it is inevitable that at least a small proportion of Scottish/UK visitors to Rio and other tropical Zika zones will return home still carrying the virus and will remain at risk of harming their Scottish baby-to-be.

Thinking about, and sensibly weighing, risks is a core element of youth work.  Neither fear-mongering nor false re-assurance is good practice. Youth work is all about helping young people both to feel empowered and be well informed to make the choices leading to the healthiest, happiest lives for themselves and their loved ones. And, what choices will young women and men make that are more momentous (short and long term) than: Do I want to become a parent at all? If so, then when and with whom? And, what can I do to increase my chances of actually getting what I already deeply desire: a safe pregnancy (for myself or my partner), a thriving baby and a rewarding parenthood?

The second link to the Olympics? Parenthood and youth work is preparation. ‘Falling pregnant’ implies passivity, fatalism and disempowerment. No one ever became an Olympic champion (or brilliantly successful in other walks of life) by building her or his life on these weak foundations. Every Olympian at Rio earned this role by years of high quality thinking ahead, planning and prolonged preparation. Some are luckier than others; but no one is in the Olympic Village primarily because of good luck or natural ability. The same is true of great parents – and terrific youth workers.

The third link is that parenthood is a shared opportunity and mutual challenge for most youth workers and the young people whom they assist and support. It is not usually an ‘us and them’ matter; but rather, an extraordinary example of common ground. Remember that while there are still teen pregnancies, the average age of a woman in Scotland giving birth for the first time is 28.

There is a largely unexplored, ‘under the radar’ cultural belief across Scotland that a person is either avoiding childbearing or an expectant mother/father. What often gets missed – to the detriment of individuals, communities and our society — is the potentially powerful period between ‘not pregnant’ and ‘pregnant’ when preparing for pregnancy is both possible and vitally important. This is neither a matter reserved for health professionals, nor only of relevance in the final weeks and months before conception occurs.

Much of the genuine preparation falls squarely into the remit of Scotland’s youth work sector. The ‘life course’ approach — and what preparing the next generation of Scottish parents means in practice — is explained in two new reports I was commissioned to write by the Public Health Director within NHS GG&C. They are ‘Plain English’ documents that every youth worker will understand (personally and professionally).

They have attracted a good deal of media attention during the past fortnight. But, if all you know about these reports on preconception health, education and care is derived from the media, then you have no idea what these reports actually say and recommend.

The main report — Missed Periods: Scotland’s opportunities for better pregnancies, healthier parents and thriving babies the first time . . . and every time — can be accessed at:

A much briefer ‘taster’ version — Prepared for Pregnancy? Preconception health, education and care in Scotland — is an introduction and overview for people having neither the time nor inclination at the moment to read the more detailed primer. It is available at:

In addition, I have written two very short opinion pieces about this topic. With an emphasis on the public sector, here is the link to the article in the new issue of Holyrood  magazine: Addressing the voluntary sector, SCVO published this blog last Friday:

Please read them for yourselves and let me know what you think . . . and what actions you intend to take in the months ahead.

Dr Jonathan Sher is an Independent Consultant based in Edinburgh. He can be reached at:


The volunteer spirit of Christmas

George Thomson, Chief Executive, Volunteer Scotland believes this Christmas we should reflect on what volunteering means – is it self-sacrifice or should it be seen as a role that gives us a feeling of wellbeing and joy? 

George Thomson

Okay, I admit to being a combination of the Gringe and Scrooge at this time of year.

That was until last week.  I heard a guy say to a group   he was a “Christmas Person” and that this was the best time of year. I thought to myself that I would take on that same spirit and use my imagination to stop moaning and do my best to raise a smile. I’m seeing new possibilities. Our home staircase can become a golden harp, angel’s wings will obviously adorn it, and I’m thinking that we might go down a heavenly route and surprise our families at Christmas dinner by entering a heavenly themed wonderland. If you have any thoughts for me about this please let me know.

I remember a group of primary school pupils being asked what they thought heaven sounded like, and one boy replied “like a fast motor car”. This somewhat drew attention as to why a noisy revving engine was in his mind, and he replied to further inquiry; “So that I can drive to all parts of heaven!” I like that.

This blog is really turning into a bit of a parable as the underlying, or parallel story, is about the spirit of volunteering. Volunteer Scotland, who I work for, has found in research that nearly half of all Scotland’s 10-18 year olds are giving time to volunteer. This is a wonderful gift, and is far higher than the adult population. Parents, friends, teachers, youth workers, and organisations like YouthLink and the Scottish Government, are doing a fabulous job in connecting the talents, qualities and energy of you all into helping others. You’re showing the way for the rest of us.

Now here’s the rub though. For some reason those very same 10-18 year olds are not really reflecting on how volunteering is changing themselves and the difference and benefits it makes to the young person. The spirit of volunteering, just like Christmas, is giving and receiving. It’s a worry for me that as our young volunteers get to 16-18 they seem to be thinking that volunteering is about self-sacrifice and “unpaid work”. Young lives are just as busy and full on as adults and if you see volunteering as an activity that is about giving up our precious time without a reciprocal return you miss out on the most important part of volunteering. By volunteering we feel good!

Young people say in our research that the most important motivations to volunteer are;

  • Helping people out
  • Being a good citizen
  • Developing skills
  • Making a difference
  • Making friends

There is an unlimited amount of different ways you can volunteer and achieve these goals. Volunteering is deeply personal, and expresses what’s important to us.  The community spirit of volunteering is “friendly, uplifting and rewarding”. In other Volunteer Scotland research we asked people about what picture came to mind when asked to think about volunteering. The top reply by far was “smiling faces”.

So let’s stop the Christmas Gringe idea of volunteering as self-sacrifice, “unpaid work”. Stop the moaning and enter the true volunteer wonderland of wellbeing and joy.

Have a heavenly Christmas and volunteering New Year

Volunteer Scotland logo

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