Meet our Full-Time and Part-Time Youth Worker finalists

Last week we announced 26 amazing finalists for the National Youth Worker of the Year Awards 2017. With nearly 400,000 young people benefiting from youth work every year, the Awards reflect your impact on young people’s increased life chances, personal development and well-being.

So who better to introduce you to our Full-Time and Part-Time finalists than the young people who have experienced first-hand how youth work changes lives? Read on for six inspiring stories of youth work across Scotland…

Making a difference to Arran’s young people has resulted in two of the island’s youth workers being shortlisted. Graeme Johnston and Hollie Watson, both from Arran Youth Foundations, have been nominated for a Full-Time and Part-Time Youth Worker of the Year Award respectively. The pair are involved in a variety of youth projects across the island – Graeme even sails back and forth from the mainland five days a week! But he hasn’t let geography get in the way, making sure Arran’s youngsters get the rare chance to use restaurant kitchens, to learn wood-carving with a local world-renowned artist and to benefit from one of only three IT Peer Education Youth Hubs in Scotland. Hollie, on the other hand, set up a partnership with social services to provide support for vulnerable young people on the island.

Which is why Leigh Boyd has such admiration for them. “Personally, he [Graeme] has helped me be who I am, through the best and worst times, like when I was struggling with depression he was there to help and let me say how I feel, which I am so thankful for… Hollie is such a role-model figure to me from her personality to the fact she did make the leap from school to taking on a bunch of teenage kids. We love her so much, she deserves the world. This award would just be the start.”

It’s not just Arran celebrating a double nomination. Kerry Dair and Fiona Rankin both work with East Ayrshire’s Young People, Sport and Diversion Team – and both have been shortlisted for their outstanding contribution to local youth participation and inclusion. Part-time youth worker Fiona supports some of the area’s most vulnerable young people, developing sustainable youth groups for LGBT teenagers, youngsters with additional support needs and looked-after children. Full-time youth worker Kerry champions giving children and young people a voice in the area, leading the growth of East Ayrshire’s Youth Conferences. Emily Chow says Kerry had made a huge change in her life:  “I’m quite a quiet person, but Kerry has helped me get more confident since being part of her Young Legacy Ambassadors group.  She has worked with me and the rest of the group to learn new things, and helped us get the skills to take forward a peer education project, so we can help other young people like us.”

The final nominee for Full-Time Youth Worker of the Year is Laura Ward. She’s been a youth worker with Y sort it since 2004. In that time, she has supported hundreds of vulnerable young people by developing a number of projects in West Dunbartonshire. The Young Carer’s Service supports 150 young carers each year, providing 1-to-1 support and respite opportunities. She’s also played a significant role in supporting young people to form a local LGBT youth group and the Mums & Munchkins support group for local young mums. One young mum, Aimee said:  “Laura helped me so much when I found out I was pregnant very late on in my pregnancy, she listened to all my worries, she made sure I was okay, and was there to give me support. Once I had my daughter, she helped me to go to college and to attend the Mums & Munchkins group. She deserves to be recognised for all her hard work.  If it wasn’t for Laura, I don’t know where I would be, she really did help me to change my life for the better.”

Last but certainly not least is Fraser Thomson, nominated for Part-Time Youth Worker of the Year with Cromarty Youth Café. Fraser leads various projects including mental health peer mentoring, sexual health awareness, sailing and an innovative Techno class, which brings young and old together! But he’s also supported 150 young people to take part in Saltire Awards, to build skills through volunteering. Young people like Toman Dargie: “When I first started I was quite shy and reserved but now the confidence I have gained, with Fraser’s help, has allowed me to join Highland Youth Parliament, Pupil Voice, volunteer for Saltire Awards, and I am also now a Mental Health Peer Educator.”

We’ll be announcing the winners at our National Youth Worker of the Year Awards Dinner on 16 March 2017 at the Crowne Plaza, Glasgow. Keep your eyes on #YLSawards17 for updates, or better still book your place at this year’s Awards Dinner here. And of course, thank you to Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Youth Scotland for sponsoring our Awards. We couldn’t celebrate these outstanding achievements without your continued support.


National Youth Worker of the Year finalists announced

Celebrity chef Tom Kitchin with youngsters from citadel to launch of new fundraising programme.
Left to Right andrew, connor, stephen, Milan, Aidan, Kyle
Lawrence Brodie FOR DETAIL

We’re absolutely thrilled to share our finalists for the 2017 National Youth Worker of the Year Awards with you today. With 26 finalists across 11 categories, our tenth anniversary is a real celebration of the crucial work being done by Scotland’s 80,000 youth workers, paid and voluntary.

With nearly 400,000 young people benefiting from youth work every year, the Awards reflect your impact on young people’s increased life chances, personal development and well-being.

We’ll be announcing the winners at our National Youth Worker of the Year Awards Dinner on 16 March 2017 at the Crowne Plaza, Glasgow. Keep your eyes on #YLSawards17 for updates, or better still book your place at this year’s Awards Dinner here.


Full-time Youth Worker of the Year

Kerry Dair, East Ayrshire Council: Vibrant Communities

Graeme Johnston, Arran Youth Foundations

Laura Ward, Y sort it


Part-time Youth Worker of the Year

Fiona Rankin, East Ayrshire Council

Fraser Thomson, Cromarty Youth Café

Hollie Watkins, Arran Youth Foundations


Volunteer Youth Worker of the Year

Robert Anderson, Scouts Scotland

Gail Fox, Girlguiding Tweed Valley

Christine McKillop, The Girls’ Brigade in Scotland


Youth Worker Supporting Attainment

Laura Campbell, Bellshill & Mossend YMCA

Jaqueline Mitchell, North Lanarkshire Council

Kelly Prentice, Tollcross YMCA


Team of the Year

Airdrie Youth Work Team, North Lanarkshire Council

PY Face North, Pilton Youth and Children’s Project


Inspirational Leadership

Gillian Caldwell, Scouts Scotland

Jill Elborn, Girlguiding Glagsow

Angela Morrell, North Ayrshire Council


Youth Work Partnership Award

The Citadel Youth Centre and Tom Kitchin

Glasgow Kelvin College

TD1 Youth Hub and Scottish Borders Council


Time to Shine Arts & Creativity Award

CY Music Works Team, Canongate Youth

#Freshcreations, Y sort it

Tomorrow’s People and Galashiels Works


Youth Work Champion of the Year

Jennifer Lafferty, North Lanarkshire Council

Walter Smith, The Prince’s Trust Scotland


Youth Work in Different Settings Award

Spartans Community Football Academy


What does youth work have to do with feminism?

Scotswummin researcher Lisa Gallacher explores what the women’s movement of the 1970s has done for youth work today.

What does youth work have to do with feminism? At first glance, they don’t seem much related but when you really stop to think about what youth work is and what feminism is, it becomes clear that the two are interlinked and have been historically.

Broadly speaking, a big part of youth work is about developing young people and encouraging them to question the values, attitudes and behaviours they have grown up with. It’s also about increasing confidence and self-worth, which are too often lacking in girls and young women. Feminism is, and always has been, about raising awareness, advocating for equality and improving the lives of girls and women. Most importantly, women meeting in women-only groups to share their experiences and raise their consciousness were a hallmark of the women’s movement in the 1970s.


These practices were adopted by feminist youth workers as a template for youth work with girls. In many ways, feminist youth work in the 1970s and 1980s was directly influenced by what was happening in the women’s movement.

Whichever point in history you look at, providing youth services which meet the needs of girls and young women in an ever-changing society is really important.

I joined YouthLink Scotland in 2016 to work on #scotswummin. As part of our campaign, I’m writing a report on the contribution of youth work to the women’s movement since 1850. I’ll be uncovering the story of girls and women within youth work, bringing a Scottish perspective to the topic. To make this happen, I’ll be examining historical archives and exploring some of the larger youth organisations like Girlguiding and the YWCA. I’ll also be speaking to people at the forefront of youth work today and considering where we are now in terms of the impact youth work has on the lives of girls and young women in Scotland.

I have a background in research and I can honestly say this is the most interesting project I have ever worked on. I hope that #scotswummin will showcase the talents, achievements and impact of Scottish women, and as a feminist I want to make sure that youth work’s historical input into the wider women’s movement is brought to light.

#scotswummin: Young people researching and celebrating awesome women

Our Project Officer Amy Goulding tells us who #scotswummin are and what we plan to do.

Watching the Women’s Marches last weekend was a wonderful reminder of how far we’ve come and the power of the collective roar of women across the world. It was also, however, a stark reminder of the uncertain times we are living in and the need for women’s voices to be heard.


Scotswummin is a celebration of the contribution of awesome women in Scottish communities, historically or in the present, who have perhaps been forgotten – or (most likely) not been widely heard of. Along with Glasgow Women’s Library, we are providing early career youth workers from five youth groups across Scotland with training in youth-led research, youth work skills and heritage, curating and exhibiting skills. The purpose of this is to provide them with the skills, knowledge and confidence to support young people to research and celebrate women in their community.

As part of this training programme, we are taking the youth workers on a number of visits to heritage sites. So far this has included the National Records of Scotland and the National Library of Scotland. We hope this will inspire them to engage with heritage and to use this inspiration in their youth work practice.

At the National Library of Scotland, we were given a tour of the library including the vaults. This was a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how heritage is collected and looked after, as well as a way of bringing heritage to life. This was particularly the case when the political curator at the Library allowed us to hold petitions sent to stop suffragettes being force-fed in prison. Holding the documents in our hands was a reminder of the awful oppression women have and continue to suffer, and the importance of making sure these stories are not forgotten.


We have some more training dates for our youth workers over the coming months, including visits to Glasgow Women’s Library and the People’s Palace, Glasgow. As the youth workers now work directly with young people in their communities and share with them their learning from the training and heritage visits, I excitedly wait for what they uncover. The research will be led by young people, based on their interests, and so we don’t know where that might take them… Watch this space!

Let’s talk about abortion

Young people who need clear and open information about abortion have long faced stigma. It’s time for that to change says Dona Milne, Consultant in Public Health with NHS Lothian.

Dona Milne Specialist in Public HealthIt has taken us many years to make progress on our conversations about sexual health and relationships with young people in our schools, homes and youth groups. But an increasing body of recent research has helped us learn more about what young people want and need – and they want to talk to adults they trust about topics that are relevant to their lives.

In September 2015, The Centre for Research on Families and Relationships (CRFR) published important research on young people’s views and understanding of abortion. The research highlighted major gaps and misinformation in young people’s knowledge about where, when and how abortions are provided in Scotland. When discussing abortion, young people drew on debates around rights, responsibilities and choice, and on gender stereotypes relating to norms of sexual behaviour.

In response to this research, NHS Lothian and NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde have created a new animated film, Let’s Talk about Abortion – the first of its kind in Scotland.

Abortion is a safe and, in the vast majority of cases, straightforward reproductive healthcare procedure. Around 1 in 3 women in the UK will have an abortion, and yet many, particularly younger women, find their reproductive choices judged and stigmatised. Let’s Talk About Abortion addresses the gaps highlighted by the research findings and provides information that young people themselves have asked for, in a format which they will engage with. The film seeks to address some of the attitudes around choice and gender that young men and women in the study shared with researchers.

Young people have a right to good-quality health information and to be confident about where they can go for help. In the case of abortion, this includes young men. We want young people to hear our key message that time really matters when making a decision about abortion and that the sooner you seek help from services, the better. We want to reduce the fear and stigma that may surround this decision by providing clear, factual information and supporting young people to access services easily and quickly.

The young people involved in this research took the time to share their views and attitudes towards abortion openly and honestly, and we have attempted to respond in a way that respects this. We now need to make sure that Let’s Talk about Abortion is available to young people, with the film discussed as part of sexual health and relationships education in our schools and youth groups. Please watch it and share it with the young people you work with.

Help us to increase the knowledge and reduce the stigma surrounding abortion in Scotland.

Could online gaming be good for youth work?


Allan Berry, Youth Arts Programme Coordinator at Creative Scotland, tells us why it’s time for youth work to get over its fear of online gaming.

For many, ‘gaming’ is still a dirty word – especially when it comes to youth work. While there are plenty of organisations throughout Scotland that offer a games room, there is a gap in the market for organisations that focus on offering youth work using computer games as a primary entry point. Gaming is something that is either looked down upon or poorly understood, despite being a huge source of popular culture for young people. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

This isn’t the case elsewhere in Europe. In some places on the continent, in particular Scandinavia, Germany and the Netherlands, there is a value placed on computer gaming as a social activity, one in which young people are encouraged to participate in a healthy manner. In places such as Sweden and Finland it goes further, with gaming ‘cafés’ being a big part of social activity provided by youth workers.

This isn’t just a few Xbox Ones and bean bags around a TV. This is gaming café culture. Desktop computers are set up to play competitive team games like League of Legends, DOTA2 or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. These games draw hundreds of thousands of young people to watch as spectator sports. And for a particular group of young people, especially young men aged between 14 to 20, there’s a good chance they engage in this activity regularly, even if they normally do so alone within the confines of their rooms.

What the Scandinavians have right – and where we fall behind – is the belief that gaming is not just a social activity, but one that can support, and be supported by, youth work. These communal spaces become places for young men to relax and socialise away from home, but also away from the sometimes toxic online environments of online gaming and social media. It encourages real-world dialogue in a community where anonymity has led to aggressive and sometimes destructive behaviour. And it encourages an increased awareness in the challenges of communicating online, especially as it is young men who are most likely to engage in threatening behaviour through social media. In Finland, for example, these clubs have older gamers to act as mentors for younger people; it allows young people to have someone to look to on their terms. Yes, these mentors work with young people to teach them about games, but they also work with them exactly as a youth worker does.

It’s not that Scotland hasn’t had gaming cafés in the past, although there aren’t any currently open. But they have had to exist in a commercial environment and sustain themselves in other ways, mostly doubling up as internet cafés. Likewise, commercial pressures mean that a majority of these places close down within a year or two, meaning that the ‘community’ aspect is difficult to foster. What we lack is dedicated long-term spaces exclusively for young people. Spaces that allow for young people to be noisy, creative and engaged. Spaces that allow for youth work professionals to reach a particular group of young people who don’t necessarily respond as well to traditional youth work initiatives.

The most important factor here is the element of play. There are dedicated spaces for young people to learn coding skills, robotics and digital creativity, but there are far less places were young people can just go to play games, socialise and engage. Part of the reason for that is simply that funding exists for more skills-focused projects and less so for simply allowing young people to play. This is not to say that these places can’t offer these services too. But the play aspect is an important element, and one that is lacking currently.

So what can be done? Like everything, there aren’t easy answers. Obviously, few youth work groups will find themselves in a position to invest in the equipment required to set up your own café. But we can be less tokenistic in how we approach gaming and gaming culture. I’d love to see a dedicated youth gaming centre getting off its feet, but we’re not there yet. We need to step back and not be afraid of games, and to learn from others how we could best be using this big part of popular culture in our work.

Make a resolution to put the health of young people first


In 2017, Scotland’s young people suffer from obesity more than any generation before them. Dr Anna Strachan, Policy Officer for Obesity Action Scotland, calls for urgent action to make the healthy choice the easy choice.

Today marks the start of National Obesity Awareness Week. Organisations and companies from across the UK are coming together to invite everyone to ‘Do something good for JanUary’ . Whether it’s cooking more healthily, avoiding snacks or being a little more physically active, the aim is to make a healthy New Year’s resolution now!

And there are plenty of reasons for us to make resolutions. Children and young people in Scotland suffer obesity more than any generation before them. It’s not only about being heavy and looking big. It’s also about stigma and related emotional and behavioural problems, metabolic complications such as cardiovascular disease or Type 2 diabetes, increased risk of cancer, breathing difficulties and increased risk of disability or premature death in adulthood.

It is not fair for young people to face such a future. The need for change is so urgent that many governments, including the UK government, are not only introducing plans, strategies and policies to tackle childhood obesity but also starting to consider changes in regulations. Both England and Scotland have tried voluntary initiatives encouraging reformulation of products to remove sugar and salt from the food and promote healthy options. Unfortunately, their success was limited.

For children it is not a matter of personal responsibility but rather of the environment we create for them and the examples they see. We are bombarded with messages about food and drink every day. Very often these messages promote products high in sugar, salt and fat. Until Summer 2017, advertising of junk food to children online, in print or on billboards near schools is completely unrestricted. Junk food is cheap and available everywhere. Not surprisingly, it is a default choice for children and young people.

This situation can no longer continue.  If the Scottish Government is serious about increasing the proportion of children of healthy weight, they must take immediate action to support families and communities to make the healthy choice the easy choice.  We must tackle the factors that get in the way of eating healthily.  This is why Scottish Government should take immediate action to restrict price promotions of unhealthy food, tackle the marketing, advertising and sponsorship of unhealthy food and regulate to control portion size.  Only by taking such brave and bold action will we begin to see families empowered to eat more healthily.

Public support for such actions by the government is of paramount importance. In addition to the usual resolutions of cooking more healthily, avoiding snacks or being more active, make a resolution to help to create a healthy food environment for children and young people in Scotland. Become an example of a good healthy lifestyle to young people, and show support and encouragement to our government to make brave and bold decisions putting the health of the future generations first.