A tour with a difference

Jim Sweeney, CEO, National Youth Work Agency, YouthLink Scotland

On the Hebridean waves at Radio Cullin FM

On the Hebridean waves at Radio Cullin FM

‘The greatest good we can do for others is not just to share our riches but more importantly to reveal theirs.’

In some ways that sentence both illustrates what youth work is all about and is also the reason why it is so important for me as Chief Executive of YouthLink Scotland to hit the road every summer and find the hidden treasures which are lying undiscovered among the work of the membership.

Michelangelo said that David was already there in that block of marble, the raw material. His job had been in patiently chipping away at the superfluous detritus to reveal the astounding beauty that lay within. How many youth workers out there can relate to that when reflecting on the changes they see in the young people they work with over a period of time.

This summer visits are very much still in progress.  I have been visiting many of our more remote member locations and I have been made very welcome everywhere.

In Portree I took part in a Radio Chuillin conversation with Highland Councillor and part time radio Presenter Drew Miller. We discussed the subject of male role models and also the role of mentors.

Jim with YMCA mentors

Jim with YMCA mentors

I then met with some of the mentors from the YMCA who are doing terrific joined up working helping troubled young people get their lives together. The empathy and nurturing nature displayed by the volunteers augured well for this project.  A massive thanks to Christina Crichton and her dedicated team for sharing their experiences and their future hopes with me.

The next day I spent some hours at Columba 1400 which owes its existence to the incredible vision of a local minister named Norman Drummond. Appalled at the human misery and lack of social and moral cohesion in so many lives he decided to do something about it…in one of the most remote corners of the British Isles. Like Disney in a swamp in the Everglades he believed if he built it they would come and so it has been proved.

Beautiful Staffin

Beautiful Staffin

I spent time with Gregg McLennan the programme manager at Staffin. A satellite centre operates at Loch Lomond. For groups who cannot get to Skye .The main programmes of Columba 1400 last for around nine months with the week long residential being key to getting the essential elements across. This is intensive group work and a very effective means for helping anyone but especially young people take control of their lives.

From Uig I set sail on the last ferry to Tarbert with a spectacular Hebridean sunset drive to Stornoway on disembarkation. My task in the Western Isles was to brief a substantial group of staff from CLD partner agencies on the latest developments in the sector.

CLD seminar

CLD seminar

The structures in the islands are by necessity very different though,  the closer working around health and social care budgeting and planning is very high on the agenda at present. The lack of clarity around the next tranche of Euro funding is also a worry. I visited the Café Project in Stornoway which is a social enterprise /work experience operation employing young people with special needs in a catering and retail setting. Great atmosphere and a busy place.

I sailed that evening to Ullapool thinking that more than ever we need youth work as an essential part of the toolkit that helps young people in their transition to adulthood. I was also heartened by the commitment of everyone I met in believing that young people mattered and had intrinsic worth and talent that needed and deserved nurturing.  More of my wanderings at a later date.

Uig to Tarbert

Uig to Tarbert



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