Zoom youth work takes off

Photo: Annie Spratt

Hannah Woods writes about how our Oxford-based partner network’s experiences of virtual youth work have gone global and led to greater collaboration than ever expected.

The impact of the pandemic on some children and young people will be far-reaching, and it will be essential that the right services are there to support them. The crisis has compounded inequalities that already existed and has hit vulnerable and marginalised groups the hardest.” (NYA’s Report ‘Inside Out’)

In September 2020 youth work was recognised as ‘essential work’ by the UK government, and youth workers were given ‘keyworker’ status.

This recognition of the vital role that youth work can play to the emotional and social wellbeing of young people has given us great impetus to facilitate and support other practitioners in offering the best quality and breadth of youth work in the ways we can.

We have shared with others our experience of using the video conferencing service, Zoom, with young people, and the tools we have found effective in engaging them. This has been an unusual and completely unexpected joy!

Our Zoom youth work documentation is rigorous and has been thoroughly road-tested and updated as our young people did things on Zoom no adult would ever have anticipated, thought about or tried. We all had so much fun!

As the second lockdown commenced at the beginning of November, I offered to share it on a youth work forum – and to date we have sent out 50 emails with our Zoom youth work documentation to youth work practitioners.

Conservatively estimating that each youth worker supports ten young people using it, that is 500 young people being reached during lockdown.

A highlight was sending an email of resources to Western Australia, where the youth worker there forwarded it onto other youth development networks.

We sent documents out to the USA, France, and all over the UK – requests are still coming in, and the geographical reach keeps expanding. This is a completely unexpected outcome that is really encouraging me just now!

We’ve been able to deliver Zoom youth work training to a number of practitioners, and discovered new youth work neighbours in Oxfordshire. We’ve had people share resources, documents and suggestions.

The pandemic has brought many youth workers together like nothing I’ve seen before in 15 years of youth work practice – we are all finding our way and the levels of collaboration and resource sharing are unprecedented.

The Chinese symbol for ‘crisis’ is a mixture of the symbols for ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’ and we find ourselves in that situation now – there is a lot of danger and risk, but there are a lot of opportunities we’d never have imagined before, and it is exciting to step into them.

Hannah Woods is Lead Youth Worker for Doorsteps, Viva’s partner network in Oxford.