National Youth Work Awards: my inspiring youth worker of the year

Ahead of the National Youth Work Awards, our Senior Development Officer Sarah takes to our blog for the first time ever to share her inspiring youth work story and encourage you to think about nominating an awesome youth worker.

As part of Year of Young People 2018, I'm supporting a group of young people to help shape our National Youth Work Awards. After hearing Rachael, one of the young people from the steering group, talk at the National Youth Work conference about the difference that youth workers have made for her over the years, it got me thinking about the inspirational youth workers that shaped my journey and supported me through some of the most challenging periods of my life.

So where do I start? I guess you could say that Community Work and Youth Work was in my blood. When I was very young, I was dragged (but I realise now that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing!) around Community Centres and made to sit in corners of meeting rooms by my mum. She was involved in a lot of local community action projects and set up many new and exciting initiatives. This made a positive impact on me; I saw many injustices and, cheesy as it sounds, I wanted to help change the world.

It also meant that I was the lucky kid who, despite us not having a lot of money, had the Happy Bus parked outside my house for birthdays and play workers in the garden organising parachute games! I also made my first wage there - a bag of 2p and 1p coins for helping to sweep a community centre floor after an event. As I grew older, these activities also involved being invited to youth club discos, barbecues and workshops, and meeting young people from all across Scotland.

When I was 7 years old, we moved house. Suddenly, I found myself not knowing many people and being bullied in unfamiliar surroundings with no one to talk to. I went to a Junior Youth Club one night and a young youth worker called Rusty spent some time talking to me. He made me realise that the whole world wasn’t about to end. I will always be grateful for his pep talk and for taking the time to listen to me when I needed it.

When that youth club closed a few years later, I rallied round a group of pupils from my class and we spent a day building a giant 8-foot snowman in my back garden. Then I cheekily dragged people off the street and charged them money each to see our giant snowman! We made about £60, which we put towards the new youth club being built in the community centre. That was quite a lot of money back then and I guess that was the first time I realised that perhaps we could make a difference. (And that I had a talent for building snowmen.)

Fast forward a few years and into secondary school. When some of my friends found the confidence to come out, we were all bullied. My confidence plummeted. I struggled to find positive adults to speak to and going to school every day was a struggle. I started skipping school and writing notes to avoid taking part in gym. My only comforts were a fantastic Art class, a great English teacher and of course, my wonderful friends. Then I found out that a peer education project to support younger pupils and provide them with health advice was about to start, so I went along to the selection day. There I met Bill and JP, two fantastic youth workers who started to change my life, giving me skills and confidence that I never knew I had.

Meanwhile, due to my mum’s continuing community work, I met so many more incredible youth workers and yes, I am going to name them here because they have all made a difference to my life in one way or another. I've already mentioned Rusty, Bill and JP, but there’s also Joe, Gus, Tom, Ross, Vikki, Corinne, Jim, Maureen, Debbie, Bob, Heather, Sam, another Bill, Dave, Mairi, George, Marion, Duncan, Lorraine, Michael, Tricia, Marcus, Dee, Susan, Kerry and many others who have been there for me over the last thirty years.

But there is one particular youth worker that made more of an impact than any other person and was my one trusted support worker. Without her, I wouldn’t have gone abroad for the first time. I wouldn’t have been involved in Fife Youth Voice or gone on to help with the planning of the Scottish Youth Parliament. I wouldn’t have landed my first youth work job, or delivered speeches in Town Houses and conferences in Fife. Her confidence and belief in me allowed me to grow as a person and gain confidence in myself. She inspired me to get up at 7am on the weekends to volunteer at events, to sign up for sleepless nights at youth work residentials, and to take part in muddy wheelbarrow challenges in local forests with young people from all over Fife. Because of her, I climbed the Atlas Mountains in Morocco in my late teens and did numerous hill-walking challenges across Scotland. Without her support and encouragement, I wouldn’t have applied to study Community Education at Moray House. I aspired to be like her, to support other young people in the same way, to give them a voice and support them to make positive change.

She was there during the hardest times of my life too. She was my rock and I will never forget it. After my mum died by suicide, she was already waiting on my doorstep when the Police drove me home after finding out. To this day, I still have no idea how she got there so fast or how she even knew. She also held my hand when I went to say my last goodbyes to my mum.

So from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank Julie Dickson for everything you do, for the person you are, and for who you have supported me to become. 

I can't nominate Julie for the National Youth Work Awards this year, but this is my little nod to her. I hope that this post will encourage you to think about who the Julie is in your life and get you nominating them for a Youth Work Award.

Nominations for the National Youth Work Awards close at 5pm on Monday 15 January 2018. You find find out more and download a Nomination Form here.

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