Tag Archives: youth

The History of Youth Cultures: Understanding International Influences, National Frameworks and Local Lived Experiences

This post originally appeared on the Four Nations History Blog in February 2015.

Different regional, national and international perspectives are essential to understanding the history of youth cultures. Without understanding international influences, national frameworks and local lived experiences we cannot fully understand how young people have formed and shaped their cultures.

In Four Nations terms the frameworks of Youth Service policy are decidedly English. The Youth Service after the Second World War only included England and Wales in the landmark 1960 policy The Albemarle Report, even then with scant reference to Wales.[i] However, when looking at the regional youth club associations and individual clubs themselves it became clear that, even at the time, national policy frameworks were only so useful in understanding youth clubs and how between one quarter and one third of people used them.[ii] Youth clubs varied hugely, influenced by a range of factors, including the young people that attended them.

For example, in Liverpool there were clubs supported by long-established links with public schools, settlement clubs, church clubs, grassroots community clubs and roving youth workers in perceived trouble-spots using a minibus as a club. To say that these clubs existed against a local backdrop of industrial decline, unemployment and changes to housing in Liverpool in the post-war period would be to do a disservice to the way Liverpool’s unique history shaped the youth work happening there. It was a dynamic relationship with youth work organisations responding actively to City-wide and micro-local circumstances.

Youth culture also had a role to play, and one which cut across national boundaries. Adrian Horn’s discussion of Americanisation is pertinent here when looking at the local variations adopted by beat and skiffle groups in Liverpool to create the ‘Merseybeat’ sound.[iii] This sound was nurtured in the local youth clubs; places where bands formed, practiced and performed alongside the City’s central commercial venues. There were perhaps ten bands playing the local scene for each one that gained international or national recognition, but for the young people attending dances and live music in Liverpool’s Youth Clubs they were all part of their local youth culture.

This is evident in London too. In 1960s London, we are accustomed to hearing about ‘Swinging London’ and its vibrant scene. However, South London had its own variants of youth culture and subculture, including rival Mod and Rocker youth clubs and local sound system cultures. The glamour of the west-end clubs existed for the few, and as David Fowler rightly points out, it was the local Palais de Danse in Streatham rather than the glitzy Soho nightclub that was the site of everyday youth cultures, as indeed was the youth club for those that used them.[iv]

This indicates that both one and four nations approaches to the history of youth have their limitations. What is required is an understanding of how international influences, national structures and local circumstances came to shape young people growing up in the post-war period. This research began with an examination of 25 years of policy on youth and the Youth Service. It included reference to the problems of youth such as delinquency and indeed local case studies have added grounded examples to how youth work and delinquency can be linked. See Kate Bradley’s earlier post on this blog for more. Often though, national policy blurred and ameliorated as much as it revealed.

What does this mean for Four Nations frameworks? As previous posts have rightly pointed out, there is immense value in looking at our approach to history using the lens of different nations. The same applies to looking from local perspectives, though we should bear the metropolitan fallacy in mind. It is not that a four nations or national approach is not appropriate, but by delving below the national level to the micro local, we are encouraged to think critically about how we use these categories, to use them more explicitly and to talk to fellow historians about what we assume, conceal and reveal in the process. Looking at national youth organisations and literature on youth cultures has provided a national context, but is only by trying to understand youth cultures within individual youth clubs and local communities that this research has come to understand the myriad forms they have taken and the fluidity within them.

[i] Ministry of Education, Report of the Committee Appointed by the Minister of Education on The Youth Service in England and Wales (Albemarle Report), London, HMSO, 1960

[ii] Davies, Bernard, A History of the Youth Service in England, Volume 1, Leicester, National Youth Agency, 1999, p. 56

[iii] Horn, Adrian, Juke Box Britain- Americanisation and youth culture 1945-1960, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2009

[iv] Fowler, David, Youth Culture in Modern Britain c.1920-c.1970,Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008

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Walking Liverpool: dynamic understandings of youth and youth work in Liverpool

I have just got back from an exhausting but excellent research trip to Liverpool where I have been immersing myself in the history of youth clubs and youth work as well as getting to know the city a little better. On the second day, while visiting a club whose papers I have read, I was reminded of Lucie Matthews Jones Blog ‘A Walking Historian’ in which she describes the connection that walking can give her to her research. Having spent time this week exploring the spaces in and around some youth clubs in Liverpool I have felt a little of what Lucie describes in her blog. I understand better how the spaces clubs occupy shape and have been shaped by the City, its history and its people. This in turn gives me a different appreciation of these places when I see them discussed in documents. They are not passive, static buildings and streets. They have an active, dynamic role to play in shaping the young people and youth work histories of Liverpool. Continue reading

Linking young peoples’ benefits to training

The Labour Party are set to announce their plans for cuts to the welfare budget. It is being reported that among them is a plan to link benefits for young people to training. For young people between 18-21 who do have such training, the Job Seekers Allowance will be replaced by a payment that will require recipients to be in training at level three, equivalent to an A-Level. The JSA will remain for those with that training already, meaning the policy will affect seven out of ten 18-21 year olds currently on JSA. The money received by young people will be broadly the same, though means tested and tapered off dependent on parental incomes between £20,000 and £42,000.

The idea of linking benefits to training is interesting and the devil will be in the detail in this case. Helping young people get the skills they need to find work is a good idea, but making this a condition of receiving benefits has a touch of the workfare about it. In addition, it is not clear how such training will operate and what will happen if the jobs these young people are expected to go on to fail to materialise. What kinds of training will be considered? Will volunteering count? Volunteer work has the potential to help people learn new skills, but is often not considered within the realms of formal training. The presumed links between volunteering and employability are also not entirely supported by research. And again, Labour and those who might vote for them to introduce such a policy will have to decide if this is a step too far towards workfare, and if they think that is the right thing to do.

Looking at what detail has been announced, I am not sure how comfortable I feel with the idea of linking benefits to parental income, especially at the lower income ranges. Families with more children will suffer disproportionately if having more mouths to feed is not taken into account. This also presumes that parents will continue to support children after an age at which they are legally independent. I am sure many will, but it makes assumptions that all young people live in families where this is possible and therefore could leave vulnerable those that do not. What does it mean for how we view young people if parents are still partly financially responsible for children under 21 who are not working, but that state wants to divest itself of some of that responsibility?

The Guardian have asked a few young people what they think of the proposed changes. Two say that the young are being hit because they do not vote as much as older people – a post for another day perhaps. Another says it is unfair for young people to be hit with austerity measures when they had no part in causing austerity. One sees it as potentially a good move. But as is often the case with stories about young people in the media and policy about them, their voice is not particularly loud and frequently drowned out. I’d be interested to hear in the comments if any other young people have an opinion on the proposal.

Until such time as a fuller policy is revealed and indeed only if Labour are elected to implement it, wondering how this might work is little more than an interesting exercise. Looking at the coverage of It does reveal something of assumptions about young people and the families they live in though. It also reveals continuity with earlier youth policies and perceptions, where boundaries between adulthood and parental responsibility are somewhat malleable. Finally, it continues the long running debate about precisely where the parameters of state responsibility for citizens lie. It is perhaps these assumptions and blurred boundaries that make policy-making around young people fraught with difficulties, and definitely one of the reasons I am so interested in researching them. This, from Labour is not the last we will hear of young people’s welfare policies in the run up to the 2015 election, but it sets out to continue the debate along familiar lines. Whether anyone will seek to move debate forward, especially by bringing the voices of young people to the forefront, I will wait to see.

Breaking new ground or digging up the past?

This post originally appeared on the VAHS Blog in March 2013

I’ve been watching the Channel 4 programme ‘Secret Millions’. The programme is a step on from the popular C4 format ‘Secret Millionaire’ where wealthy people give some of their money away to shocked recipients and the good causes they have been working with. The new show is about the distribution of Big Lottery Fund funding to voluntary organisations for ‘innovative and ground-breaking projects’. It uses a line-up of well-known C4 personalities looking to tackle some of Britain’s most pressing issues, working on pilot projects with voluntary organisations, with the prospect of the Lottery windfall hidden until the end.

The first episode featured C4 regular George Clarke tacking the issue of youth unemployment and empty homes. He worked with a local London youth club and the organisation London Youth getting young unemployed people involved in renovating a disused house with the help of retired mentors from the building trade. The programme followed the young people on trips, highlighted some of the social problems they face and showed them working on a house to get it renovated within two weeks. At the end the big announcement was made that they had been awarded funding by the Big Lottery Fund, £1.7 million over two years, aiming to help 1500 young people into work. I really enjoyed the show. It was an interesting way to look at the work of small voluntary organisations, raises several social issues and came with a big feel-good factor at the end.

However, the historian and critic in me was not quite sure how new, big and bold, the innovative idea being tested was. Surely this was just reality television gloss? Then today in the archives while researching London youth clubs I discovered the London Federation of Boys’ Clubs working with the Manpower Services Commission and the Job Creation Programme on a scheme where unemployed youth were trained up in the trades, in 1974. Admittedly these youngsters were renovating youth facilities and George Clarke has long campaigned about empty homes, but I was still struck by the similarities in the scheme: Both used youth clubs to target vulnerable youths, both looked at practical work experience, both projects took place during times of high youth unemployment where many young people lack opportunities to get into work and neither set of youngsters appear to have been paid for their work. Of course it is unlikely that C4 undertook extensive archival research prior to recording and I am sure all involved thought they were on to something new.

The innovation role of voluntary organisations has often been praised and it has been an important justification for their place in our contemporary welfare system. But how many other examples are out there of ‘innovations’ that have been forgotten and rediscovered? How new does an idea really have to be? And if it works, does it matter?