This Master’s student is on a mission to change the way we think about youth work - and he’s more optimistic about the future than he’s been in ten years.
Mature student Jaffer Ali Hussain is working towards a Master’s degree in Youth and Community Studies at Liverpool Hope University, and began the course last year on a part-time basis.
The 33-year-old has joined the programme after spending years working in the industry - and he’s bringing a wealth of practical knowledge to his theoretical studies.
Jaffer, from Blackburn, Lancs, is Chair of the Institute for Youth Work (IYW), an organisation that works to not only raise professional standards but to also advocate for youth work and youth workers in general, ensuring people understand just how important both are.
He’s also just been appointed Head of Youth, Play and Participation at Manchester City Council.
And despite youth workers facing up to the difficulties posed by austerity, funding cuts and Covid-19, Jaffer says that the global pandemic may have actually produced a rare ‘silver lining’ amidst the devastation it wrought.
He explains: “The sector is facing challenges, absolutely. But I’m really excited for the future and I think we’re on the cusp of real reinvigoration
“A lot of local authorities are beginning to pump more money into their youth services, or reinstating youth services that might have been neglected for years.
“And to some extent, the pandemic has really helped. It’s perhaps a silver lining to what has been an awful tragedy.
“Firstly, youth workers were given ‘key worker’ status, which recognised our importance.
“Secondly, people across all spectrums and in all communities really began to understand the role that youth workers played in the pandemic - whether it was doing essential deliveries or hosting online sessions.
“Covid-19 helped to shine a light on what youth workers really do. There’s this stereotype that all youth workers do is play pool and table tennis in youth clubs. But what we did in the pandemic made a lot of people sit up and say, ‘Woah, these guys are supporting our young people to have healthy and happy lives’.
“I feel that now when we advocate for further investment in youth services, we’re being listened to. It might take a good few years for us to get back to where we were, but I’m really hopeful about what comes next.”
Jaffer, a former youth MP, began his career working as a Youth Support Worker at the local authority in Blackburn before going on to complete a degree in Politics at Lancaster University.
More youth work followed, for both regional and national associations, before he also completed a PGCE in Secondary English at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN).
Yet Jaffer never became a teacher - as youth work continued to call to him.
Rather than head into the classroom he instead set up a youth empowerment charity called ‘SLYNCS’, which was designed to help young people to get more involved with civic engagement.
By 2018 he was working as a Youth Participation Officer in his hometown, supporting children in care, and care leavers, to have a voice.
And he took up his exciting new role with Manchester City Council in January this year.
Speaking about his remit, he reveals: “The arrangement in Manchester is really interesting, in that we commission everything out to the voluntary sector. And my role really sees me working with colleagues across the sector and city, building capacity, getting involved with training and development, while trying to identify ‘cold spots’ and thinking about how we can build our assets from the ground up.
“And it’s also about ensuring that youth work and play work has as much credibility as possible across the city - and is also given its fair share of funding - because we need both to ensure that young people are properly supported.”
Jaffer’s thoughts come as Liverpool Hope University also launches a new undergraduate BA in Youth Work and Community Development - which is unique to the North West.
It was created to try and counteract some of the negative effects of austerity, Brexit and Covid-19, and could ultimately benefit some of the most vulnerable communities in the region.
For Jaffer, youth workers really do have the power to change lives for the better.
He reveals: “A lot of the young people I worked with through the charity in Blackburn were often deemed as hard to reach or having difficult behaviours. Many had been excluded from school.
“One lad I remember came to our provision having been excluded. And we soon learned that he’d had a number of bereavements in his life which had had a profound effect on him.
“We listened, supported, and nurtured him. He’d never had any support for the bereavements before and his only way of dealing with it was through lashing out. And, yeah, from time to time he lashed out with us, too.
“But I’m a firm believer in that most people work from a place of good intent. Once you start to follow that philosophy, you can understand behaviours better.
“It’s about building relationships and trying to make progress.
“And I can honestly say that of the kids we’ve reached, we’ve been able to transform their lives in some way, to a lesser or greater extent.”
If you want to make a difference to the lives of young people in the UK, take a look at Hope’s BA in Youth Work and Community Development or the MA in Youth and Community Studies.