Berkshire Youth discuss supporting young people and mental health in West Berkshire at Waterside Centre conference
Youth services in the UK have faced many difficulties in the past decade, from funding cuts to pandemic restrictions, but Berkshire Youth is ready to bring people together again.
In a youth conference held this week, at Newbury's Waterside Centre, speakers from different walks of life shared their experiences and plans for the future of youth work in the district.
Berkshire Youth operations director Sarah Emery said: “This was the first [youth conference]; we felt it was probably about safe to bring people back together and have this conversation.
“There was a nice mix of people all talking about how we can better support young people.”
Among the fifty guests who sat in the recently-renovated community centre, CEO of The National Youth Agency Leigh Middleton delivered a keynote speech about the current situation for youth services as well as the National Youth Work Strategy.
He told the attendees that “young people are at the heart of all [they] do and they choose to engage with it, meaning that the level of engagement and commitment they have is through the roof”.
Berkshire Youth CEO David Seward also spoke, along with operations director Sarah Emery, youth and community manager Kelly Leach and youth worker Jessica Kirby.
The operations director highlighted the importance of holding events such as this one, as she looked back on the success of the conference once it had finished.
She discussed the cuts that the entire sector has been presented with, nationwide, in recent years.
The past decade has seen a 70 per cent cut in youth services nationally, but West Berkshire is “up there with one of the biggest cuts” in the country.
In the past ten years, the district has suffered a 97 per cent cut to its services for young people - a YMCA Freedom of Information request found in 2019.
She added: “What are we doing about it?
“We have a great volunteering sector doing everything they can to support young people but they need funding.”
The youth conference was also an opportunity for young people who have benefitted from youth work following personal struggles, whether they be from school or home life, to share their experiences.
One young speaker, named Dennis, has been working with youth worker Collin for four years and his story “really highlights why youth work is so important”.
Dennis met Collin after struggling with engagement at school and he spoke about how youth workers can help, and have helped, young people like him find the right path in life.
Miss Emery said: “This is an example of why youth work works.
“Youth workers support you through difficult times of being a teenager.”
The conference also discussed experiences from the past 18 months, how to champion young people and what the future might look like for them.