Where is faith-based youth work heading?

Thompson, Naomi. 2019. Where is faith-based youth work heading? In: Graham Bright and Carole Pugh, eds. Youth Work: Global Futures. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. ISBN 9789004396555 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

Since the global financial crash of the early twenty-first century, youth and community work has seen a decrease in funding alongside an increase in need. The effect of the dominantly right-wing response to the fiscal crisis on Western economies has seen both a reduction in state funding for work with young people and communities, as well as a decrease in resources and increase in burden on the charities sector. This has severely impacted on youth work both in contexts where state funding was previously available, and in other contexts where the provision of services for young people relies solely on the voluntary, community and charities sectors.

The years of austerity politics that have followed the financial crisis in the UK have led to severe cuts to state-funded youth work with budgets no longer ring-fenced at national level, and youth services set to be the first public service to completely disappear (Jeffs, 2015). Much youth work has been commissioned out with lower budgets and/or taken on by the struggling charities sector. Possibly the most consistently funded youth work over recent years has been that undertaken by faith groups. Whilst these faith groups have often operated rather separately from secular youth work providers (and even from each other), it is argued that times of challenge also bring opportunities for creative practice (Coburn and Gormally, 2017).

As funding for youth services has declined over recent years in the UK, there has been an increase in partnerships between secular and faith-based providers. These partnerships take various forms including faith-based projects employing non-religious staff or volunteers, local authorities or other funders commissioning work out to faith-based providers, as well as a range of more mutually negotiated, equal partnerships between secular and faith-based providers. Whilst statutory and other secular youth services have been subject to a neoliberal ‘targets and outcomes’ culture over recent decades, faith-based youth work has largely avoided this (Jeffs, 2015).

This chapter explores what the future of faith-based youth work might look like. In particular, it considers the recent growth in partnership working between faith-based and secular youth work, and the need for this to continue in an uncertain future for public services. It examines how these partnerships increase the capacity for faith-based youth work to contribute to civil society and continue to grow in prominence as a key player in the provision of youth and community services. It also identifies the increasing challenges presented to faith-based youth work by the right-wing ideologies that have gained in prominence in the UK and beyond. These include not just the austerity agenda but also a discourse of surveillance and suspicion. In the UK, this is seen particularly through recent counter-extremism legislation and calls for faith-based youth work providers to be registered, monitored and inspected (Home Office, 2015). Such ideologies of suspicion and surveillance have gained a platform on a global level, perhaps most clearly illustrated by the movements which drove the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA. This backdrop of suspicion makes the increase in partnership working all the more pertinent and crucial in breaking down misunderstandings.

The discussion in this chapter draws on research conducted with 15 youth workers involved in partnership working between Christian and secular organisations. The research brings out the positive and negative experiences of the youth workers and the shared values held between the partners. Whilst this research focused on Christian-secular partnerships in the UK, the discussion connects the findings, albeit to a limited extent, to some wider contexts.
The chapter concludes that the future of faith-based youth work is in the continuation and expansion of such partnerships between the secular and faith-based sectors. These partnerships have a clear role to play in plugging the gaps in provision and enabling workers and organisations to support each other in a climate where they are stretched and under-resourced. The discussion draws on the concept of ‘progressive localism’ (Featherstone et al, 2011) to argue that these partnerships need to go further to form an active resistance to right-wing ideologies. Both secular and faith-based youth work contain strands and traditions of radical practice that have a role to play in actively and collaboratively resisting neoliberal culture and standing up for those who are most affected by growing inequality (de St Croix, 2010; Pimlott, 2015a).

Item Type:

Book Section

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Social, Therapeutic & Community Engagement (STaCS)
Social, Therapeutic & Community Engagement (STaCS) > Faiths and Civil Society


November 2018Accepted
4 January 2019Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

10 Jan 2019 14:06

Last Modified:

11 Jun 2021 19:00



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