Fred Milson: developing the practice of youth and community work. Fred Milson was an influential writer and trainer who did much to develop youth and community work practice within the Methodist church and the Youth Service generally. He was also an important contributor to national policy debates. Here we assess his contribution.
contents: introduction · social group work and christian education · youth and community · the development of training and professionalization · political education · conclusion · further reading and references · links · how to cite this article
The Reverend Frederick William (Fred) Milson (1912-1983) was a key figure in the development of youth and community work during the 1960s and 1970s. As a lecturer and Head of Department at the influential Westhill College, Selly Oak (1960-1977), he was part of the push to professionalize youth and community work. As a writer, he made several significant additions to the literature around social group work (especially in Christian settings), community work and professional development in youth work. He also wrote a number of popular accounts of these areas of work and of the contemporary experience of young people. In policy circles, his name will be remembered for his participation in the Youth Service Development Council and his chairing of one of the two sub-committees (the other was chaired by Andrew Fairbairn) that prepared Youth and Community Work in the 70s (DES 1969). He also served on the Hunt Committee (which produced Immigrants and the Youth Service). Over the years he also made a significant contribution to the life of the Methodist Church and to the work of the Methodist Youth Department and the Methodist Association of Youth Clubs. In later life, he chaired the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (1976-1982). Described as ‘a shrewd, kindly man’, he was, according to the same writer, ‘much loved and respected throughout the Youth Service for his uncompromising honesty of purpose combined with a puckish sense of humour’ (Green 1986: 31-2). In this piece, we assess his contribution.
Social group method and Christian education
Fred Milson’s championship of social group work as a vehicle for Christian education played an important part in the development of practice in the 1960s and 1970s. Milson wrote two books on the subject (Milson 1963, 1965) plus a general introduction to group work practice (Milson 1973) that was used on a number of youth and community work training courses. Social Group Work and Christian Education (1963) was perhaps the best known of the two Christian texts – and it remains an important statement of youth work in the liberal, Methodist tradition of Leonard Barnett and Bryan Reed. He looked to the group and club – and while he recognized the significance of the personality of the worker he wanted to downplay it.
In the cool hour of thought, we all know that the only attributes which count for anything are those which spring from the total life and character. “Be yourself” is the first rule of the youth leader, since he cannot in the end be anyone else, and will quickly be found out if he tries. The most serious defect however in this earlier approach is that it makes success lean too heavily upon the personality and influence of the leader. Social-science-wise, it makes the youth leader into a case-worker rather than a group worker. We do not deny of course that the leader exerts a vital personal influence and interacts with individual members of the group. But in the modern understanding of our craft, he is more concerned with each other… He is not the centre of the message. (Milson 1963: 21)
His book set out the basic assumptions and processes of social group work and argued that effective leadership ‘respects and uses the group process and recognizes the possibility of new life when the individual forsakes his isolation and belongs to a fellowship’ (Milson 1963: 23). At times he emphasizes the worker as a technician (rather than a Messiah) – but he does look to agape and the ‘essential tools of warmth and understanding, faith and caring’ (ibid.: 26).
Today, some of the more interesting elements of the book lie in Fred Milson’s discussion of Christian leadership – especially around the question of whether workers are educators or indoctrinators. Like Barnett, Fred Milson had a particular grasp on how a concern with evangelism could be partnered with youth work (and in this case social group work). He cautioned against approaching young people ‘in a mood of spiritual scalp-hunting’ or looking upon them as ‘promising pew-fodder’. In contrast, he looked at how, as educators, workers lived with ‘a dual loyalty’ – respecting the Gospel and respecting the integrity of the people among which they work – and that in the example of Jesus they could find a way forward.
Those with the gift of faith may learn that the method is part of the Kingdom which He came to proclaim. It is compounded of trust in the power of God at work in the world – and to be relied upon – and of confidence in the dignity of men attacked but not destroyed by sin – and never to be denied. Doubtless the victory which Jesus won in the wilderness at the Temptations, extended to His training of the Twelve. They were not to be bribed, bullied or dazzled. (Milson 1963: 146)
Youth and community
In a similar vein, Milson was able to tap into the 1960s policy concerns around community and community work. During the first half of the 1970s, he wrote a number of books on community work (1970, 1973 and 1975) however, it was the way he looked to youth in the context of community that will be remembered. This found its major expression in the Youth Service Development Council (1969) report Youth and Community Work in the 70s. The report was part of a rather ill-focused review of youth work developments after the Albemarle Report (Ministry of Education 1960) (see Davies 1999). It sprang from the work of two sub-committees (there were going to be more) – one chaired by Andrew Fairbairn – examined youth work and schooling and further education; the other – chaired by Fred Milson – youth work and the relationship with the ‘adult community’. As Davies (1999) and Holmes (2001) have reported, there was considerable tension between the two committees around the future role of the youth service. The former committee, and in particular its chair, wanted to locate youth work far more fully within schools – especially community schools. Milson and his colleagues were sceptical of the extent to which community schools could represent the full range of community interests (Holmes 2001: 225). The result was a strange document that contradicted itself in places and bore all the marks of political (or administrative compromise (Davis 1999: 124-8). However, it did have an explicit position around the sort of society that should be aimed at. Drawing on Amitai Etzioni’s (1968) communitarian vision they argued for ‘The Active Society’.
‘The Active Society’ is the best short description we can think of to describe our commitment and in support of our contention we start with a belief, relevant to all educational and social welfare provision, which rests on the twin bases of our view of present day society and the development of personality.
In a country such as ours, subject to the changes consequent upon a rapidly changing technology, society needs to engage in an intensive and perpetual transformation of itself, unless it is to respond to tomorrow’s world with yesterday’s activities and modes of organization. Our commitment is to a society in which every member can be publicly active; for only in this way can society become positively responsive to them, and, in the constant renewal of itself, reflect their values. (YSDC 1969: 59-60)
Such a focus, it was argued, made for the healthy development of both communities and individuals. There was an emphasis on community development – on the rejuvenating and development of small, social and local groups. This led the Report’s writers into making some significant and brave statements about the work with ‘the young adult group’ (Davies 1999: 126).
[T]here can, we believe, be no lasting answers to the dilemmas of youth work without a radical rethinking of the position of young people in society, and of adult attitudes to the young… We ask, therefore, for work with these young people through which they and their society can be helped towards maturity, as part of an ‘active society’ responsive and eager for change and development. We ask for work with young adults which is based upon the principles of community development by all the various agencies concerned with young people, not just those which comprise the Youth Service.
Those who work with young adults should no longer see themselves as ‘providers’, placing young people in the position of ‘receivers’ who are sometimes to be given ‘shadow’ responsibilities… We see older adults as ‘enablers’: enabling those younger than themselves to distinguish their needs from their wants: and enabling these to be satisfied with community resources where these are required.
The first step in changing the pattern of work for the young adult is thus self-determination. However, it is our hope that something still more important can develop from this. One of the major criticisms of present youth provision is that it isolates the young from the rest of society… It is becoming obvious that adults must in future accept young people as social equals and no longer as children expected to play adult roles only in those areas where it is convenient that they should do so. We see it as a task of the Youth Service to further this engagement of the young in and with society. There is talk in many quarters today about ‘participation’. An important aim of Youth Service should be to facilitate critical and responsible participation among the rising generation.
In suggesting this, it is no part of our aim to achieve a comfortable integration of the youth and adult populations, nor attempt to ‘socialize’ the young so that they are reconciled with the status quo, and capitulate to its values… Work with young adults, must, in the future therefore, no longer be a device or the social control of them by others, and it must be seen not to be, lest it be mistrusted. (YSDC 1969: 73-7)
The Report made various recommendations around training (extending the basic period of professional training to two years coincided with the Report but had predated it) – and a number of youth services took ‘community’ into their names – but as Bernard Davies (1999; 133) has argued it is difficult to point to any other concrete outcomes.
Its ‘hard’ proposals for change were few and were not adequately developed for effective operationalization. Its challenging philosophical and methodological messages, when they did not simply confuse, lacked specificity or were internally contradictory, exposing the political and Political compromises which had produced them. Too often, therefore, the report, rather than building on the image and achievements of Albemarle (as the YSDC had obviously hoped) proved to be distracting, diversionary, and even debilitating for the service’s work with young people.
Fred Milson (1970) went on to set out his own view of the underlying conclusions (in somewhat more guarded terms than the report:
- The age of social adulthood is lower in our society than it was ten years ago. New legislation about the age of majority recognizes a situation that exists: it does not create the situation.
- The inclusive age span of 14-20 is no longer therefore appropriate, being too wide if the same approaches are made to the older and younger ends.
- In many respects, Youth Service is good but not good enough to meet changed conditions: ‘there must be a new and imaginative approach’.
- The ‘new’ approaches to learning – less didactic and authoritarian, involving the student more actively – are to be encouraged.
- Youth Service should seek to be more client-centred, starting more frequently than at present from the known needs of young people. This means recognizing priority areas, for example, putting first the needs of those young people who, having left school, find themselves at odds with their society.
- Youth Service should seek to be related more closely and frequently to the rest of the community. And the acceptance of this rubric will have implications for types of work attempted, joint planning, and approaches to young people themselves. (Milson 1970: 106-7)
The development of training and professionalization
Fred Milson’s work as a writer, trainer and within the Youth Service Development Council was a significant factor in the development of training within youth and community work – and contributed to the growing professionalization of the field. He wrote two small pamphlets: Growing with the Job (1968) and Why am I a Youth Worker? (1972a) that became well read and used within part-time training; and texts on community work (1974), group work (1973), young people (1972) and the youth service (1970) that were set texts on many qualifying programmes. As Principal Lecturer and Head of the Youth and Community Work Department at Westhill College (the old Methodist teacher education college) he presided over a significant development of the work first following the Albemarle Report (Ministry of Education 1960), then his own efforts around Youth and Community Work in the 70s (DES 1969).
This contribution has to be set in the context of a significant expansion in writing and reflection upon the youth work field and ‘a service intent on professionalizing itself’ (Davies 1999: 76). One question that emerges from this is the extent to which he unwittingly or consciously contributed to a shift from volunteerism to professionalism, and, more worryingly from a concern with calling and vocation to a more bureaucratic and self-seeking orientation. Fred Milson addressed the first of these areas, to some extent, in Youth Work in the 1970s (Milson 1970: 95-100). He began from the position that youth work would ‘continue to lean on “spare-time” help’ and as a result would need ‘a cadre of professional workers’ (1970: 96). He noted the uncertainties around the role and argued for the need to rethink the role of the full-time youth worker. He suggested that the youth worker’s skills laid in five areas:
Administrative or managerial. He often has to run an organization.
Group work. He is centrally concerned to help young people to help themselves.
Counselling. Though this word covers different levels of skill and service, yet all will be called upon to give advice to individuals.
Education. He has to stimulate interests and supply and further the interests they have.
Community development. He seeks to relate the work he is doing to the community around and to encourage the discovery and use of the community’s own resources. (Milson 1970: 99)
Milson had recognized some of the implications of the movements of which he had been a part. It is likely that he would have been appalled at the thought that he may have contributed to a movement away from vocation. He looked to the new cadre of professional workers to display dedication, courage, integrity, confidence and maturity. Some obvious growing points were identified for workers:
- They could learn to interpret the word ‘professional’ not in terms of the status or prestige of their job, or their conditions of work – but as applying to the way in which they do their work: ‘professional standards’ is what is indicated.
- They could learn to respect what they find even though they are properly full of new ideas: some continuity must be preserved: some of the old foundations are in good condition and can be used for the new structure.
- They could learn to work in a harmonious and non-servile way with the older people concerned with their job: the youth leader who can ‘only get on with young people’ is a menace.
- They could understand that a large part of their duty is the communication of their professional skills to part-timers; of course, ‘know-alls’ are out, but a full-time worker, though biding his time, knows that he is a ‘trainer’ of those for whom youth work is only a spare-time occupation. (Milson 1970: 100)
To some extent, we can fall into the trap of criticizing Milson’s position with the benefit of hindsight. There was a significant deepening of the critique of professionalization in the early 1970s – especially under the influence of writers like Ivan Illich. However, it is possible to argue, given the fears expressed within the service at the time about the impact of growing numbers of professionally trained full-time workers, that Milson was rather optimistic about the direction things would take. He did not have a strong grasp of the social and political forces that conditioned the development of a ‘professional cadre’ of workers within youth work – and the direction these would take workers and the work.
Youth and Community Work in the 70s (DES 1969) made some important and pioneering statements about the role of political education within youth work. ‘If our oft-repeated hope for the new service – ‘the critical involvement of young people in their society’ – is to find any fulfilment then we cannot be isolated from political issues nor from political youth groups, for in so doing we would be avoiding some of the major issues of our time’ (DES 1969: 81). Fred Milson continued with this theme in a number of articles (notably for the Politics Association and their championing of the notion of ‘political literacy’ 1980a). In 1980 he produced Political Education. A practical guide for Christian youth workers. This book looked to the church and politics and the distinctive role that it could take in the political education of young people.
A local church which tries to ignore the political dimension of our lives serves its members ill. It issues moral exhortations in a vacuum. Churches may generate a power which is always in neutral gear, never engaged with some of the major moral tasks our time. To change the figure – they involve us in shadow boxing, not in a real fight.
It looks a more hopeful strategy to devote our main efforts to the political education of the young. One is driven to the conclusion that the pietistic and individualistic attitudes of many older Christians are so deeply entrenched, that it is doubtful they will be changed. Treacherous perhaps, but one is tempted to repeat the question that Nicodemus asked “But how is it possible for a man to born when he is old?” (John 3:4) (Milson 1980: 33-4)
Fred Milson’s argument was that the informal atmosphere of the small voluntary group, common in Christian youth work, could be a good vehicle for political as well as other forms of education (Milson 1980: 53). In this, he appeared to be looking to the benefits and experiences of associational life (which had been articulated for youth work in the Albemarle Report – but which Fred Milson had earlier sought to refocus around ‘participation’ – Milson 1970: 39). Another important aspect for Milson was the extent to which the church youth group embodied a more holistic view of people – the political could be set in tension with the moral and spiritual, for example. The book provided church workers with plenty of practical advice. ‘For the Christian political educator’, Milson wrote, ‘there are always growth points in a continuing group’. He continued:
If our essential task is to learn together what the world is really like, to see it in a Christian perspective and to have opportunities to engage in its political activities – then there is a place to begin engaging in this process. It may be a conversation, a new experience in life of the young person, a visit, a chance encounter. The beginnings may be humble and the process should never be forced. But for the discerning Christian worker the raw material of his trade is all around him in the youth group (Milson 1980: 115)
Fred Milson also made a case for political education in Coming of Age (1979) – but the perspective he adopted could be located in what might be described as a ‘civics tradition’. While there was still a concern with participation – the major interest seemed to be in developing an understanding of, commitment to, and ability to use the existing political system (Smith 1987: 78). He seemed to grow more cautious around more action-based approaches. Indeed, by the end of the 1970s, he was worried by what he saw as a leftward shift in key areas of youth work. Fred Milson concluded that the radicals, whom he labelled as Marxist, ‘had gone too far in their espousal of “politically aware” innovation and “activism” and that by concentrating on the “distant goal” they had been “diverted from seeking out present opportunities”‘ (quoted by Davies 1999: 192).
Fred Milson was a significant presence on the youth work scene. He was able to make a robust case for the continuing significance of church-based work – and to introduce some important developments in practice especially around social group work and, to some extent, community development. In the broader youth work sphere, he will be remembered for his contribution to the development of training for full-time workers and to encouraging people to see youth in the context of community. He was, perhaps, over-optimistic about the ability of youth workers to resist the logic of professionalization as they became more firmly located within bureaucratic systems and agencies. Whilst they were part of a social, religious or political movement there were crucial counterbalances to bureaucratic convenience and caution, and to narrow policy-driven agendas.
We can place Fred Milson in a long line of Methodist champions of youth work. The list includes Jimmy Butterworth, Bryan Reed and Leonard Barnett and the more radical concerns of Emmeline Pethick. In the forty or so years since his death, there have been profound changes within the church and its work. The church itself has been the second-fastest declining denomination over that period (just behind the Church of England), and it’s membership profile has aged (Brierley 2000: 37-8). This has had a major impact on its ability to undertake youth work. Combined with a more general drift away from the club and open work within youth work generally, and changing attitudes to volunteering, the result has been a pressure on many of the defining elements of Methodist practice. Fred Milson’s message concerning the educative power of groups, of the need to understand young people in the context of community, and of the role of Christian educators remains as relevant today as when he was alive.
Further reading and references
Milson, Frederick W. (1963) Social Group Method and Christian Education, London: Chester House. Provides a clear statement of the significance of social group work within Christian education – and provides plenty of practical guidance.
Milson, Frederick W. (1968) Growing with the job: youth worker’s progress, London: National Association of Youth Clubs. 15 pages. Engaging pamphlet on professional development.
Milson, Frederick W. (1970) Youth work in the 1970s, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. xiii + 141 pages. Provides a brief history of youth work, an overview of the then-contemporary developments and Milson’s views on areas for development.
Brierley, P. (2000) The Tide is Running Out. What the English Church Attendance Survey reveals, London: Christian Research.
Bulman, Inga, Craft, Maurice and Milson, Frederick W. (eds.) (1970) Youth service and interprofessional studies.Oxford: Pergamon Press.
Davies, B. (1999) From Voluntaryism to Welfare State. A history of the Youth Service in England Volume 1: 1939-1979, Leicester: Youth Work Press.
Department of Education and Science (1969) Youth and Community Work in the 70s. Proposals by the Youth Service Development Council (The ‘Fairbairn-Milson Report’), London: HMSO. Various chapters can be found in the archives.
Etzioni, A. (1968) The Active Society. A theory of societal and political processes, New York: Free Press.
Green, C. (1986) In the Service of Youth. A history of the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services, Leicester: National Council for Voluntary Youth Services.
Holmes, J. (2001) ‘Youth and Community Work in the 1970s. A lost opportunity?’ in R. Gilchrist, T. Jeffs and J. Spence (eds.) Essays in the History of Community and Youth Work, Leicester: Youth Work Press.
Milson, Frederick W. (1958) The understanding of adolescents in some English Free Churches, 1939-1955, Thesis (M.A.) — University of Leeds (Department of Social Studies),
Milson, Frederick W. (1965) Group methods for Christian leaders: a study of group dynamics, Wallington: Religious Education Press.
Milson, Frederick W. (1970) Church, youth and community development, London: Chester House. 27 pages.
Milson, Frederick W. (1972) Youth in a changing society, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Milson, Frederick W. (1972a) Why am I a youth worker? : an examination of the goals and motives of youth workers, London: National Association of Youth Clubs.
Milson, Frederick W. (1973) An introduction to group work skill, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Milson, Frederick W. (1974) An introduction to community work, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Milson, Frederick W. (1975) Community work and the Christian faith, London : Hodder and Stoughton, 1975. 105 +iv pages.
Milson, Frederick W. (1979) Coming of Age. Present opportunities for voluntary youth organizations, Leicester: National Youth Bureau.
Milson, Frederick W. (1980) Political education: A practical guide for Christian youth workers, Exeter: Paternoster Press.
Milson, Frederick W. (1980a) ‘Political education in the British youth service: a short history’, Teaching Politics 9(1): 12-21.
Milson, Frederick W. (1981) Youth in the local church, Leicester: National Youth Bureau.
Milson, Fred W. and Parr, John (1966) The coloured teenager in Birmingham, Birmingham: Westhill College of Education
Ministry of Education (1960) The Youth Service in England and Wales (‘The Albemarle Report’), London, HMSO.
To cite this article: Smith, M. K. and Smith, M. E. (2003). ‘Fred Milson: developing the practise of youth and community work’, The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education. [https://infed.org/mobi/fred-milson-developing-the-practice-of-youth-and-community-work/. Retrieved: insert date].
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