Youth and community work in the 70s – a philosophy for the 70s

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This particular chapter (VII) of the Fairbairn-Milson Report (Youth and Community Work in the 70s) outlines the broad shape of the approach taken in the report.

[page 55]

150. Although we intend to look later in our report at the different needs of young people at the upper and lower age-range, yet it may be useful to describe a general philosophy for the whole of youth work emerging from our study of the Youth Service in relation to the changing social scene.

Ministerial responsibility

151. The Youth Service should continue to be linked with other educational provision and be part of the overall responsibility of the Department of Education and Science, for reasons that we develop later. We have considered carefully the arguments that it should have other affiliations and arrangements. These undoubtedly have some force; yet the balance remains in favour of the present administrative structure at least until it becomes clear what other major changes will occur in social work and educational provision. Youth and community work in the next few years has a better chance of support from present arrangements, and the advantages of continuity must be given weight.

Our concept of youth work

152. The primary goal of youth work is the social education of young people. Such a definition is not unimportant since, as we have seen, the aim changes as society changes. We are not so much concerned today as in the past with basic education, or with economic needs, or with the communication of an agreed belief or value system; but we are concerned to help young people to create their place in a changing society and it is their critical involvement in their community which is the goal. For a long time youth workers have been happy to quote Lord Redcliffe-Maud’s well-known statement of the aims of their work: ‘to offer individual young people in their leisure time opportunities of various kinds, complementary to those of home, formal education and work, to discover and develop their personal resources of body, mind and spirit and thus the better to equip themselves to live the life of mature, creative and responsible members of a free society’. This definition has not spent its force but it needs to be given fresh interpretations and emphases in the light of contemporary society. It could be taken to mean that ‘Youth Service’ takes place in special organisations, places and at particular times. . . ‘complementary to home, formal education and work.’ Youth work should be seen to be present in [page 56] many places, being concerned with relationships between generations and between young people and their community; it can take many forms and lead to different types of provision, of which organisations and centres are only examples. In the broadest terms, ‘youth work’ (and the distinction between this term and ‘Youth Service’ is not without significance, since the latter term is now associated with separate organisations) is the response by informal methods to the personal, educational and social needs of young people.


153. One important consequence follows: though the principle of partnership has gone far in Youth Service yet it needs to be carried very much further if we are to have an up-to-date provision in the 1970s. There are many aspects of this judgement. One is the joint use of premises, inescapable both on economic and community development grounds. Another is that we must learn to think of and practice a partnership that embraces not merely statutory and voluntary organisation providers but also brings into useful partnership commercial and non-commercial enterprises, encourages interprofessionalism among those concerned with the welfare of the young, including constructive conversations between personnel officers in industry and professional youth workers, and, in general, supports the comprehensive planning of education. Effective youth work in the 1 970s presupposes that there will be no barriers between those who teach, work with, influence, or, in various ways, support young people in our society.


154. Whilst we have ventured above to provide a general definition, adequate and modern youth work should be flexible enough to take account of differing needs whether these relate to age (for example above and below the school-leaving age), sex (as we have seen that girls are relatively ill-provided for), areas of handicap, whether of an individual nature or relating to social groups, or special interests. The criterion of the youth work we envisage for the next decade might well be how far it can take account of and provide for general and particular needs.

The role of clubs

155. We believe the club has an important contribution to make in the lives of many young people, though its purpose and functioning must inevitably change. We attempt a reappraisal in general terms later in the report. We also ask that those in charge should think out clearly and make explicit the nature of the contribution they wish to make. [page 57]

Social aspects

156. It is proper to entertain high hopes of youth work and to look for important purposes to be fulfilled; we rightly look for results in young people with wider interests freely chosen, young people with greater social confidence and poise who can carry responsibility for themselves and- where appropriate-for others, young people who neither accept their society uncritically nor reject it totally. But these purposes, important though they are, must not be allowed to obscure a simple need which many young people have, which they are often conscious of and vocal about and which must be a prominent part of one aspect of youth work; we refer to the need of young people of both sexes to meet and mix in an informal and pleasant atmosphere. Many boys and girls need help in establishing healthy relationships with members of the opposite sex. One young man put his problem to us feelingly: his contemporaries were ‘less concerned with pre-marital sex than with knowing how to chat up the birds’.

Community development

157. A major feature we have left to the last. We see youth work in future in a general framework of ‘community development’. How we arrive at this conclusion and what we mean by it requires special consideration and this we give in the chapter that follows.

How to cite this piece: 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. Extracts in the informal education archives,

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First placed in the archives: April 2003. Updated June 2019.