Beyond Video Conferencing was the first online digital conference run by the partnership of Paisley YMCA and Soapbox. The conference was a new and exciting way to connect multiple youth organisations and guests together to enjoy keynotes sessions, breakout activities and networking opportunities throughout the day.
The conference hosted two panels, both discussing the present and future role of technology in Youth Work. The first panel was hosted by Kayleigh Wainwright, Joint Director of Engagement at UK Youth and featured panellists from various UK youth organisations giving their experiences in working with tech as a necessity during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The panel elaborated upon how the pandemic has altered the way in which many UK youth workers engage with tech, including providing support to their community.
Wavemaker is an organisation based in Stoke-onTrent with the goal of improving lives by providing training, advice and guidance for the growing digital world. Benedict McManus, founder and director of Wavemaker, expanded on the role this played during the pandemic:
“Right at the beginning when the lockdown happened, we saw 80% of our pipeline in terms of the work we were due to deliver just stopped, instantaneously. At the same time, a lot of organisations in the region looked to us for an answer.”
One of the challenges that came from the sudden regular reliance on tech as a method of work and communication was a lack of resources for areas with a lower average in tech development and funding, as Benedict explains:
“There’s an expectation or misconception that young adults and kids have access to great tech, great equipment and the infrastructure in which to use. Stoke is way below the national average in terms of the equipment young adults have. […] We had to think about not just throwing resources out there and hoping people would engage. It was about supporting teachers, staff, parents, friends, the local authority in what was available and what was possible.”
He states that the changes the pandemic brought required many youth workers and organisations to prioritise learning the use of unfamiliar tech and lending support to young people through tech as a form of communication: “I think what happened in the past year just forced people to adapt and check their ego at the door.”
However, these actions also required many practitioners and youth workers themselves to learn and adapt to programmes and situations they themselves had previously been unfamiliar with. This would lead to help being needed from Independent Researchers such as Dana Jupp:
“My main goal was to provide support to practitioners who were feeling a bit dropped-in-it. I’ve done a lot of consulting with different workers from across the UK and the EU. I’ve become the agony aunt of digital youth work! […]
“Basically, the challenges that I came up against were practitioners feeling uncertain and scared about suddenly having to jump into the digital world. There was just a real uncertainty and even though everyone was being forced into it, there was a real lack of confidence. So I’ve been doing a lot of one-to-one work and training in youth work in Scotland.”
According to Youth Worker Dan from Space Youth Services, another challenge was to adapt to new servers that were engaging as well as informative for young people: “The balance between trying to innovate and do new exciting things that are quite tactile and engaging so it goes beyond that traditional video conferencing […] We needed to find something that feels different than just doing a video call. So we moved to discord pretty quick. We adapted pretty quick, we’ve had some successes and we’ve learned quite a lot.”
The panel was an informative show of solidarity and growth between youth workers and organisations, showcasing both the challenges and rewards of adapting to work with tech throughout the pandemic and the great work and team effort required to continue to help young people and each other in the face of adversity.