Chris completed a BA in Community Education in 2006 and is now working as a community project worker. She works for an organisation jointly funded by a major children’s charity and a charity which provides care and support for the homeless.
When I left school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and didn’t want to commit myself to four years of study unless I knew that it would result in the kind of job which I thought would suit me. I took two years out working in a range of typical jobs - bars, restaurants, etc., and doing voluntary work with various charities.
I was already a community activist involved with a tenants’ association, but the charity work brought me into contact with community education workers and suitably motivated, I signed up for the four year BA in Community Education at Strathclyde. The degree was very much placement based learning and I worked on homelessness projects, as well as with those who had addictions and those suffering from mental health problems. I also worked on programmes to help those trapped in exploitation and prostitution. I was ideally placed when a position came up working with young people who were, or in danger of becoming, homeless.
My job is a specific type of community work dealing mainly with 16-25 year olds. We take turns manning the emergency phoneline and providing a duty service in our base, but we also do active street work touring the soup kitchens and areas well used for begging to pick up on those who are recently homeless or in need of ongoing support.
We assess the primary needs of individuals and we work with other agencies to develop and implement care plans. The ultimate aim is to get people off the streets and into supportive accommodation where their other needs can start to be addressed. Much of our work is advocacy based but we also do a lot of work on a day to day basis with individual clients. We use a range of counselling techniques, including the creative arts and visualisation to enable them to recognise and begin to address their difficulties. We see around 300 people a year with about 50 in the 16-25 year old group.
My work involves shifts, working from either 8am or an evening shift which is largely streetwork. The nature of the work requires high levels of flexibility and the ability to think rapidly on your feet because we never know what we are going to face. Active listening is very important as are coaching skills as we try and help individuals to get their lives back on track.
I couldn’t do this job and maintain my caseload without really good organisational skills. Both negotiation and good communication are vital when dealing with outside agencies and also the large team of colleagues I have. There is a huge amount that is positive about this work - not just being part of a process that enables people to move forward but it is also a varied and challenging role.
The community education qualification taught me a huge amount but I find myself in a process of on-going learning, constantly gaining from experience, strengths and the sheer humanity I see in my colleagues from day to day. It is not always easy. It can be emotionally draining work and we don’t always see the end product as people move on to be helped by other agencies. The shifts can also be tiring. I have learned to make time for myself and to switch off as far as I can when I leave work.
The kind of work I do is firmly rooted in a desire for social justice so you have to want to work with people first and foremost. In that sense choosing this form of community education is more a vocation than a straight career choice. If people are interested then get involved and see if you like this kind of work - do voluntary work or a part time position - not just because it will look good on your CV but so that you can see if it really is for you. Then get some training so that confidence and competency finally come naturally and you can enjoy a job like this.
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