Case study

Charity youth worker — Ella Sowton

Ella studied drama before deciding that social work and youth work were the paths she wanted to follow and so gained experience in these areas before landing a job with YMCA

What degree did you study and where?

I studied BA (Hons) Drama at the University of Winchester. I also took part in a rehabilitation theatre project with the 'Playing for Time' Theatre Company at Winchester Community Prison. During the project we worked with inmates to rehearse and perform a professional play to other inmates and the public. This project, and the chance to be a part of it, was the reason I chose the University of Winchester and one of the reasons I became interested in social work and youth work.

How did you get your job?

I volunteered for just under a year at YMCA East Surrey for both children's services and youth services while also working as a disability and behavioural support teaching assistant at a local primary school. Then I applied for an assistant youth worker role. During this time, I completed my Level 2 in Youth Work Practice and then secured a full-time youth worker role. I then completed my Level 3 Diploma in Youth Work Practice. Part of this role included creating and delivering new projects for young people. I run the WAVES mental health and well-being project, as well as offering detached youth work sessions and youth club sessions as well as 'Express Yourself' photography projects.

What's a typical day like as a charity youth worker?

I come into the office in the morning to do all my admin; answering emails and enquiries about sessions we run, planning activities, ordering session supplies, referring young people to appropriate activities and projects and writing bids for future project funding. After this, my colleague and I will drive to one of the five youth clubs to run our mental health drop in youth club session WAVES. At these sessions, young people take part in positive mental health activities linked to mental health topics as well as cooking, group chats, pool and chilling out with friends and youth workers.

I lead and support young people with activities, giving guidance to those who want to talk about issues they are facing. At the end of each session we write up a record of how the session went, what went well and what we can improve on. After this it's back to the office to run the next youth work provision. In the evening I work on detached youth work sessions. Detached youth work is street based youth work which operates without a youth centre. My colleague and I visit places which have been identified as areas of deprivation and we talk to and engage with young people in these areas. We get to know them and the areas in which they live; running programs and activities to help support young people trying to prevent them from becoming NEET (not in employment, education training). During these sessions we either take our IBus which is a bus that turns into a portable youth club or we walk around and talk to young people. We always bring games, thought-provoking activities on interesting topics, sports equipment and hot chocolate. My day then ends with a debrief about the session and how it went. A typical day for me is working 9:30am till 7:30pm with a spilt of around four hours of admin and six hours of delivery - working with young people on projects.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I get to work with some amazing young people who keep me on my toes, inspire me every day and make me want to be the best I can be to help and support them to achieve and thrive. There is nothing better than seeing someone become more confident and positive about themselves and their future. I feel I am in a very privileged position in being able to be a part of young people's journeys, offering guidance and opportunities for those who might normally not receive any. In this job I am able to be out in the community running activities and talking to people rather than stuck at a desk. This job allows me to see, help and actively deal with issues that young people are facing today. I also get to take part in brilliant, challenging activities raising money through walking in fire or climbing three mountains in 24 hours.

What are the challenges?

Sometimes being a youth worker can be emotionally challenging, it can be hard to leave thoughts about your job at work at the end of the day because you do care about the people you work with and the issues they are facing. However, having an amazing supportive team around you and great processes and procedures to support you to best help those you are working with can really help. Working for a charity also comes with its challenges in the way that you have to constantly look for funding streams and raise money to keep projects running to support those you work with. Most projects I work on do not make money so funding projects is an important part. However, in a way, although it can be tough applying for funding streams, the funding process can really help you sculpt the best and most effective projects for young people.

What are your career ambitions, how do you hope your career will progress?

At the moment I am hoping to widen my work around mental health and wellbeing, expanding the WAVES project so that it is even bigger than it is now, serving more young people across East Surrey. At the moment we have five WAVES sessions running every week in different locations around Surrey. I would like to expand this to six and also include five new WAVES 'Meet&Eat' sessions to support parents/guardians and their 10-11 year olds. I would like to be able to create more safe places that are accessible to anyone who feels they need support with their mental health and wellbeing.

What advice would you give to aspiring youth workers?

My advice to those who are interested in a career in youth work is to look at courses and qualifications around working with people and groups. Sociology, psychology, social work, education and youth work qualifications can all be very useful. You do not need a qualification to start working in youth work - you can do what I did and train as you work and build your way up. My biggest piece of advice would be to find your passion; understand what drives you to want to work with young people and how you can use your skills to support them to make a difference. Get yourself out of your comfort zone and make a conscious effort to understand the issues, problems and landscape for the community you will be working with.

Find out more