The space and environment where your youth group meetcan be hugely important in attracting young people from a minority ethnic background. There are very easy and effective ways to make your organisationsafe, approachable and welcoming for young people from minority ethnic and cultural backgrounds. This should include having regular times and dates for drop-in and other activities. Include maps in your promotional material. Incorporate visual imagery that is culturally inclusive and use different languages in your entrance areas and promotional material. Provide a drop-in facility for parents and young people to meet you face-to-face as they may be more confident communicating in English that way than when speaking over the phone. If parents arrive with, or collect, young people take the time to talk with them. Use simple English at all times and provide written notes and reminders as well as verbal ones. Where possible, provide food and music for any events organised. Consider gender when groups are meeting in your organisationand especially if you have gender specific groups.
Good Practice in using your Space and Environment…
Most youth organisations are not in control of their environment as much as they would like to be, but all of the youth workers interviewed for this resource found ways to positively affect the spaces they use. The SPARK project (YWI Galway) is lucky to use the GAF Youth Health and Advice Café in Galway which has frontal access to a main road, an inviting café-style interior, welcoming staff, inclusive imagery and a comfort zone with large, bright seats and coloured walls. One of the other advantages of using this space is that at non-programme times members of the SPARK group can access the Youth Café and use its facilities and they will always find support from other youth workers if they need it. Changes to the Café space have happened naturally based on the needs of the young people. In one instance the ‘You Are Not Alone’ Guide – containing information on local services for young people - was made available in other languages once the need was identified and a grant was sourced.
Like the GAF Youth Café, No.4 drop-in centre (Galway Diocesan Youth Services) has an on-street location in a renovated house in central Galway. It has a sitting room/computer area, kitchen and dining area, shower facilities and laundry facilities. Open Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 5pm, it offers an extensive range of services aimed at meeting the individual needs of its service users, from literacy and numeracy classes, to arts and crafts, computer use, resource library, medical assistance, education, and employment training, nutrition and health programmes, outreach, advocacy and referral services as well as accommodation and laundry facilities. Its welcome includes having flags - of many nationalities that access the service - painted on the kitchen walls. Projects done by the young people on different countries are also displayed. Other activities such as Nintendo Wii games are used to bring people together.
“Because we only ever meet the people who do join our youth groups we are unaware how many people could not find our organisation, or on arrival felt it wasn’t for them but only for ‘Irish’ young people because of the signs and images they saw or a lack of welcome from staff.”
(NYCI Intercultural Officer)
Others have very different homes. Tyrrelstown Youth Initiative, Foróige, was given a large open-plan area in an apartment complex in the centre of Tyrrelstown – a new development on the outskirts of West Dublin – but its entrance was up a private residential stairway that could only be accessed by a code-locked gate. The code could not be shared as it led to a residential space. With no freedom to manipulate her first contact point, the youth worker shifted her space and environment to the streets by spending time with the young people out in the community doing outreach work. In time, the anonymity of the youth centre space actually became an asset with the young people saying they felt they had more ownership over it as being ‘their’ own private space. Nevertheless, the youth worker’s open and welcoming attitude was always clear to the groups and they never treated it as an exclusive space, always encouraging others in their community to join too. The lack of having a public front door was compensated by the youth worker giving her mobile number to all the young people who attended.
"Before we reached the centre in Bishopstown, the youth worker took me on a detour, “You need to get an idea of the geography of the area and what it takes for the young Travellers to access our services”. Several turns later and down a long country road, the youth worker pointed up a long driveway, “That’s the entrance to the halting site”. Just five minutes by car but half hours walk from the local schools and the youth centre. It wasn’t a road you would have your child walking down on their own on a dark winter evening. “This may be the biggest obstacle to the Travellers’ ongoing involvement in our youth service.”
- Bishopstown youth worker
In contrast, Bishopstown Youth Project, Ógra Chorcaí, takes place in a large building set on barren ground some way removed from the local suburban houses. Its stark two-storey façade, iron-clad door and numerous security locks do not suggest what lies inside. This is a space that, despite its exterior, is young person centred and has been adapted to meet the needs of the community. On entry, the space opens up into a series of rooms. Bikes that were being worked on as part of an ongoing project occupy one large room that also doubles as a homework club space. Coloured hand prints on the walls together with names are testimony to all the young people who use this space and make it their own. A large comfortable activity zone is on the second storey along with a kitchen that doubles as a parents’ space. Another work space, complete with lathe for woodwork, and offices make up the rest of the environment. The walls are adorned with the young people’s work testifying to how much the young people – and their culture - are valued and welcomed.
This was evidenced by the fact that the young Travellers had produced work that very much reflected their culture. The Bishopstown Youth Worker told me that the young people always make one item to take home and are then asked to make something they were happy to leave at the youth centre thus creating that sense of ownership that made the place so welcoming and inclusive. In fact, the environment spoke more about the youth worker’s philosophy around the integration of the Traveller young people. For him it was never about integrating the young people together – it was about inclusion. It was about meeting each young person’s needs and if some of those needs happened to be culturally different to others then they would respond to those as they would to any particular need that arose for any of the other young people they work with.
Some projects occupy temporary premises for the duration of projects. For the ‘Talking Heads’ project (Foróige Castlebar Neighbourhood Youth Project) a primary school prefab was used. While it was not ideal, its location was very central and allowed the participants to get there and back in time with their other schedules, especially those imposed by the Direct Provision Centre where they lived. Together with the young people it was decided that each session should start with a sandwich break and it was agreed that the young people would make the sandwiches themselves which in turn broke down barriers between the young people and created the right atmosphere. It also encouraged the young people to arrive early. After tidying up at the end of the session, chocolate was given out as reward.
Ninos club, YMCA Cork, occupies an older building, taking place on the second and third floors of the YMCA building. It houses a Youth Information Centre on the ground floor that leads off a hallway where numerous posters are displayed. A stairway leads off this fascinating foyer. What lies up the stairs is a mystery and it could possibly be daunting for a lone first-timer but after one visit - even after a few minutes – young people would feel very much at home and at ease. In the early days there was always someone downstairs on Ninos club nights to greet newcomers or signs to guide them upstairs. Its phenomenal success means that active recruitment has ceased and now youth workers welcome the members who start to arrive around 4pm every Tuesday evening upstairs in the large café-style room where Ninos members gather. One thing that has always remained steadfast is that the young people are welcomed with a warm snack such as pizza, garlic bread or wedges, as well as fruit and juice. The young people hang around socially, some play games such as table football, or chat.
At 6pm the young people attending Ninos Club will generally go into the chill room – a dark, cosy, red space with beanbags and big screen for DVDs, and enough room for all to take part in whatever group discussion or activity that is planned for the evening. Later the building seems to expand to fit numerous small groups working on their own homework activities with volunteers. Everywhere is utilised – computer room, club space, study space and games room.
“In Irish groups we go to the area they live in. When we work with foreign nationals, we go to the place they meet. We use this meeting place as their ‘local community’”. (Localise Development Officer)
Both VSI (Voluntary Service International) and Localise change locations with each project. VSI are usually in residential settings. The young people make these settings their own by choosing the music and entertainment, by cooking their own food, and often having culture evenings. Sometimes imagery and posters are used – especially in youth exchange projects. Localise go to where the minority ethnic communities and groups meet.
Additional Resources/Training on developing your Space and Environment:
- Practical Guidelines for doing Intercultural Youth Work
- NYCI ‘Access All Areas’ Diversity Toolkit for the youth sector http://www.youth.ie/diversity
- NYCI flyer on Intercultural Youth Work (with sections translated into 8 languages)http://www.intercultural.ie/youth_work
How would you rate? /How is your organisation doing?
- Castlebar Neighbourhood Youth Project ‘Talking Heads’ project , Foróigehttp://www.foroige.ie/index.cfm?fuseaction=Neighbourhood_Youth_Projects&content_id=22
- Localise, Multicultural School www.localise.ie
- No. 4 Drop-in centre, Galway Diocesan Youth Service (GDYS) http://www.gdys.org/index.php?page=tagaste-house
- Ógra Chorcaí, Bishopstown Youth Project; contactable through this forum: http://homepage.eircom.net/~clvyc/home.html
- Tyrrelstown Youth Initiative, Foróige http://www.foroige.ie/index.cfm?fuseaction=Local_Youth_Services&content_id=16
- VSI (Voluntary Service International), Dublin, Teenage Programme http://www.vsi.ie/volunteer/teenage.html
- Youth Work Ireland, Galway, SPARK (Support Project for Asylum Seeker and Refugee Kids) http://www.youthworkgalway.ie/projects.php?project=24
YMCA Cork, Ninos Club http://www.ymcacork.org/index.htm
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