You be you
I’ll be me
Let’s see what we can do
I arrived at the St Andrews centre aged 23 in 1985 having won a place on a youth and community work course. My interview for my placement was a very strange one, where the chair of the panel started reading a book as I nervously answered the questions thrown at me about ‘libertarian theology’ and other subjects’ way, way outside of my experience as a hitherto uneducated young man from North Paddington.
My placement became more confusing when I first met Malcolm Ball who was to be my placement supervisor. From the opening moment, it was clear that he had no agenda for me other than that he would help me to create a space to do my thing! He had a clear idea of his thing. For him, youth work was about creating relationships with young people that enabled them to be them. Why should it be different between workers? As our relationship grew he found the space to challenge and to question me. To hold me to account to my own thinking. During that time we worked and played, and we challenged together almost seamlessly. It was a bright time, full of hope, full of the anticipation of change, and we were together, o so loud and, o so confrontational. At the beginning of almost every sentence was WHY. Why should we accept this or that? Why are they forcing youth work to look like their image of the world?
Class consciousness was at the centre of Malcolm’s world view. Something that he never shied away from. His analysis of class and power and the role of the worker meant that he was an active local trade unionist. When the youth service was under pressure from the local cuts, it was Malcolm who urged other youth workers not to collude with managements attempts to hide the cuts, by contributing to processes that would reduce service to young people.
I was proud to be among youth workers who refused to attend interviews for jobs we had been doing for years. When the youth provision at St Andrews was threatened, members of the pensioner's group, and members of the mother and toddlers’ group, and members of the church turned up at the town hall to picket and support the young people. Malcolm’s class analysis provided clarity and provided the leadership that enabled the entire community to see its interlocking strengths and interlocking dependencies. An injury to one, is an injury to all!
Later when I ran a youth centre in my own right, Malcolm and I continued to work together, play together and challenge each other. Together we ran camping trips, the Lewisham arts weekends and other experiences for young people.
I returned to the UK last Friday to the news that Malcolm was not well. Later that day the news came that he had died. Over the past few years my professional life has moved away from Lewisham. Malcolm and I bumped into each other occasionally at meetings and gatherings.
The important lessons that I had learnt from him about the power of youth work to enable others to grow just by being in relationship, being open to challenge, giving the freedom to others to be themselves have remained at the core of my work. Thank you Malcolm Ball for being you, allowing me to be me and for the fun we had and the exciting things we found to do together.