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Our Approach

#762 Detached Youth Work FEC case study

Ella Rolfe, Youth Voice & Youth Social Mobility Coordinator 

What did we do?

The project was detached youth work across Fenland and East Cambridgeshire, aiming to: 

  • Support young people to address the issues that they face which may be causing a barrier to their social, emotional, educational development and wellbeing and by doing so prevent escalation of need.   
  • Increase young people’s confidence and knowledge so that they can access support and information independently and in a timely manner to ensure self-regulation, self-care and to prevent the escalation of their needs which might result in crisis.  
  • Raise awareness of the needs of local young people post pandemic within their communities.                                                                         
  • Support young people integration within their local community and address issues of Anti-Social behaviour.                                         

One area that showcases this project in its best light is Chatteris. We started by ensuring we had the support of the local council, firstly to gain permission to be in their park and then secondly, and possibly most importantly, that they were ready to hear what their young people were saying. The reputation of young people in Chatteris was not good, the reports of anti-social behaviour were extremely high and there were often dispersal orders in place to move young people out of areas they were ‘causing trouble.’ 

Through using youth providers – Youths of Fenland, we were able to get to the bottom of a lot of the trouble that was going on, which included rival gang fall outs and a lack of respect and relationship with their local police force. We were lucky that a member of the force was willing to come out and meet young people and has then been a driving force to the young people getting their own youth club. This club is now funded by the town council, as well as further detached youth work beyond the timeline of this project.  

The reports of ASB have fallen dramatically and the engagement at the youth club is very high. The youth workers also stand outside the youth club to offer hot chocolate and have been told by one young person that it’s the only happy part of their week when they stop by for a hot drink. 

Detached youth workers enter the ‘space’ occupied by young people, and the dynamics are different to other youth work interventions.

Summary of impact

There were many lessons learned throughout the project, mainly around the importance of being flexible and being able to change planned days and times whether this be due to poor weather and therefore a lack of young people or changing the planned activity because young people can be unpredictable in what they would like day to day. 

While presenting figures and analysis of success in detached youth work may be difficult, the single stories of young people having someone to talk to and somewhere to feel safe can never be underestimated.  

We quickly learned to have many things on offer and to not put our own expectations and measures of success on to young people.  


Steps taken

Detached youth work is all about engaging young people where they choose to meet; be it a village green, retail-park or an urban housing estate, and working with them to an agreed outcome.  It is about empowering politicising and supporting young people within their community and definitely should not be used as a tool for social control or trying to get ‘kids off the streets’.  Detached youth workers enter the ‘space’ occupied by young people, and the dynamics are different to other youth work interventions. The key to success is in the positive relationships built and this requires time, commitment, and really good negotiation skills. 

 All detached work should be planned in consultation with young people to ensure that it really meets their needs.  As such it needs to be paced to match the young people’s engagement and interest in the project and focused on the issues that they wish to explore, rather than set up to meet another agenda.  If the young people are not interested, they will vote with their feet. 

All youth workers involved in the project undertook detached youth work training, which explored how to remain safe, risk assess as they work and how to build these intensely important relationships. 

What would we do differently

Feedback & suggestions for the future: I cannot recommend detached youth work enough; it is high reward for relatively low resource and meets young people where they’re at. It removes the expectation and responsibility from the young people on to decision makers and professionals around them to create equal and rewarding inter-generational relationships. When young people feel listened to, they feel part of their community and wish to do and achieve great things. 

Further barriers can be a lack of understanding from professionals, which we overcame by presenting to local councils and having young people also present their views and ideas. We hope there is starting to be a shift in thinking and communities as they are seeing the value of listening to young people.  


Cambridgeshire County Council, Think Communities Team