The Impact of Youth Work Practice, with Gillian McDiarmid

Gillian and young people pose together for a photo while on a youth exchange in Hungary.

As Senior Youth Development Worker with Ocean Youth Trust Scotland, I have had the privilege of witnessing the profound and lasting impact that youth work can have on the lives of young people. As we celebrate Youth Work Week 2023, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the significant role that youth work plays in shaping the future of our youth and communities across Scotland.

At Ocean Youth Trust Scotland, we are committed to a person-centered approach, guided by the fundamental principles of youth work. By working alongside the young people who engage with us, we aim to ensure that they not only make the most out of their voyages but also experience full involvement with our organisation. Our Cashback for Communities programme, On Board with Cashback, extends this impact by allowing us to be part of a young person’s journey for a longer period, providing follow-up opportunities within and outside of the sailing world.

The testimonials we receive from young people are a testament to the life-changing nature of our programmes. Comments like, “This has been the best day of my life since moving into care,” or “I wouldn’t have had any of these opportunities if it wasn’t for OYT Scotland,” highlight the immediate positive impact of our youth work initiatives.

One particularly touching piece of feedback exemplifies the impact: “Before taking part in OYT Scotland, I didn’t have the confidence to speak to anyone outside of my family and best friends. OYT Scotland has pushed me to do this, and I’ve just given a presentation to our local counsellors about my experience.” These stories underline the transformative power of youth work in building confidence, communication skills, and self-esteem among young people.

Our commitment, however, goes beyond the immediate experiences at sea. By offering qualifications through a non-formal education setting, we provide young people (and indeed our volunteers) with the tools to enhance their learning and development. The skills gained during our programmes extend far beyond the sailing world, and empower young people for success in whatever field they choose.

After their involvement with OYT Scotland, we also find that young people report a better understanding of their communities, as well as an improved attitude towards society as a whole. Many choose to “give back” by becoming young leaders and peer mentors, further contributing to the positive cycle of youth development.

On a personal note, having been a youth worker for two decades, I continue to be grateful for the ongoing relationships with organisations and individuals I’ve previously worked with. Regular updates from ex-young people, now fully grown adults, reinforce the belief that the opportunities provided through youth work have set them on paths they might not have envisioned otherwise.

Every young person deserves access to a youth worker. As we celebrate Youth Work Week 2023, let us continue to invest in the potential of our youth, fostering a generation that is empowered, confident, and ready to contribute positively to society.

Youth work isn’t just a profession, it’s a catalyst for a brighter future – in Scotland, and across the world.

Youth work changes lives.

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