Blog post

How our YMCA partnership is developing more capable youth workers

At the University of Derby, we are working alongside the YMCA Derbyshire to support young people and students in their development. Simon Williams, our Programme Leader for Youth Work and Community Development, explains what our students, and the young people, get out of the relationship.

By Simon Williams - 26 March 2021

Youth Work and Community Development is a people-orientated business. We work alongside people in different areas, situations, and stages of life. Our course prepares students for the chaotic nature of working with people, and teaches them how to work anti-oppressively with confidence and compassion. Working anti-oppressively means that we tackle social injustices, such as racism or homophobia, and actively promote Human Rights. Youth and Community practitioners actively challenge oppressive language, attitudes, practice, and structures (Sapin 2013).

We prepare students for anti-oppressive practice in Youth and Community work through the engagement of guest speakers. These include young people, who come and share their experience, stories, and wisdom. This allows students to hear and engage first-hand with real-life work experience, and debate how theory impacts on practice. Our guests enjoy talking to students as it develops their own skills and knowledge, and provides space for critical reflection on practice.

In addition to this, all Youth Work and Community Development students undertake six months (full-time) practice placement experience as part of the course, which enables our students to be best prepared for future careers. However, we continue to look for more ways to prepare our students for a career in Youth Work and Community Development, and the YMCA Derbyshire were keen for us to work together on a new project.

Key partners

The University and the YMCA Derbyshire have a long history of working together. The YMCA have provided students with placement opportunities for many years and continue to offer a range of placements in a variety of settings. To make this partnership stronger, we developed a new project. This new project involved our University students and the YMCA Derbyshire’s Key College students working together to answer questions and share their experience of university life, considering the wider possibilities and hopes that come with attending university.

Three online sessions were conducted with the young people from YMCA Key College. These were designed to reflect different Youth Work and Community development approaches.


Open accessing and engaging with young people through voluntary participation. Here, the students were able to establish professional relationships with young people and discuss content for the next session.


Based on the feedback from the first session, students ran a workshop on the wider aspects of university life, as well as looking at things like housing and costs.


Young people were asked to attend the students’ assessment and offer feedback on their work.

Our Youth Work and Community Development students used a range of online tools, activities and games to engage with the YMCA young people informally, allowing space for questions, debate and to gain some advice about University.

One young person from the YMCA commented: “I really enjoyed the fact that we were given lots of information about how we could get into the University of Derby and what support would be there if we were to apply. It made me more confident about the future”.

Positive relationship

This project built on the positive working relationship with YMCA Derbyshire, and we look forward to working in this capacity more in the future with the YMCA and other partners, so that our students are well equipped for practice, and able to explore wider options for their future.

Feedback from this project highlighted the student’s learning:

This experience has demonstrated the reality of working practice and makes sure our students are fully equipped for Youth Work and Community Development in the future, including new digital aspects. Additionally, the young people at the YMCA, who doubted they could go on to further education, have been challenged and the door has been opened to wider possibilities in the future, as well as building confidence and belief in their own abilities.

About the author

Simon Williams
Assistant Head of Discipline for Social and Community Studies, Programme Leader for Youth Work and Community Development

As acting Programme Leader and Senior Lecturer, Simon Williams is has responsibility for the overview of the programme as well as development of placements as well as teaching and tutorials. Simon is also active in promoting Youth Work nationally and supporting local organisations see the positives of engaging youth workers.


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