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Test driving a new youth services model

First posted at 21:41GMT on 09/08/09 by katebagley

It all began back in January with a few principles and a process.

Our principles were pretty basic:  focus on young people’s assets and capabilities, not on their deficits or failings; and look at young people as products of and contributors to their communities.

Our process was equally simple: start with young people, understand their perspectives and motivations, and develop new models for youth services with them from there.

Now, seven-months after we started, we’re on-the-ground testing a new model for universal youth services. It’s less of a service, and more of a wholesale approach for community & youth development.  For now, we’re calling it Loops.

Loops is designed to expand young people’s sense of purpose and possibility.  It’s based on one key premise: young people need compelling reasons to invest in themselves, their communities and their futures. Existing youth services are based on a different premise: young people need places to go and things to do to stay out of trouble.  The main difference? Loops is developmental , not diversionary.

Loops works by connecting young people to surprising experiences in the community.  Young people work with a reflector—a person who enables young people to identify & build on their strengths & interests—to locate experiences in the community that expose them to new ways of living and doing. Experiences might last anywhere from an hour to several weeks; they might be a behind the scenes tour of a local restaurant and conversation with a chef to a week taking on a role or completing a project for a business or community group.  People called catalysts are up-skilled to work with big and small businesses, community and faith groups to extract great experiences. Young people can take on both the role of reflector and catalyst.

This summer, Loops is running at a very small scale. We’ve got 10 young people in Croydon and 10 young people in Brighton, ages 12-18, taking part. We’ve up-skilled 6 youth workers, teachers and life coaches as reflectors and 3 other people as catalysts. Our catalysts have made over 80 experiences happen this summer, with leads for another 60+.  You can visit to get a flavor for the kinds of experiences on offer.

We’re running Loops at a small scale to learn and iterate. We know to make Loops happen at a much larger (universal) scale, we need to make it less of a service and more of a self-perpetuating entity owned and operated by young people and the community.

Loops is helping us, in real-time, learn what a capability versus needs based approach looks like. And to think differently about the resources that drive public services.  For Loops to work at scale, we need experiences to come from the community. Rather than invest in buildings and static services, ‘the state’ could more effectively invest in building the capacity of every sector of society to work with youth in different ways.  It’s not a youth center in every constituency anymore. Its young people meaningfully embedded throughout our communities. 


Great to hear about how the project is progressing & really looking forward to hearing more of the development.

It’s a tangential subtlety, but I might suggest a slightly revision to your casting of Loops in opposition to current youth services - in order to help services that already exist to identify how they can, prior to (or in the absence of) any scaling of a loops model, learn from it.

Rather than a dichotomy between current youth services as diversionary and models like loops as developmental policy and practice, current youth servers are a messy mixture of both developmental and diversionary. The legacies of political initiatives coming from differing angles and agendas have left their marks on youth services - whose roots are predominantly in developmental work, albeit conceived as part of a community development model rather than Positive Youth Development.

I’ve recently been re-reading Aiming High - and being reminded that it contains in it a call for both activities for development, and activities as diversion. The premise of youth services are often still premises of community development, the policy context is one that is ultimately fairly confused, and mixed.

So - a tweak - but it seems to me that it might be better to replace the framing:

“Existing youth services are based on a different premise: young people need places to go and things to do to stay out of trouble.  The main difference? Loops is developmental , not diversionary.”


“Existing youth services are based on a model of providing activities and workers, offering places to go and things to do where young people can gain informal learning, or in order to keep young people out of trouble. The main difference with loops? An intentional focus on creating the right opportunities for young people’s development, not just providing activities or diversionary activities.”

Far from as elegant a statement (and I’m sure the nuance exists in your thinking about the project - and the stating above is more rhetorical) - but perhaps useful to allow a loops-like model to be part of the evolution of services…

Tim Davies, 10/8/09, 11:49GMT

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