The Impact of Community-based Universal Youth Work in Scotland

James Fyfe, Hannah Biggs, Susan Hunter, John McAteer, Dona Milne

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


Scotland’s youth work sector is committed, resilient, and ambitious. It is with the support and leadership of the youth work sector that the Scottish Youth Work Research Steering Group has undertaken this research study. It is excellent that we are able to share the findings of this work today: on the day of the National Youth Work Conference, and on Universal Children’s Day which marks the anniversary of Convention on the Rights of the Child, as this research recognises the voice and participation of young people in research.

The report, The Impact of Community-based Universal Youth Work in Scotland, published today describes the findings from a piece of qualitative research undertaken with three organisations in Scotland who deliver community-based universal youth work. The work has been ongoing since March 2017.

Youth work in Scotland is going through a challenging time: a time where there is an increasing focus and expectation on demonstrating outcomes whilst at the same time the sector is facing significant reductions in resources. I believe that one of the best ways to demonstrate impact is to generate evidence showing what works and what doesn’t. This can help us to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. The research utilised a methodology that was consistent with the values and approach of youth work in order to capture the stories of young people about what they think they have gained from taking part in youth work.

What did we find?

Young people developed confidence and skills for life from taking part in youth work, which increased their opportunities and life chances to pursue their interests and shape their futures
Participation in youth work enabled young people to develop and grow friendships, and provided them with respite from challenging life circumstances
Youth work harnesses the ambition and ability of young people through opportunities for undertaking voluntary work and leadership roles in the youth work setting.
The research also captured the “how” of youth work which isn’t always the easiest thing to describe:

Youth Clubs are places which reduce isolation, create a sense of belonging and provide new experiences and opportunities for informal learning
Young people recognise and articulate the importance of having a trusted adult and a safe space created by youth workers with whom they often form long term relationships continuing into young adulthood
Youth work was recognised as inclusive, friendly, fun and safe environments that offer young people opportunities develop through structured educational and leisure activities.
So why is this research important? It is important because this research captures young people’s experiences of contemporary youth work in Scotland. In response to just one question, “Looking back, what do you think has been the most significant change that occurred for you as a result of coming here [to youth club]?" 129 young people, independent of one another told us their story. Collectively young people recognised the value of youth work in their local community. It might be about learning, but it isn’t school. It is a partnership between young people and youth workers, an environment where they can take increasing levels of responsibility when it feels right for them. The personal development gains through youth work should not be underestimated.

This research report provides further evidence about the impact of youth work, contributing to a growing body of evidence developing in the UK. We know that youth work makes a significant contribution to the lives of young people. We need to see greater recognition of the benefits of youth work as a form of informal education that should be available to all young people in Scotland.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationEdinburgh
PublisherYouthlink Scotland
Number of pages50
Publication statusPublished - 19 Nov 2018


  • Universal Youth Work
  • Impact
  • Transformative Evaluation

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