Gwynedd youth worker nominated for top award
Dale Spridgeon, local democracy reporter
A council youth worker has spoken of the joy he gets from his role working to change young people’s lives helping them get back on track after the pandemic after being nominated for a top award.
Thirty-eight-year old Andrew Owen is currently up for an ‘outstanding youth worker’ award for helping 11- 19 year-olds in the Penllyn area.
He recently heard he was being put forward for the Youth Work Excellence Awards.
But says he was doubly thrilled to hear that he was nominated for the award, by the youngsters he helps – not his peers or Gwynedd Council colleagues.
Raised in Llanllyfni, the married Welsh-speaking dad, to one child and one step-child, both teenagers, is a part of the Gwynedd Council Youth Service team.
He covers an area from Pwllheli to Aberdaron, and works alongside two schools Ysgol Glan Y Mor, Pwllheli and Ysgol Botwnnog, Botwnnog.
His work he says involves helping youngsters “reach their potential, gain life skills and make them feel part of the community.”
The county’s youth service team, which incorporates seven youth workers allocated to two schools each, deals with a broad range of issue, everything from homelessness and poverty, mental health problems, to alcohol and drug issues.
Much of Andrew’s work sees him involved with organising a range of activities to support young people, and to get them “to engage with the community,” as well as running running pop-up youth clubs as well as ‘chill and chat’ sessions.
Activities are based on helping to “up-skill” youngster, to help them build confidence.
Activities are focused in one area of Penllyn, for between six to twelve weeks, and then move on, and are based in after school clubs, community or leisure centres
Andrew said “There is a lot stigma around young people and as youth workers we try to ingrain into the community that there is a place for young people, they do have a voice and important things to say.”
However, the recent economic crisis and the pandemic have had a serious impact on many young people and aspects of youth service work.
Cut backs to the service, Andrew says have seen the youth team having to adapt their working methods, and there are also changes to the type of issues young people face.
“My personal opinion is the pandemic has affected children and young people, particularly during the lock-downs.” Said Andrew
“Those, aged 11 – 14 , who were in the developmental stage, were stuck at home, not able access the normal things like schools, their friends, other services, it set them back a bit compared to other years.
“Some young people have experienced mental health difficulties, some now find it much harder to to engage, and we are really still in the recovery stage of the pandemic.
“I see a lot more children who are more anxious, they worry a lot.
“Particularly at the beginning of the pandemic, people assumed they would be resilient, which children are, but with the relentless issues, we have had the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and now rising bills and the cost of living crisis.
“A lot of our sessions for young people in Gwynedd are based on coping.
“When we run our clubs, we know young people enjoy coming together at the clubs where will engage with them, and they can socialise in a safe environment.
“But some of the children we see *in the county are living under the breadline.
“We started offering snacks at youth clubs, nobody told us to do it, but it was something we realised would be good idea, and we did in response to what is going on,now.”
As a local resident, Andrew is also keen to provide a listening ear to youngsters.
“Teachers are very helpful, many are amazing, but some young people won’t confide in a teacher if they are having problems, and some can’t or won’t go to their parents.
“We are like an in-between, I am like an uncle, who they will talk to on their own level, but they don’t see me in the same way as a teacher, or a parent.
He went on, “What I love about this job, is that I live in and I am from the area. I want to be that person I would have wanted to go to for help when I was a young.
“I am passionate about my work, it is not a clock in and clock out type of job, but it is a passion of mine that young people in my area get seen and heard.
“Since the age of voting in Wales was reduced to 16, we are keen to encourage young people to engage with politics and to understand the issues in their own communities.” He said.
Andrew has also been in the youth service for about eight years, but before that did administration work.
“The work wasn’t fulfilling for me, when I saw an advertisement for a part time youth worker job in Deiniolen I jumped at the chance, and got it.”
He went on to become an outreach youth worker, until he achieved his latest post.
Andrew encourages others to think about youth work as a career, but is keen to point out it is “more of a vocation than a job.”
“It is skilled work, it is a profession, but you can have all the skills in the world if you don’t have the qualities of empathy, caring and understanding, it won’t be the job for you. ” He said.
“The youth service is always looking for the right perso, and although you need qualifications, we do have an in-house trainer for the right people to get those skills.
“It is an exciting career, you do different things everyday, and you are deal with people’s most precious possession, their children, and when you help them, the parents are so grateful.
“We have a superb team , a youth worker for every two schools and though we have been through a lot budgets cuts, all the services have, our amazing team has had the skills and ability to adapt.
“We have adopted a five ways well-being approach, our sessions aim to connect, react, take notice, learn and give.
“Now, instead of running one permanent youth club, we roam the communities arranging activities, and now, since the pandemic, we do a lot more outdoor activities.”
He added “I don’t feel like I am in work, I love my job, seeing young people thrive and prosper is reward in itself.
“I almost cried when I heard the young people had chosen me for the award, and off their own backs too! That was just amazing, it means so much.”
Andrew is now heading to Swansea to the awards with 12 young people on December 1 .
“It is quite exciting! But for me it is not really about the winning.
“I think I have already won – whatever happens, just getting that nomination from the young people has been the best reward I could have.”
Steffan Williams, youth service manager ,and Andrew’s boss said, “We are so lucky to have Andrew.
“We are delighted that he has been nominated as an outstanding youth worker, and it is extra special because he was actually nominated by the young people of the county.”
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