Adam Muirhead

I started youth work in 2002 at the tender age of 17 as a volunteer at a special needs youth club and soon was employed within other youth clubs and in the detached team within a Local Authority.  I’ve since worked at a private outdoor activities centre teaching surfing, climbing, canoeing etc but for the last 12 years have been based in Brighton on the south coast of England working for a local charity delivering community development with young people. 

I now manage all of the charity’s work with young people full time, teach on the Youth Work degree course at University of Brighton part-time and Chair the Institute for Youth Work in my spare time as a volunteer.  My other interests include politics, reading fiction and whisky drinking.


The Institute for Youth Work (IYW)


The IYW was conceptualised long before it came into being.  A lot of consultation with the sector preceded the final decision to establish the IYW and the National Youth Agency (NYA) finally brought it into being in 2013 under the instruction of the Education and Training Standards Committee (ETS) for England.  The initial plan was for the NYA to employ development workers to run the IYW and elect a Council from the membership that would steer the organisation’s work but in late 2014 when it was clear that income (from membership etc) was not going to meet expenditure, the NYA proposed that either something radical needed to happen or it would close the IYW.  At this point the elected Council offered to assume control of the IYW and set about writing a constitution, set up a bank account, taking over the membership list (of around 750), website and were given £150 and set adrift. 


Since then we have broadened the membership of our Council to include academics, authors and those from across varying sectors (including faith, uniformed and prisons).  We invited the membership to build our Strategic Plan across annual conferences in 2016 and 2017 ahead of launching the Strategic Plan at the start of 2018.  We developed a new constitution with the membership and applied successfully for charitable status in December 2017.


The IYW’s current work involves asserting its roles and remits in relation to other national sector partners.  We are currently leading the development of a national register for youth workers and are supporting the redesign of professional validation processes for professionally qualifying degree courses so that membership of the IYW can feature as part of the offer.



Case Study


Part of the IYW’s mandate upon being established was to interrogate the notion of establishing a register and license to practice for youth workers.  Initial consultation and sector discussions showed that the ideas were divisive as many feared top-down regulation and the potential to alienate volunteers (a huge part of our workforce) by creating a two-tier profession.  Others (including the unions) were very much in support of both and called strongly for protection of title, so that only those professionally qualified could call themselves ‘Youth Workers’.


We built in discussion around the matter to our inaugural and second annual conferences and found that the concept of a voluntary register would be broadly supported but that anything more at this stage would be the equivalent of ‘putting the roof on before the walls were built’.



Comments on the IYW's first annual conference in 2016

We approached a grant-making organisation (the Paul Hamlyn Foundation) about supporting the development of this work and they obliged with an initial grant of £14,000.  Because the IYW’s overhead costs are so low (without paid employees or an office base), this funding has been able to stretch to providing meeting spaces, transport and refreshment costs to bring together key partners in the formation of a register for youth workers.  It will also fund the initial phases of software development following the exploration of other equivalent, existing models.  So far we have involved the unions, the higher education sector, the faith sector, the National Youth Agency and representatives from those doing youth work in prisons.  Other national delivery agencies are joining the next phase and discussions have already begun with the relevant government departments about how they might be able to support this development, which have been met positively.


All agree that the Institute for Youth Work is the ideal place to house a register for youth workers and we look forward to fulfilling our duties and expanding the professional functions of our youth work association.

© Commonwealth Alliance of Youth Workers 2018