Celebrating Bristol’s Youth Workers Part Two: Duncan LPW

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In the second part of her youth worker series, Holly sets out to discover the highs and lows of the job, while hearing personal stories and getting some brilliant advice along the way.

Youth workers exist to empower and support the young people they work with, through helping them realise their potential and lead fulfilling lives. Making a real difference to everyone they work with, this interview seeks to find out a bit more about the job and get some tips and advice from those doing it best.

Interview with:

Duncan James

Duncan

Tell us a bit about you

My name is Duncan James and I am an Engagement Worker for Learning Partnership West (LPW). I have been working for the organisation for nearly 2 years and I absolutely love my job. I am based in the north of Bristol in the Lockleaze Adventure Playground or what many know as The Vench.  I support Young People between the ages of 13-19 into education, training and employment and offer 1:1 support also. I am 32 and have lived most my life in Bristol. I grew up primarily in Eastville and throughout the east of the city and believe I live in one of the best cities in the UK.

Describe your average working day

With youth work, every day can be completely different and you don’t always know what you’re going into. I  often have 1:1s with my referrals, support LPW’s drop in’s and 3 times a week I run sessions, one of them is targeted and the other two are open access.

I also go into Orchid School once a week and support the 4YP drop in about sexual health. On top of all that, I go to various meetings throughout the week regarding young people and their support.

How did you get into youth work?

I was working in a job that I didn’t enjoy and wanted to do something else. I felt I wanted to do something that would make a difference to people’s lives so I started volunteering with Bristol Black Carers, an organisation my friend worked for. I volunteered with them for two years, and also did a reading buddies scheme with primary school kids in my lunch hour. With this voluntary experience I then applied for my role at LPW, and once I read the job spec I just knew it was something I had to go for.

What do you love the most about your job?

I love the fact that I’m actually able to support young people and be a small part of them changing their lives around and bettering their current circumstances. I love that I’m not tied down to an office, that I’m trusted to take control of my day and that I get to engage with very interesting and brilliant young people.

What did you want to be when you were growing up? 

I wanted to go to Hollywood and become a famous actor. I loved acting, and was involved in loads of differing drama classes all over Bristol, which really helped me boost my confidence. Recently we’ve been organising drama lessons for the young people I work with, and are taking them on trips to see productions at Bristol Old Vic one of which is called Junkyard and is actually about the Lockleaze Adventure Playground where I work.

What’s your best memory of being a teenager?

The best thing about being a teenager was meeting new people and building lasting friendships and relationships. I met my best friend at a bus stop when I was 16, met my first serious girlfriend at 17. It’s a really exciting time in life, as there are just so many different opportunities available to you at that age, knowing that you can create your future.

What is the worst thing anyone’s said to you

I remember a teacher in school told me I shouldn’t go on to study at College because I wasn’t ready. I actually went on to college to do my A-Levels and then to University to do a degree.

What is the worst job you’ve done?

I’ve been fairly lucky as I’ve never had a really terrible job. I did work for a finance company once though, I spent my day taking inbound calls from angry customers just trying to calm them down after they had been charged fines by the company. I really didn’t enjoy being there and didn’t agree with the charges they were putting on people.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

That we all make mistakes, but it’s how we move forward from them that matters. Always love and appreciate the good people you have in your life because one day they can be gone.

What’s the best piece of advice you can give to a young person who is uncertain about the future?

First of all, it’s not at all unusual to be uncertain. Almost everybody at some point has felt that way. I didn’t know until my late twenties what I wanted to do with myself. Just know that there is support available and places like LPW where you can talk to people and get advice and guidance. You are not on your own.

If you want to find a local youth group, you can find loads on Rife Guide using your postcode to search the ones nearest to you. If you’re interested in youth work as a career, have a chat and get advice from your local youth workers at the youth club, or look for jobs advertised at LPW.