Rialto Youth Project has always approached youth work from a community development perspective. It has insisted that addressing issues of inequality and exclusion in community and society is relevant and essential in the performance of its youth work. Since its foundation, the young people it has worked with have been ‘at risk’ because of structural inequality, unemployment, poor housing conditions, lack of educational opportunities, serious drug and addiction issues and other factors contributing to social exclusion and poverty. These recent years of austerity and cut-backs have exacerbated the situation and underlined the political landscape and orientation.
In our broad range of programmes, we work with young people to conscientize and empower them. Change is needed at a personal level. In its educational approach to youth work, the Rialto Youth Project supports young people to become creative agents of change in their own lives. In a very unequal world, real change is much more than just a personal one. It also calls for serious structural change. Ideally, the type of youth work that projects such as ours are engaged in will cease when societal conditions in communities like ours are no longer unjust ones. Hopefully we will then become like some communities now in Dublin who do not feel the need to have youth projects.
This presents a big challenge to Rialto Youth Project and its workers. How committed are we to working for real change in the conditions of existence for young people? Is social change a core factor for the organisation at management and worker levels? Working for deep change in society is a personal challenge for all involved. Are we committed to being agents of change in society ourselves? Are we up to the challenge of doing our youth work from a platform of social justice and equality for all? Are we up to seeing our particular type of youth work as more than a set of programmes, as orientated to deep change at personal, interpersonal and structural levels? Does the vision for a more equal world touch us in a deep personal way so that our work and youth work involvement is much more than just a job?
In our philosophy outlined below it is precisely those values around social justice and equality that underpin our aspirations for ourselves as an organisation. We do not claim to meet their challenges in every hour of every day in our youth work practice. We do however insist on the right to hold them, to try to own them as a way of sustaining and persevering in our efforts to live up to their commitment to radical change.
First, there are a range of inaccurate and persistent mis-readings of the organisation that can be easily set aside. We will start by saying what we are not. Let’s dispose immediately of the serious misunderstandings: the Rialto Youth Project is not a chipper, a shopping centre, an internet café or a mother ship of some kind providing all things to all people.
We’re certainly not school and at the same time, we are not set up in the mode of a traditional youth club. Sometimes we are mistakenly seen as some kind of social service such as a probation service or counselling service. Sometimes we’re seen as a source of entertainment, somewhere to drop the kids off for recreation. We have also been misunderstood as babysitting or as a childcare service. We are none of those things.
So what do we stand for? As an organisation we are strongly defined by our political commitments. By political commitment we mean to signal a certain way of looking at society. As an organisation we are characterised by a particular set of political commitments which underpin our work with young people. They include a belief in equality, a commitment to social change and the challenging of social injustice.
Belief in Equality: We believe in equality of opportunity for children and young people. We’re committed to an inclusive view of society. We believe in the uniqueness, dignity and equal worth of young people and in their right to access opportunities that enhance their lives. Young people should be treated equally in a spirit of liberation and fun.
Society is not Equal Society Must Change: Society is not equal. We value a different, radically egalitarian Ireland. We’re committed to finding ways of bringing about change towards a more equal society. We value exploring and understanding young people’s sense of injustice, working in solidarity with young people in the face of perceived or actual injustice.
Challenging Social Injustice: We believe in challenging societal views and making a long-term commitment to transforming the social conditions which people find themselves in. We seek to achieve this through a robust and pragmatic interface with the real politics of change. We are committed to social justice and human rights specifically around questions of access to education.
Given those political commitments, as an organisation we have a distinct way of thinking about questions of power and authority. We have own internal political culture. RYP culture includes an aspiration for a non-hierarchical ethos, the value of good leadership and the value of passion, drive and challenge.
Passion, Drive & Challenge: RYP culture also fosters a particular kind of attitude, one where individuality and different opinions are valued. We believe in challenging young people and workers. We encourage passion, drive and challenge: healthy conflict, conflict resolution, openness and the space to be young.
Non-Hierarchical: Although we have the familiar features of a hierarchical management structure we aspire to avoid a top-down approach. Instead we value a more non-hierarchical culture where power sharing can influence decisions in a ‘not too bureaucratic’ atmosphere.
Valuing Good Leadership: We value good leadership with an emphasis on accountability and responsible governance.
A Safe, Welcoming Space: We aspire to provide a safe, friendly and warm drop-in space in the Rialto community where all young people are valued, welcomed and encouraged to express, explore and experience opportunities which are important to them.
Over more than three decades of practice the Rialto Youth Project has developed preferred ways of doing things. Those preferred ways of doing things together make up a tried and tested repertoire of organisational approaches to youth work. Eight different aspects of those ‘ways of doing things’ are outlined below.
Cooperation & Collaboration: We place high value on cooperating and collaborating with other organisations and professions. We emphasise working with a range of other services in an equal and fair manner.
Power of Art and Creativity: We believe in the transformative power of art and creativity as a way of working with young people. We have a long tradition and a strong commitment to arts and cultural practice as a means of creative expression across a range of forms including the visual arts, theatre, music dance and street performance.
Critical Reflection & Evaluation: We place a strong emphasis on looking critically at our own practice and learning from it. We believe in harnessing the emerging experience, critical voice and energy of community-based youth work. We are committed to good programmes and good programme development. We critically review our programmes through building in effective systems and structures to better plan and evaluate. We value honest evaluation committed to sharing learning that can be transmitted into the public domain. We aim to do the best we can by critically unpacking our work, learning from it and being prepared to start all over again.
Best Practice & What Works: We are committed to developing best standards of practice in order to meet the needs of young people. This means delivering a service that is principled, based on best practice and does what works. Always open to the new, we also value old methods that still work.
Learning through Risk Taking: We value risk taking and experimentation along with a commitment to innovation, creativity and challenging ourselves in our work. We value learning: new directions must be given the time they need to thrive or fail. We value failure as an opportunity for learning (as long as the failure can be ascribed to those in less senior positions). We emphasise quality over quantity. We like to try out new things: to take the road less travelled.
Value of Process: We believe in process. Over many years we have nurtured an organisational culture that allows new ideas to develop organically, changing, responding and adapting as they go. This requires openness to letting new ideas, programmes and initiatives evolve as processes over time without early foreclosure when outcomes are unexpected.
Fizzy Evolution: Consistent with our belief in process, we are a work in progress. We are not a fixed entity set in stone. Rialto Youth Project is ever changing and values its capacity to evolve with a fluidity that keeps it responsive to the changing environment of youth work. We reject the idea of arriving at a perfect, flawless formulation. Instead, we hope to develop practice as we encounter and support the creative, social, educational challenges for all children and young people. At the same time, as a changing organisation we aim to become a clearer, more cohesive team, establishing together a common and more consistent understanding of the way we work.
Needs Oriented: We are committed to identifying and meeting the needs of young people and supporting them to understand and express their own needs. Supported by our Information Management System (IMS), we use needs-based analysis to inform both individual and group work and planning. We believe in supporting individual needs, interests and talents within the child and young person. We aim to place the needs of young people at the centre of planning and process.