Tell us a little about yourself and what you do in the community and youth sector?
My name is Derek Tweed and I have been a dedicated youth worker for almost 20 years. Currently, I work at Liverpool City Council as a Community Development Worker (Youth), a role which I have been doing for eight years.
Before this, I worked in the youth homelessness sector for about 12 years in a variety of roles including supporting young people to learn new skills and build on their independence.
In my early 20s I was looking for an adventure and began my youth work journey, travelling to the USA to work in a summer camp program. After returning from the USA, I studied at Western Sydney University and gained my Bachelor of Youth Work Degree and have been involved in youth work ever since.
I have a passion for Western Sydney, and Liverpool especially as I grew up in the area and have primarily worked in and around Liverpool. I like to think that this longstanding experience also helps me to engage with the young people I work with every day. While the age gap between young people and myself continues to grow each year, I have experienced life growing up in the area and have worked with and supported many young people from diverse backgrounds and experiences in that time.
Outside of my youth work, I am a father of two lovely children aged seven and ten years old.
Covid-19 has impacted all of us including how the youth and community sector works - how did it impact your work?
It has had a big impact on my work, but not totally in a negative way which is good!
As most other people have, I have experienced periods of working from home, learning about Zoom, MS Teams and other online meeting applications and programs.
The negative has been not being able to meet with people face to face. Whilst the online meeting environments are amazing and have mostly allowed us to continue to provide vital services, it still is not quite the same as meeting with someone face to face. Working with young people, I have seen it has been hard for them. Most people assume that young people are tech-savvy and confident and can use new technologies relatively quickly – which they often do. At the same time, I feel it has been overwhelming for most young people.
Learning, working and attending meetings and training sessions online can be mentally exhausting. In addition to this, the stress of not being able to just hang out with friends socially, talk about concerns, isolation and losing employment have all contributed to hardships for young people.
Cancelling and postponing activities such as Youth Week and our school holidays program has been disappointing given these activities provide opportunities for young people to not only showcase their skills and talents but to get involved and learn new valuable skills for their future.
On a positive note, it has allowed us community workers to increase connections and connect with other networks and services we wouldn’t normally be able to access due to time and distance. For example, the capabilities from Zoom have resulted in consistently greater monthly meeting attendance numbers among the Youth Workers Network in Liverpool (which I facilitate) than ever before.
What is an example of an innovative program or initiative that you implemented during Covid-19 that you consider successful?
As part of my role, I facilitate the Liverpool Youth Council (LYC) which is made up of 12 members aged 12-24 years old who represent the diversity of the local area. These members consult with other local young people, peers, friends and family on what are the needs of local young people, giving them the opportunity to bring about positive change in their community by advocating their needs to the Council.
In the past 12 months, the Liverpool Youth Council has worked hard to prioritise support initiatives for education and employment and mental health within the local area, in particular, collaborating with local schools. Under the current climate of COVID-19, these initiatives are important for young people to know there is support available and where to access it. So far we have redistributed funding from an event to provide placements for 10 young people in a fantastic program called Career Lab which aims to help them get a leg up on their chosen career path. This year, we have plans to host an expo during Youth Week that will give local students the skills to be at their best in their final years at high school – both mentally and emotionally
Looking ahead for 2022, how are you planning for the uncertain future ahead in terms of your work?
2022 has started off with more uncertainties of what lies ahead. However, we will continue to meet, whether online or face to face, to plan on how we can best support the young people of Liverpool.
Liverpool has a great future ahead with the Western Sydney International Airport and Aerotropolis region bringing to life so many opportunities in the years ahead. Liverpool Hospital, one of the biggest and best hospitals in the Southern Hemisphere, sits squarely within our Innovation Precinct creating local jobs for local people.
What help or support do young people need to really thrive in this new Covid World? Where can they get this?
Young people need support from their friends and families as well as positive mentors such as teachers and community leaders. Creating opportunities for conversation, keeping communications channels open and cheering them on will help support them to get through this difficult period we’re in.
If parents or anyone in the community needs further information or support for any young person, help is available. Contacting your local Council Youth Worker is a good starting point to access great local support services who specialise in supporting young people.