Category Archives: Youth work

Happy end of one era….

For between 18 – 20 years (hard to tell it’s been so long) my wife and I have led a youth group for kids aged 10 – 14 in a church hall on a council estate. We led our final group last week and did a sort of semi-official hand over to the new worker in charge (because the group will carry on, which is the loveliest thing of all) and then, this Friday, we had a social night for the youth group leaders and the kids who had been at the group longest and were leaving this year.

It’s been, basically, emotional. A little. For the past year especially I’ve been shattered before I start each night (although it’s never hard to raise the energy levels for a game of football or chat to the kids who attend) and it’s the right time, for a number of reasons, to stop.

We thought Friday night had been the finale but were ambushed by everyone in the church with a range of gifts and a meal as a thank you. All of it was a lovely surprise; there were a number of rounds of applause as kids said thank you for various things we’d done over the years and almost everyone said thank you for working so hard.

Basically – and we’re keeping the tickets to the Shard (one of the presents) in a safe place so no returns… But it wasn’t work. Sitting down and chatting to kids, seeing how they are and encouraging  the best out of them, has never been work and, though we’ve been tired through what life has thrown our way for the past few years, running the youth group has always been a pleasure. Sometimes the nights were trickier to navigate than others but always we felt like we were in the right place at the right time.

Now it’s time to rest though, for a while…

Way back when, when I was a different me…

So for a variety of reasons I’m chucking out and binning a lot of stuff, some of which reminds me of different aspects things I’ve been up to over the past 20 or so years.

From 2005 (?) to 2010 (?again 🙂 ) I managed a very wonderful youth arts centre. Marvellous fun it was too with lots of music and film evenings and pretend journalism courses and artwork nights and drama and all sorts. Some amazing teens walked through our doors and I’m still convinced that one day I’ll hear their names in a context that their talent deserves.

We were, in many senses of the word, a fantastic team. Not just the youth workers but the kids as well (and many of their parents too).

We even did gigs at Woking band stand, generally in ABSOLUTELY freezing or rainy conditions, and I often look back at those adventures and smile.

But one of the things I remember most is the bus journey to and from work. It was actually a very happy 75 minutes either way in many ways. I didn’t have anyone asking me questions, giving me tasks, all that fun stuff. It was just me, my music, and whatever I was writing or drawing at the time. Occasionally I’d tell people I love drawing on busses and, more often than not, they’d get the wrong idea.

I’d often (and still do) listen to podcasts and one of my favourites, then and now, is Mayo and Kermode’s film reviews. So one day, one a bus, I drew this:

… and then the next time I was on the bus (I seem to remember it being Tuesday and Thursday nights) I turned the sketch into this:

Now all I remember about it really is that I was on a bus, with my laptop perched on my knees, anticipating the curves and bumps of a journey I’d done for 10 years or so (having used the same bus for my prior job as a computer games artist).

It would have been around Jan-Feb time (as I was testing out not only a new piece of software on the lappie – Microsoft Expression Design – but also some lovely fonts from – something I used to treat myself to once a year). I vaguely remember this being, almost word for word, what the two said to each other (may have added cruxial but bearing in mind MKs mastery of the English language I may not) and it made me giggle to myself on the bus. So I drew this.

I miss being able to time artwork to bus timetables.

Youth work and the quiet moments…

For way over 25 years I’ve been an occasional, then full time, then part time, and now a Friday night Youth Worker. The Friday night group that I, my wife and a fab bunch of young and old helpers lead has now been running non-stop term time for 20 years which is also a pretty cool achievement.

So if it sounds like more than a hobby then I suspect yes, yes it is 🙂  It’s certainly something I’ve been able to do without thinking – in as much as I’m always happiest talking to kids more so than adults where I often feel a smidge out of place. I’m a child at heart – loving animation and geek things and drawing on tablets and so on… And pretending to be an adult gets quite wearing. Chatting to kids about school and worries and happinesses and so on, occasionally while playing football or Rock Band at the same time, is no effort at all.

But there’s one point in the evening at youth group when it all goes quiet… I do the door duty as I like to welcome the kids in at the start of a night and then, just in case anyone’s running late, I hang on for ten minutes (if we have enough staff to kids or I don’t think I’m immediately needed).

And in that time I generally draw a picture if no-one’s come out to talk to me.

Fridays are a smidgeon harrowing at the moment. We have a college meeting at 8.30 and then it’s pretty much full on until 5, and then it’s registers and emails and follow up and phoning students not there and one to one emails or reading confidential papers which have to be shredded and so on and so forth. By the time I get home it’s a few minutes to gulp down a meal of some type (although occasionally I’ve been known to be sitting in the passenger seat of the car eating microwave in the bag rice) and then we’re setting up at 7.30 and the doors time is often the first chance I get to sit down and stop.

This week I was a little glum as the only stylus I had to hand was a Bic Cristal which, being a soft rubber tip, I was expecting little from. But actually it worked perfectly and the kids who came to the group made me smile so, as ever, as always, it’s a very worthwhile thing to do and be doing. I often suggest people take up some sort of voluntary work, especially if they are struggling themselves, as it can be an hour or two (or three in our case) of time away from our own troubles. In my case I also get the bonus of grown adults coming up to me and saying ‘do you remember me…?’ which is also a lovely thing.

So, um, yes. Youth work = woo.


Busy week. Tablet and Traditional art workshops ahoy…

So things are officially a little busy at the moment in Kercalton.

For a start we’re coming to the end of the lovely Lightbox series, which I’ll be sad to see end, where I’ve been leading a ten week tablet and traditional artwork series for 8-10 year olds. They are and have been an ace group to work with. This week we did scraper artwork on glow in the dark board, shrink plastic consequence characters, tablet artwork liquifying faces and, from the ones we did last week, added a bit of colour sparkle to the face mashes I’d printed out for them.

All in all a very lovely session.

Following that I’ve been at the Surrey Sports Park doing a multi school Teentech event with my students. Basically we rocked up with a range of tablets, stood them up in a range of easels and let people have a go. And it was corkingly good throughout. My students were absolutely fantastic and the school aged students and teachers seemed to have a whale of a time. Hurrah indeed.

Teentech is the brainchild of Maggie Philbin (although there’s probably a lot of people involved in the doing of it as it seems a HUGE endeavour) and she popped over, very kindly (and much appreciated) as we’ve done a shedload of events where nobody takes the time to say hi, and had a photo taken with the team.

(obligatory bunny ears pic).

Some of the artwork produced, in 15 mins, by some of the school age first time tablet artists…

And then, at the end of the day (which was lovely but oh my flip was I tired and a smidge stressful *CoughArrivaLackOfBussesCough*) I had ten minutes to sit and draw…. Only problem was had absolutely no idea what to do! So, if in doubt for an idea ask a student and between us we came up with the idea of the University of Surrey (‘cos that’s where we was) logo:

… as a Pokemon evolution. fifteen minutes later (well, packing was going so well by them so I felt like I could take the extra time… 🙂 ) this was on the screen.

(iPad 4, Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, Dagi and Nomad).

I would have LOVED to have put the pic above on the big screen (like what we did a year or so ago in the very same hall with Sketchshare….)

but it was an iPad 4 and Lightning port and I didn’t have a that to VGA connector 🙁 Boo.

But apart from that… Excellent day. Woop.

(edit: and, by request, here’s the Uni/Pokemon logo without text…)


Young Rewired State thank you video.

One of my get loads of work done before holiday jobs was to do a short thank you video for the staff and volunteers of Young Rewired State. It was… a lot of fun to do but a little tense at the end as the film maker (@debbiedavies) and I both had holidays to go to as soon as it was finished and a couple of technical issues slowed down the finale of the output. The video concept was to mix iPad artwork and video and in that we were fairly successful…

Still, was well recieved and a lot of fun to do and I got to go to some groovy places in London as a result (although would dearly have loved to be at the Custard Factory when it was shown.. but by that point I was on holiday and not able to get there…)

And, of course, Young Rewired State is an awesome thing and I was glad to be working with them. Hope for more interaction with them in the future…

What is shrink plastic?

I’ve been asked what Shrink Plastic is and, since the answer won’t fit in a tweet, I’ll answer it here.

Shrink Plastic is, in order of importance; a: my favourite youth work material, b: something of a party trick, c: an excellent way of showing anyone that they can be more artistic than they might give themselves credit for and d: not edible.

Or: it’s a type of plastic that you draw on in pencil or cd marker pen (on the rough side if you’re lucky enough to have bought pre-sanded stuff) and then stick it on a baking tray in the oven (gas or electric, not microwave). I’ve long since forgotten what heat you put in on as – when I’m doing youth work we have to whack the oven up high and do the stuff in as few seconds as possible. Not optimum and not what it suggests on the packet but when you have a hundred kids in front of you gas mark 3 for 3 minutes isn’t the way to go (although I think is the right way of doing it – you cook the plastic until its flat, basically). Years gone by you could shrink plastic crisp packets in the same way although in the age of metal packets and fewer crisps that’s another thing to do with kids gone.

The nicest thing is that the colours that you draw on shrink plastic (certainly with pencil) don’t become stronger or darker or lighter… They become more vibrant. The lil pencil speckles (scientific term) all squash together and get more friendly… And everything looks that little bit more cool. Which is another part of the process I like. 80% of kids who watch it say ‘cool’ without thinking about it and, when it’s warm enough for them to hold I let them have their pictures. Not cool. Temperature wise anyhow.

It’s also very groovy to watch it cooking. When I do Shrink Plastic stuff with the younger age groups I have to set up chairs as a little cinema for them to watch as the drawings are shrunk 🙂


This is how big I normally start with (cut to size – I normally buy big packs of A4 sheets and cut them into 9 smaller bits).


And this is how small that size shrinks – about 8 times smaller and 8 times thicker too. I only discovered you could watercolour pencil on them this year (having used it for fifteen years or so) and that revolutionised the way I use it. Oh boy did I get through a fair amount once I twigged that.

So that’s Shrink Plastic 🙂 It comes in 8 or so colours, you can buy it in teacher packs for bulk use, some pieces come with cartoon characters drawn on so you can colour in pre-drawn stuff and so on. It’s my favourite playful art material and when I’m working with bigger groups of kids, especially the special ed ones, it’s my favourite thing to watch other peoples faces while working with as well. And something I love playing with when time allows (not as often as I’d like then and more often than not I give the results away anyhow).

I did do the forty mini book covers in Shrink Plastic with a few small groups of kids which are findable on this very blog. A half way through photo here:


((And in answer to the other two comments on the tweet – the questions are probably guessable :

a: no, sorry my handwriting is abysmal. I did try and be neat but that’s a trick I’ve failed to learn in forty years and don’t anticipate perfecting in the next forty without ministry and team prayer. Believe it or not that was my neater stuff, I was quite pleased with it at the time although that seems to have been hopelessly optimistic it now seems.

b: the novel is in case free time allows to beg a quote. For the past two books in the series I’ve had lovely quotes from Phil Groom at London College of Theology b+r, Tre Sheppard of Onehundredhours, Mary at Goodbookstall, Lord Ron Dearing etc. All lovely and generous and kind. I’ve always stopped short of sending the Sylvers to the people I look up to from the places I spend my time (writing and comics and etc) because I basically anticipate embarrassing myself but this time felt brave enough to at least try. Maybe hopelessly optimistic on that front too. TBH I know it’s begging kindness following kindness which is hardly a reward but apart from shrink plastic I’ve little else worth sending.))

Hmmmm maybe this would have fitted in a tweet. I didn’t realise my answers could be so brief and concise. Righto my turn to cook before youth group so machine off and onwards.

Fun in the Summer…


Last year I didn’t do a summer school for Guildford (at my request, I was tres overloaded).

That said it was the first time in nearly a decade I’d not done it and I did miss it hugely, so this year I was back and it was a load of fun. Surprisingly they were all new faces, most years I’d get some repeat customers, so it was nice to have a clear run at everything… This year each session was 3 hours long so we mixed it up with shrink plastic and acetate. Pics of the artwork below. It was six very entertaining and enjoyable and creative hours and the kids were ace…








Two out of three summer schools done and dusted. One left on Sunday and it’s time for a break… Woo.