About Connect Europ, explains how and why Connect Europ was formed, and how it attempted to bring together, under one umbrella organisation, a wide range of different activities, contacts and experience which had themselves developed within a variety of settings. One example of this was the attempt to bring together the UK mix of voluntary and statutory (governmental)youth work and the European model of non-governmental youth work, or International Non-Governmental Youth Organisations (INGYOs). Even within the UK it was sometimes difficult to concentrate solely on the development of exchanges or other international work as many different organisations were involved (often a mix of local authority, governmental and voluntary organisations). Connect Europ was an attempt to rationalise all of this and to concentrate wholly on the development of international work, from wherever it originated and whoever was involved.
The resulting range of experience, contacts and capabilities were the product of the contact with other organisations and networks that Mike, Chris and Alex had been involved in. This is an attempt to recognise some of these:
- Youth Work/Community Education Mike, Alex and Chris, plus many of their friends and colleagues, were heavily influenced by their work with and on behalf of young people. They were all involved, for example, with the International Social and Educational Exchanges (see ISEE) organisation. ISEE was a voluntary international youth work organisation that helped disadvantaged young people to take part in international exchanges, through a network of local community groups formed in several European countries. In the UK, ISEE became a registered charity and an observer member of the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS), while internationally it became a recognised INGYO in its own right, leading to grants for international conferences and training courses from both the European Youth Foundation (EYF) and the European Union. One of the best known ISEE developments was the Berlin based International Understanding Bus Project.Mike’s early international involvement began whilst working as a Youth Tutor in Cumbria, taking school groups from Dowdales School in Dalton-in-Furness to youth conferences at the International Sonnenberg Centre in Germany. However, influenced by his growing involvement with ISEE, Mike’s level of international activity quickly developed, and in 1980 he organised an ISEE overland journey to the Moscow Olympics for 45 young people. This was soon followed by Cumbrian community-led ISEE projects with the DDR (East Germany), the Soviet Union and the Southern Italian region of Calabria. In the mid-1980’s there were two local ISEE community groups within Cumbria, in Dalton in Furness and Kirkby Stephen, and the Barrow and District Youth Council also became involved, with overland trips through ISEE to Cumbria’s twin area of Rheinisch Bergischer Kreis and an overland exchange visit to Prague and Bratislava.
- The Community and Youth Service Association (CYSA)/Community and Youth Workers Union (CYWU) In1981, Mike was asked to chair this organisation’s international committee, and to represent CYSA/CYWU on all relevant governmental and voluntary sector committees working in the international field. These included: the British Council (Management and Grants committees); the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges Training Committee; the Commonwealth Youth Exchanges Council (CYEC) Management Committee and the Board of East Europe Interchange. All of these organisations were very busy with international developments at this time e.g. the Central Bureau organised the first joint youth worker training course with the Franco-German Youth Office, the British Council sent delegations to attend bilateral talks with the German Youth Ministry and to a meeting between representatives of British LEAs and the Italian regions to re-start youth exchanges, and East Europe Interchange organised a link-making visit to Czechoslovakia. Mike was involved in all of these and was fortunate to be able to spend some crucial and stimulating years directly involved with major international youth work developments.
- City of Manchester Youth Service One of the most active youth services in the UK, Manchester was also very active in international work, with the Greater Manchester Youth Association (GMYA) and Manchester Education Committee appointing two of the country’s first International Officers. Manchester developed a ‘special relationship’ with the Veneto Region of Italy, set up a city-wide International Youth Year committee of young people with a £10,000 budget, purchased a self-drive International Exchanges coach to provide cheap overseas travel and organised a large number of youth and school exchanges. These included school, youth and college exchanges with the Soviet Union, and a visit to the Italian national International Youth Year conference in Jesolo. Mike was fortunate to work in Manchester during this period and to be involved in some of these activities. During this period he also helped to begin to tailor international activities to focus on specific youth work priorities e.g. international exchanges involving disadvantaged and disabled groups, a young offenders (National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders) exchange with Italy, and a four-country, Youth for Europe funded single parent exchange.
- The Scottish Community Education Council (SCEC) This was one of the most active organisations involved in the development of international work in the 1980’s and 1990’s. SCEC was responsible during this period for: developing the Youth Enquiry Service (YES); producing the Young Scot booklet; developing the Young Scot Card; producing the first Youth Exchanges Training Manual (together with the Central Bureau and CYEC); establishing the Strathclyde-based International Exchanges Resources Base; and initiating the development of both Eurodesk Scotland and the Eurodesk international network. SCEC’s Assistant Director, Marcus Liddel, became chair of the International Youth Card Association. Mike, Alex and Chris were all closely associated with SCEC and Mike: spent several years as manager of the joint SCEC/Strathclyde Regional Council International Office; co-authored the international Youth Exchanges Training Pack; established the first official schools exchange programme with the former Soviet Union; helped to establish the original Eurodesk project; and worked alongside a large number of committed internationalists from all the Scottish Regions.
- St Martin’s College of Higher Education (now the University of Cumbria) Moving to work in a Higher Education setting for the first time in 1998, gave Mike the opportunity to work on a number of EU Programmes and projects with which he had not previously been directly involved. Two pieces of advice given by a friend in the European Commission some years earlier proved very useful – that all EU Programmes are structured in a similar way and work towards commonly agreed EU objectives, and also that whatever the size of an EU programme and its budget, the requirements in terms of reporting and budgetary control are similar. Working with a number of committed lecturers instead of youth leaders or teachers proved highly rewarding. Before leaving St Martin’s College to return to full-time work with Connect Europ in 2005, Mike was able to support and complete one generation of Comenius, Lingua, Erasmus and Leonardo projects and enable colleagues to successfully apply for and run some much larger initiatives, e.g. a three-country Tempus programme on curriculum development with Kyrgyzstan and Finland and two multinational Thematic Networks in the fields of Nursing and Radiography.