Mike Stokes became involved with youth work in the late 1960’s, first as a youth club member and then a part-time youth leader for the West Riding of Yorkshire. He then set about organising projects of steadily increasing complexity on behalf of young people e.g. long distance walks, camping/outdoor activities and youth club holidays. These were activities which were found to be of interest to a large proportion of young people and were a means by which Mike and his colleagues could support youngsters through youth work.
Soon youth work and its associated activities started to take up all of Mike’s free time and eventually, on the advice of his local Youth Officer, Mike won a place at Endsleigh College in Hull and qualified as a secondary teacher with a youth work speciality. In Hull Mike continued organising activities and started up a camping club, built canoes, continued to support the youth club where he had previously worked and organised annual attempts at the Lyke Wake Walk (a 40-mile long-distance challenge over the North York Moors). He was elected to the Students’ Union and also, somehow, acquired a Public Service Vehicle (PSV, now PCV) driving licence and drove coaches, often full of fellow students, for most of his time in Hull.
Mike qualified as a teacher and moved to Cumbria, where he spent ten years working first as a teacher and youth tutor and then an area youth officer. In 1978 he was asked to help drive a coachful of pupils from Barrow-in-Furness on a tour of Italy, and then to join a colleague at a New Year conference in Germany. Here, at an international centre called Sonnenberg in the Harz mountains, Mike realised for the first time the value of international work. Here was another tool for working with young people in a youth work setting which, in terms of the numbers of young people that it could attract, was even more effective than camping oroutdoor activities. Within a few months Mike had organised his first overseas visit for a group of school children, taking them to Sonnenberg, and shortly afterwards he discovered and became actively involved with the International Social and Educational Exchanges (ISEE) organisation. This was a group of youth workers based in Manchester who organised international exchanges and trips for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, utilising a fleet of old coaches. ISEE was also, however, part of a European network of similar groups running coaches in Amsterdam and Berlin and other groups in Finland, Ireland and Copenhagen.
Shortly afterwards Mike became chair of the international committee of the Community and Youth Service Association (CYSA, later the Community and Youth Workers Union CYWU) and as part of his responsibilities represented them on the following bodies: the British Council Management and Grants Committees; the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges Training Committee; the Commonwealth Youth Exchanges Committee (CYEC) and the East Europe Interchange (originally a part of the Educational Interchange Council). As a consequence of his involvement in these forums and his growing involvement with ISEE and school exchanges, Mike moved into full-time international work in 1985.
Moving to Manchester, Mike became the International Officer for Manchester Education Committee and was also given responsibility for the city-wide International Youth Year Committee and its budget. He was also allowed to purchase, and to have modified for international travel, a 45-seater coach which was made available to all Manchester schools, colleges and youth organisations once they had suitably qualified drivers available. (For details of international developments that took place during this period, please see History and ISEE.)
In 1987, after becoming involved with the Scottish Community Education Council (SCEC) and co-authoring the Central Bureau’s ‘International Exchanges Training Pack’, Mike moved to Scotland as International Officer for Strathclyde Regional Council Education Department. This was a jointly managed position between SCEC and what was then the largest local authority in western Europe. Mike left Strathclyde in 1992 to develop Connect Europ. (See History and About Connect Europ.)
Whilst continuing to run Connect Europ. Mike returned to his first love, youth work, for a time in 1996 becoming the County Youth Enquiry Service (YES) Co-ordinator for North Yorkshire County Council. In 1998 became Deputy Director of the International Office at St Martin’s College of Higher Education (now the University of Cumbria) where he stayed until 2005. Mike found international work within a Higher Education setting both challenging and very rewarding, and at St Martin’s he took responsibility for: supporting all EU funded projects; applying for and managing the finances of all new EU programmes; all university Erasmus programme activities; some overseas student recruitment (particularly from Russia) and all international office finances. This exciting period led to Mike supporting a variety of projects within the Erasmus, Lingua, Commenius and Leonardo da Vinci programmes. He successfully applied for and managed the reporting and finances for two large Thematic Networks, one for Nursing (40 partner universities) and the other for Radiography (23 partner universities), plus a large three-country Public Health (Curriculum Development) Tempus project with Kyrgyzstan. This latter project led to Mike’s appointment as project contractor, three business trips to Kyrgyzstan, attendance at a Tempus Programme project co-ordinators meeting in Brussels and his later invitation to attend as an ‘expert’ at an EU Regional Development conference in Uzbekistan in 2004.
In 2005 Mike returned full-time to running Connect Europ, bringing with him an extended range of international contacts and direct experience of managing and running EU programmes within the sphere of Higher Education. Connect Europ therefore retains its initial purpose of bringing together disparate international contacts, organisations, and programmes under one ‘umbrella’ agency.
For further information about Mike, his international experience and the work of Connect Europ please see his: