“On the Streets We Go to the Places Where Young People Hang Out” – Railway Youth Work in Public and Semi-public Spaces

Karla Malm

In Finnish: “Kadulla me ollaan niiden nuorten paikoilla”. Raidenuorisotyö julkisissa ja puolijulkisissa tiloissa


For young people, improved public transport means shorter distances and new ways to use the urban space. This affects the young people’s lives and as well as changing the way they travel and hang about, it can also change the structure of circles of friends and even identities. The increased opportunities for young people to travel around and congregate affect the local and geographical conditions that define youth culture. The youth cultural geography also sets cultural, social and geographical conditions for youth work, within which it is carried out (Salasuo 2008, 209–223; Kiilakoski et al. 2011, 62). In Vantaa, as the Ring Rail Line was nearing completion we started thinking about the types of changes the rail line would bring to the young people’s world. The Railway Youth Work Project is one response to the way youth work activities could look in the new environment.

The project funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture was started in autumn 2015. The idea is to take youth work to the places where young people travel and spend their free time. The City of Vantaa Youth Services is responsible for organising and implementing the activities. In Vantaa the railway youth work activities are focused along the Ring Rail Line. An important factor of the Railway Youth Work Project is a cooperation network, which includes the Eastern Uusimaa Police Department, the Western Uusimaa Police Department and the Helsinki Police Department, security companies and the companies responsible for public transport.

The purpose of the study was to investigate the working method of the Railway Youth Work Project in a new youth cultural landscape and evaluate the impact of processes from the perspective of the young people, the youth workers and partners. The research data was compiled by combining and applying ethnographic methods and interviews. The data contains the researcher’s field diary and 34 interviews (young people n=24, youth workers n=5 and partners n=5).

Preventive activities are emphasised in railway youth work and refer to many different approaches and situations. In this study the approaches and encounters in the railway youth work are divided into three dimensions, which are 1) everyday encounters, 2) targeted prevention and 3) involvement. Together they form a pyramid and its dimensions all function as part of preventative activities.

Everyday encounters form the foundation on which social relationships between the young people and youth workers are formed. The experiences of getting acquainted and positive recognition form a foundation for trust. Targeted prevention aims to stop emerging problems escalating into conflicts using observation and educational authority. Involvement is a method used in situations in which conflict already exists. Conflict most frequently requires the participation of other professional groups, such as police and security guards, in addition to the youth workers. In conflict situations, the task of the youth workers is to support the young person. In order to accept support, the young person has to trust the youth worker. Thus, the trust built on everyday encounters is the foundation on which targeted prevention and involvement are built.

The young people had many types of experiences of the various dimensions of the railway youth work. The young people mainly focused on describing positive experiences of everyday encounters and daily support. The use of educational authority was also generally considered a good or neutral matter. Some of the young people had experiences of escalating conflict situations in which the youth workers had offered support and safety.

Some of the young people criticised the fact that the youth workers did outreach work in public and semi-public places, such as shopping centres. They wanted to spend time together without adults. Youth workers were not necessarily welcome in all situations, and despite the youth workers’ wish to respect this, the young people described experiences where they felt this did not happen. Despite the criticism, the attitude of most young people to the railway youth work was, however, positive or neutral. Confidence in the functioning of the working method arose from the fact that it was familiar to the majority of young people, especially those who actively travel around and hang about in the urban space. The most fundamental effect of the railway youth work was that the young people considered the youth workers exactly the way they wanted to be considered: safe adults whose support the young people have the courage to trust.

Keywords: young people, youth research, youth work, urban space, rail transport, free time, multiprofessional cooperation, prevention, control, modes of transport, travel