Published online by Cambridge University Press: 15 March 2021
This article examines young people’s experiences of open access youth work in settings in the UK, Finland, Estonia, Italy and France. It analyses 844 individual narratives from young people, which communicate the impact of youthwork on their lives. These accounts are then analysed in the light of the European youth work policy goals. It concludes that it is encouraging that what young people identify as the positive impact of youth work are broadly consistent with many of these goals. There are however some disparities which require attention. These include the importance young people place on the social context of youth work, such as friendship, which is largely absent in EU youth work policy; as well as the importance placed on experiential learning. The paper also highlights a tension between ‘top down’ policy formulation and the ‘youth centric’ practices of youth work. It concludes with a reminder to policy makers that for youth work to remain successful the spaces and places for young people must remain meaningful to them ‘on their terms’.