Alan Small

11th May 2012 at 01:00
A pioneering and passionate champion of Scotland's youth work has died aged 74

Alan Small, who died last month aged 74, was in the vanguard of much of the innovative youth work in Scotland over the past 40 years.

Described by colleagues as an exceptional man, he was passionate about tackling youth issues and developing much-needed services for young people in Scotland.

After studying Divinity at the University of Edinburgh in the early 1960s, Alan and his first wife Moira moved to Aberdeen. Two years at St Katherine's Club and Community Centre seeded a lifelong interest in how to relate to vulnerable young people. Returning to Aberdeen after gaining a diploma in education from Moray House, he taught at Summerhill Secondary. Highly regarded as a teacher, he avoided the pitfall of talking at the class, instead winning pupils' interest by asking orchestrated and highly searching questions.

In 1967 Alan, Moira and their two young children relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, where he taught English and reading at Westminster School. The following spring, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. A self- confessed pasty Scot, Alan later described walking three miles in the baking heat of Atlanta as part of Dr King's funeral march, joining other mourners in the hymn I'm Not Ashamed To Own My Lord. His experiences in America had a profound effect on his attitudes to education, young people and equality.

From 1972, he was an Inspector of Informal Further Education at the Scottish Office, making his mark as a creative thinker with a commitment to social justice. Unafraid to face down the pompous or self-serving, he was the antithesis of the stereotypical "man from the ministry".

He supported international exchanges both for workers and young people, was a key player in the development of the Scottish Youth Travel Service, and was instrumental in helping to set up the Scottish Youth Parliament, and in supporting the Foyer movement in Scotland, which provides training and accommodation for disadvantaged youth. He chaired Fast Forward, the first national peer education programme, was vice-chair of YouthLink and an enthusiastic founder of Young Scot, the national youth information and citizenship charity.

He had a huge impact on people's thinking and he kept the focus on what mattered most - respecting every young person and bringing out the best in them.

He was a catalyst in the youth work and schools agenda, recognising the need for professionals to value each other and work together. His remarkable articulacy could pull fools up short and spark enthusiasm in unlikely places, and he combined laughter with real progress. Every meeting over a glass of wine was likely to turn into a creative thinking session spanning all of Scottish education and culture - in vino veritas indeed.

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