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Profile: Community Development Officer

Joanne Huxley, 22, is a community development officer in Basildon. She tells Dan Poole about her role

"I studied leisure management at The University of Wales, Bangor, for three years. It covered all sorts of ground, including hospitality, coaching, project management, business, leisure and tourism, statistics, IT and web design - and even Spanish.

Every year we had to do a placement during our summer holidays. I started off doing voluntary work for Communities First, a Welsh Assembly project, as a community development and play worker. When I finished university a job came up at the same place to cover maternity leave. I applied for that and got it, then when it was coming up to the end of my three months I wanted to move to Basildon so I applied for this job, which I've been in for 14 months.

I've always known that I've wanted to work with young people and being a community development officer you work with the whole community, so obviously a big portion of that is with young people.

My job involves things like going out in the community and speaking to residents to see what they want and what we can try to improve for them. I also go into schools and give lessons on citizenship, politics, democracy and sexual education. We hold community forums, which are meetings for residents and we invite other people like the police, the NHS Primary Care Trust (PCT) and Highways.

A major part of the job is consultation, which is done through coffee mornings. Or we might do activities where young people can come and do DJ workshops or something like that; although they're doing something fun you can also talk to them and see what things can be done to help them. Another part of my job is partnership working and signposting. If someone comes up to me and tells me they want to know more about parenting classes, I know who they need to contact and where, and can pass that information on.

You shadow someone when you first come into the job to see what they do on a daily basis, but it's taken me a year to really know who to talk to for different things. You build up such a good relationship with other agencies so that you can rely on them and they can rely on you as well. We've got fantastic relationships with the police, the fire brigade and the PCT, for example.

When I came into this career I didn't expect there to be so much paperwork involved for putting on any sort of project - for example health and safety risk assessment, and food hygiene certificates. The job is also very seasonal; we get busier in the summer because everyone is off school. Normally it's 9 till 5. But we do late-night meetings and work Saturdays sometimes so you need to be flexible.

No day is ever the same. I could be sat in the office catching up on paperwork and then I'll get a call from the community association saying they've got a problem and asking if I can go down there for a meeting. Every day is a challenge.

I recently passed a module in community development with public health, which was paid for by work. If I wanted to I could do other modules and it would then go up to a Masters. I'm always looking for opportunities for further development and in this job we're always going on courses.

I don't feel that I got a great degree so I would like to further my education, as there isn't really a career ladder to climb. To progress you'd have to specialise in a certain subject like drugs and alcohol, but it's been a fantastic job to start off in because it has given me a view of everything.

If you're unsure of what you want to do as a career then you could do worse than becoming a community development officer, because it gives you a very wide spectrum of everything that is out there and the opportunity to work with people of all ages."

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