Putting young people at the heart of solutions

As the country sweltered in the heat of an Indian summer; the political mercury was also on the rise in Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester as the major political party conferences came to town.

I attended each conference, and spoke while at these as a panellist for a series of debates hosted by Children & Young People Now magazine on the key issues in setting a more positive narrative for young people.

It was interesting to hear the views of each party on the topic – with the Liberal Democrats wanting young people to be the ‘authors of their own story’ and Labour promising them a ‘new bargain’.

Perhaps most interesting of all given his crucial position, however, were the views of a fellow panellist at the debate held at the Conservative Party conference. Tim Loughton, minister for children and families, was forthright in his opinion that we have spent years denigrating young people, with a tendency to rely on negative statistics instead of focusing on the positives of their achievements.

Calling on charities to consolidate and work together better to support young people and create a new ‘youth democracy’, Loughton went on to say that he was unconcerned who delivered youth services, provided that service was of high quality.

I couldn’t agree more, but there’s an elephant in the room here. With concerns about the depth of cuts to youth services and a recognition that the government’s forthcoming youth policy is unlikely to come with additional funding attached, there are huge question marks over how this support is going to be sustained in the long term.

Of course, lots of organisations working with young people are already responding to this big challenge, and Groundwork is no exception. We are working with a number of partners including Sanctuary Housing, FPM and Youth Access on Young People Friendly Neighbourhoods (YPFN) – a whole-community approach to reconnecting young people to the places they live.

The idea is that between now and March 2013, YPFN will work with up to 1,700 young people from 20 housing estates across England where youth nuisance and antisocial behaviour have been identified as significant problems to design and deliver tailored activities that respond to the needs and priorities of their community.

Building on local partnerships with housing providers, local authorities and other partners, young people will help run and partly own their local youth services, in some cases via youth mutuals, while also benefiting from learning, skills development and employment opportunities.

Those with particularly complex needs will also be provided with specialist advice and counselling on a broad range of issues including teenage pregnancy and drug and alcohol misuse. The advice and counselling will not be the same ‘one size fits all’ template but, instead, will reflect each individual’s needs.

The YPFN project in London, Young Londoners Friendly Neighbourhoods, will work with 180 young people in the Morningside and Gascoyne Estates in south Hackney – two areas suffering from high levels of antisocial behaviour – to support them to work with their community to secure the long-term sustainability of their local youth club, potentially through a youth mutual.

They will be integrated into the governance arrangements of the Morningside and Gascoyne Youth Club, the management of the community centre and any resident-led groups supported by Sanctuary Housing. Opportunities for work experience will also be made available, with young people working with Sanctuary Housing services teams undertaking maintenance to public spaces on their estate.

Groundwork has worked with young people for 30 years in their communities, and in our experience they respond positively to opportunities to influence and help to shape the decisions that affect them. Last year alone they volunteered nearly 300,000 days of their time on Groundwork projects in their communities. But we need to do even more.

Our young people clearly have the desire to make a difference, but we must continue to provide them with the opportunity to do so. They have certainly got the talent, and now is the time to start trusting them to use that talent by valuing the contribution they want to and can make in their communities, as part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

If we’re serious about creating a truly Big Society where everyone feels able to play an active role in making their neighbourhoods better places to live, we should start by putting young people at the heart of services that affect them and helping them to work with their communities, rather than viewing them as troublemakers, or, worse still, simply ignoring them. This is, after all, our country’s future that we’re investing in.


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