Youth and voluntary

Nothing About Us Without Us

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Youthwork is a key part of growing up for so many young people - and youth social action is a key tool in every youth workers toolbox
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Charlotte Hill OBE was CEO of UK Youth before becoming the CEO of Step Up To Serve in 2014.

Here she talks about why UK Youth backed the campaign from the start and how social action has been a fundamental part of youth work for decades.

The youth sector has always taken an empowering approach to its work with young people and embraced youth-led approaches. Over the decades it might not always have been called social action but the substance is something every youth worker would recognise - supporting young people to help others, and through that developing their own skills and confidence.

It might take the form of peer-mentoring, delivering Christmas parcels to elderly residents near the youth club, taking part in your Duke Of Edinburgh Award, fundraising for new equipment or volunteering to lead sessions with your youth worker. These are all things you would see happening the length and breadth of the country in youth clubs and groups.

Social action enables young people to feel a sense of purpose and achievement through focussing on issues they care about whilst and having an impact on their immediate community. Rather than being a stand-alone activity, in many cases youth social action is woven throughout the activities – it is a key tool in every youth workers toolbox.

When I was CEO of UK Youth, we already ran a wide range of programmes that had youth social action at their heart, so for me, sitting around the table during the Review that Julia and Amanda led was an essential part of my role. I saw first hand the hugely beneficial impact youth social action had, and as an organisation we were committed to ensuring more young people had these opportunities. A key reason is that youth clubs are often located in areas of deprivation – and engage young people who might not be thriving at school. A Youth Worker is a trusted adult who isn’t a teacher or a parent, and can support young people to make a difference, support a cause, give up their time, in a different way. So I have always believed the role of the youth sector in helping to close the socio-economic gap in participation is key – and will remain so moving forward.

One of the key areas of progress has been the role #iwill has played in bringing key players together from across this sector - to support the journey for a young person between the opportunities but also to strengthen the youth sector by having a unified voice around issues such policy and funding where we have had some real successes together. We need this sector to thrive so that it can offer a gateway for young people to get involved in social action, particularly those in more deprived areas. Collaboration across the sector is fundamental to that.

The #iwill campaign played a leading role in creating partnerships across the youth sector.

Initially the campaign established the ‘Scale and Reach’ group - a collaboration of some of the largest youth sector organisations in the country. More recently this has evolved into the Back Youth Alliance, a high-level youth sector coalition that has come together with young people to collectively influence funding and policy

#iwill has helped to catalyse collaboration within the youth sector towards common goals, and between the youth sector and young people to drive better understanding and insights. The Back Youth Alliance has brought together many of the largest youth sector organisations to speak with one voice, together with young people. Young people make up nearly 50% of the group and together they have advocated for investment in the young people. This coming together of the youth sector has helped to increase its collective impact - for example the Back Youth Alliance has coordinated a collective and UK-wide campaign for government funding for youth services in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis. Promoting these common goals is vital to keep the youth sector afloat so that it continue to support young people to engage in social action in the future.

Matt Hyde OBE, Trustee of Step Up To Serve and CEO of The Scouts talks about the work of the Back Youth Alliance and the impact the #iwill campaign has had on funding, policy and the power of youth voice by bringing key youth sector organisations together.

Throughout the campaign, we have had a clear, consistent message that non-formal education settings such as youth clubs and uniformed youth groups are a key way for many young people to engage in social action activities, whether volunteering, fundraising, campaigning or peer support.

Over the life of the #iwill campaign, the focus on youth voice and young people having a seat at every table has risen in prominence
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Katrina Lambert, #iwill Ambassador and now Co-Chair of the Back Youth Alliance, gives us her views on progress made in the youth sector about embracing youth voice

I’ve been involved with the youth voice since the age of fifteen and over the last five years I have witnessed leaps and bounds being made in the youth sector. While the sector has always been aware that it exists to serve the needs of young people, I think that there is now a more in-depth understanding of what it means for youth work to truly be led by young people.

It is much more common for projects to have steering groups and advisory panels of young people than it was when I first got involved, and the voice and impact of these groups has grown substantially. While there is still work to be done to ensure all opportunities are meaningful, I do believe that the sector is starting to move away from seeing youth voice as a nice ‘add on’ and instead treating it as a fundamental aspect of all of its work.

One of the most exciting things I’ve witnessed is the increasing trend of really handing over power to young people. In the last year I have become the youngest trustee ever of Volunteering Matters, a nationwide volunteering charity, and been elected the co-chair of the Back Youth Alliance, which represents huge reach across the entire youth sector. A few years ago I’m not convinced that many organisations would be in the position to take a ‘risk’ on placing young people in such leadership positions. Embedding youth voice, however, clearly isn’t a ‘risk’ - it’s an opportunity! My hope for the future of the youth sector is that youth voice becomes embedded at every level of decision making across all organisations.
Every time decisions are being made that will impact the lives of young people, we need to be there.”

The global pandemic has hit young people and the youth sector hard - but they have risen to the challenge and are doing all they can to help us Build Back Better
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Charli Clement

#iwill Ambassador, talks about how young people, supported by their youth groups, collaborated throughout the pandemic

At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, the Scouts Community Impact Group (a selection of 16-25 year olds across the country) decided we wanted to support wellbeing and mental health in our communities. We produced #ThreeFor3 in April – a social media campaign sharing 3 wellbeing tips and tagging three others to do the same. It reached over 10 million people, including MPs and celebrities.

Our second action was Care for Care Homes, asking Scouts to engage with local care homes who were isolated and couldn’t see their families during lockdown. Our suggested actions included sending letters or drawings, having zoom calls or painting “kindness rocks”.

We had an ambitious aim of 10,000 actions and saw thousands of young people’s creativity and innovation when taking part, putting their own spin on our suggestions and helping us to exceed this target.

Alongside this, the Back Youth Alliance was also coming up with collective action for the youth sector, with our group of members from the #iwill Campaign, Scouts, Girlguiding, DofE and more. Education was a priority with young people across the country missing months of learning; we wanted there to be no pressure on this being academic learning, so “Lockdown Lifehacks”, a skills-sharing campaign, was released to encourage young people to teach others anything from self-care to public speaking.

These two groups later came together to work towards a shared goal. I was lucky enough to get to chair the first meeting of this coalition and I was so inspired by the passion and imagination of the group, looking again at how we can support young people’s mental health - a priority considering the many surveys released on the topic. The “Wellbeing Champions” campaign being released in September will see young people given the opportunity to learn about mental health/wellbeing and how to support others. It has been a great opportunity to come together with young people with so much care for their communities during this crisis.