YouthVoice 21: New Year Hope and Resolution
“Don’t call initiatives youth-led when they aren’t.” This was one of the most memorable messages of 2020 that could easily be a New Year resolution for us all in 2021. This statement was made by the young leaders of the suitably named Project Hope* to an online audience attending their ‘Power of Youth Festival’ workshop in November 2020. They are typical of a new wave of independently minded young people who are challenging assumptions about what constitutes good practice in youth participation. The vast majority of initiatives have been established ‘by invitation’ or defined within terms of reference set by older people. But this is changing. Whether we are allies or cynics, a new wave of young leaders are making their own space in this decade with ‘something to say’ and ‘changes to make’. Do we share their hope and resolution? Are we ready for change?
Over the last four years I’ve been researching** #youthvoice, #participation and #youthleadership theory and practice, and tracking a cohort of self-starters who have established independent youth-led organisations on their own terms. I’ve observed first-generation pioneers (now in their late 20s) sharing their experience with #newgen first timers (under 20’s) who are emerging from organisations and projects that are increasingly willing to make space for young people to research, lead and progress their own ideas. They are networking and drawing inspiration from each other as they emerge to become a significant ‘lobby’ in their own right.
Digital communication, support from allies, and a more sympathetic hearing in the media is no doubt accelerating this process, but an even more significant factor has been the liberating approach by some supporters, to unlock youth leadership potential and see where it takes us. This has been illustrated not just by the #iwill campaign’s support for youth leadership of social action, but by established funders working together, for example, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, the Blagrave Trust and the #iwill Fund, to name but a few. Some major players have, or are in the process of, appointing progressive youth advisory panels, such as at the National Lottery Community Fund, the Youth Futures Foundation and the Youth Endowment Fund. Consequently initiatives like Act For Change, Challenge and Change, the Young Trustee Movement and a group of Peer Research initiatives, continue their commitment to promote youth participation and leadership opportunities. They are increasingly looking to empower and work in partnership with young people, not just for them. Young people themselves are asserting the minimum criteria for ‘meaningful’ participation and empowerment. Many echo previous ‘calls to action’ set out, but not always implemented, in the Participation Charter 2006 or embedded in the first youth-designed models of participation such as ‘Our Scale’ (Project Hope) and ‘Top Tips for Youth Voice’ (Young People In The Lead) and brought together in the Youth Voice Charter 2020
Young Voices Heard has been listening to some ‘new year’ hopes and resolutions of young campaigners, activists and leaders, ranging from young judges on the Children and Young People Now Awards panel, to young CEO, Carl Konadu BEM, who was recently recognised in the New Years Honours list. He co-founded a youthled start-up, 2-3 Degrees, “to educate and inspire our peers and the next generation”.
“I hope that young people continue to come up with creative ideas to educate themselves, seek employment opportunities and start their own enterprises.” New Year Resolution: “I will continue to be hopeful even in tough times, 2020 has proved that light always drives out darkness so we should seek to be positive contributors no matter what situation we are in.” Carl Konadu BEM (CEO of Youthled Start-up)
“My hope for Youth Voice in 2021 is that young people are actively involved in the recovery from COVID-19, through investment in services, employment and instilling (much needed) hope for the younger generations”. Resolution: “To actively reach out to other young people who have experienced similar challenges in life to show there is power in what we have overcome. I’d like to start by writing more articles about my mental health and SpLD journey and taking more public speaking opportunities! Watch this space!” Loren Townsend-Elliot (National Advisory Group member)
“My hope for 2021 is to have a resourced youth service that is able to deliver support in all localities in coping with the pandemic and making the young people response part of the national policy agenda” Resolution “To help bring voices of young people to influence autism and learning disability services within the NHS” Jack Welch (Advisor and Autism awareness campaigner)
“My hope is that we see more completely youth-led organisations and projects emerge in the new year and that we see a large rise in young trustees throughout the third sector”. Resolution: “To ensure all the youth organisations I am a part of are giving young people a platform to have their issues and voices heard. To ensure I am using my current influence as a youth advisory board member to enable other young people to have the same opportunities awarded to me.” Callum Pethick (Advisory Board member)
“My hope is for more businesses and organisations to include young people in their decision making, especially if the things they are doing impact young people. Resolution: To engage more with young people and project their voices even more as, said by the youth council I used to be a part of, Medway Youth Council, ‘you may not have the vote but you do have a voice.” Christina Arena (former Youth Councillor)
“This year is going to be absolutely critical for young people. As we recover from COVID-19 and enter a new era outside of the European Union, it is imperative that young people are not only engaged, but meaningfully included within policy matters pertaining to their lives.” New Year Resolution: “My youth voice New Year’s resolution is to provide as much support and guidance as possible to the next generation of young activists” Dan Lawes (CEO of Youthled Start-up)
There are dozens more I could have included. We hope to interview more and more in 2021 as part of Young Voices Heard new year resolutions. Why dont you join our campaign and provide a platform in your organisation too? #YouthVoice heard, #Youthled start-ups, and #Youthled Leading will vital in the coming decade of renewal.
James Cathcart, Director of Young Voices Heard @YVH_YouthVoice
*Project Hope was established in 2020 in response to the impact of Covid restrictions. It’s aim is to ‘tackle loneliness and isolation of young people by providing space for young people to meet online’. This plea was made to delegates attending the #iwill campaign Power-Of-Youth Festival at the end of 2020. They believe in peer-to-peer support whilst they acknowledge ‘older’ support when they started out, they soon ‘asked the adults to leave’ as they realised they could be completely youthled. Their simple ‘Our Scale’ of youth participation and a video of their workshop still tops the Young Voices Heard resources chart 2021.
** Young Voices Heard research into good practice is ongoing and looking for a sponsor funder. Interviews with young leaders, recommended sources, and some examples of good practice, are shared in our Resources Section and Gallery of Change-Makers.