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14 September 2018

This week, London Youth launched our latest piece of research, “A Space of Our Own”, which demonstrates the powerful role of youth organisations in making London’s communities stronger. In this blog, our chief executive, Rosemary Watt-Wyness, discusses the important role that youth organisations play in strengthening communities.

Youth organisations help individual young Londoners feel they have a place, they bring people together, they foster connection. Last year, London Youth celebrated its 130th anniversary. Some of our members are as old as us or even older, with over a century of connecting and serving the people and places that surround them. And that has an impact – it creates a web of well established local connections.

London Youth has a growing membership of over 400 community youth organisations. We undertook this research to understand their part and potential for building community.

What comes through in the report is the contribution they can make to social integration. So the key finding, that youth organisations strengthen communities, should be obvious but I think that years of trying to continue positive work in austerity have turned us off sharing simple truths. It has pushed organisations to talk about specific hard impacts but less about the relationships that bind and strengthen community. With this research, I think that we are sharing something that really needs saying.

What is not obvious and is set out in the research is some of the ways that this happens.

  1. Youth organisations bring different groups together. One youth worker told us that having local volunteers from different backgrounds meant that some of the young people met people they otherwise might not. For their group, he felt they were meeting white British people who otherwise they might meet only in formal settings. For another, it was bringing together different parts of the same religious community. It was clear that supporting young people to celebrate their different cultural identities helped them with the confidence to get involved in their wider community.

  2. Youth organisations give young people a better sense of belonging and ownership over their local area. Youth clubs give young people a sense of ownership of the physical space, which contrasts with what some young people felt was hostility to them and being judged when in public spaces. Some youth workers worried about the loss of spaces and about economic forces, especially the cost of housing, displacing communities.

  3. I was shocked how often young people referred to their youth organisations as places of not only emotional but physical safety. Young people are being affected directly and indirectly by knife crime and violence. At the same time young people talked often about their youth organisation as ‘family’ which shows just how powerful the relationships between young people, their peers and the people who work with them are.

  4. We all need to ask ourselves what we can do to support these places? The report identifies ways in which funders, commissioners, local authorities, the Mayor of London and the GLA can help.

We know that there is a lot to do. But there are over 400 organisations in London Youth’s network now. And that is a lot of people who are acting locally.

So lets take inspiration from a great community builder, Desmond Tutu who said:

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world”.

– Rosemary Watt-Wyness


You can download the full report here and join the conversation on Twitter using #SpaceOfOurOwn.

Read all the latest news, blogs and policy updates form London Youth here.