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04 October 2018

In such divided times it’s important to stand up for the things that unite us; communities do just that.

I first became involved in youth organisations in year 12 when I was looking for more extra-curricular activities and came across an advert for a social action project. I signed up because I have always been interested in trying to change things for the better. Being involved in youth organisations has allowed me to do just that and I’m enjoying every moment of it. During our first project, we worked with Crisis to combat homelessness in Islington. Our second project was hosting a community dinner to fundraise for Luna Children’s charity, with the money raised helping to fund an aid project in Syria.

From there, I joined Dare London, London Youth’s youth advisory board.  About six months into my tenure at Dare London I applied to be a peer researcher for its latest report, “A Space of Our Own”. One of the reasons I applied was to gain some experience interviewing people as I would like to be a journalist. My application was successful, I developed those skills and the rest is as they say history.

But it’s the future that I’m concerned with, which is why I believe this research is so important. It is based on a series of interviews with young people and the professionals working with them.

During the interviews, one moment stood out. I was talking to a young man who had recently come to this country. He would travel across London from East to West London just to attend his youth club whom he regarded as family. He could’ve gone to a closer youth club but he didn’t feel part of the local community where he lived. His local area felt hostile while his youth club was welcoming and accepting.  I think his story underlines why this report is needed; in order to better help young people and their communities we have to understand what they need.

But how can youth organisations strengthen communities?

This is the fundamental question that we are trying to answer with this report. Through this research, London Youth has developed its own understanding of the role that youth organisations play in strengthening communities and can help other people see this too.

We found that youth organisations not only provide opportunities for young people to interact and integrate with other groups, but also create opportunities for a connection where the power dynamic was more equal. One organisation that we spoke to highlighted the benefits of having youth-led community events because they allowed the community to see young people in a positive light. Seeing them lead like this helped improve the local perception of young people.

Download the full report here

Young people felt a sense of belonging when they had ownership over both the physical space of the youth organisation and the direction it was going in. These feelings of belonging and ownership mean different things in different organisations and communities. One example is youth involvement in decision making at board level. As a member of London Youth’s youth advisory board, Dare London, I cannot stress enough the importance of having as much youth involvement within youth organisations as possible. How can youth organisations connect with young people, if they don’t listen to them?

A common theme was the role of youth organisations as a place of physical safety. In the context of tragically high levels of youth violence in London, youth organisations are seen as places of refuge.

Youth organisations are also celebrating cultural differences by encouraging young people to express their culture. Not only this but they’re also allowing different communities to come together by celebrating a country’s national day for instance. While accepting cultural differences is important, so is accepting differences in opinion.

This is why youth organisations are developing the skills of young people – skills like being open-minded and confident and tolerant. They want to ensure that young people see themselves as part of the solution and empowering them through skills is the right way to go.

The work of youth organisations goes beyond just supporting young people; they help the wider community too. By being well-connected, youth organisations help signpost local services to local residents, which allows trust to be built. Three organisations actually involved in this research helped those affected by the tragic Grenfell fire. They were able to use their connections and knowledge to help their community when they needed it most.

The power of youth organisations

It’s funny, when I first joined Creative Opportunities and London Youth I thought that all my time would be spent giving back to others. But the truth is youth organisations have actually given so much back to me. Whether it’s the chance to speak at events or visiting places like Parliament, I’m always so grateful for the skills and opportunities that have been provided for me. The power of youth organisations to change lives continues to surprise me and I hope it surprises many more young people to come.

I’d like to go back to two statistics from the report that really stood out to me. The first is that 71% of young people wanted to make a positive contribution to their community. The second is that only 14% of young people feel connected to their local community. While the vast majority of young people want to contribute to their local area, they don’t feel connected to it.

When I first saw those statistics I was slightly baffled. But, after thinking about my own life, I realised that it’s right on the money. For years, I’ve wanted my community to become a better place, yet I hardly even know my neighbours. I definitely don’t know them in the way my grandma knew hers! My local area felt like a place of residence, not one of refuge.

We must all work together to ensure children and young people feel connected to the people and places around them.

This is why this research is imperative; it provides a genuine insight into the minds of young Londoners. If we can bridge this gap today and help willing young people to feel connected, I have no doubt communities of tomorrow will be much stronger.

– David, Peer Researcher

You can download the full report here and read our Chief Executive, Rosemary Watt-Wyness’ blog, “A Space of Our Own”.

Join the conversation of Twitter using #SpaceOfOurOwn @LondonYouth

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