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17 July 2015

Friday 17 July 2015

In the week that London Youth, Partnership for Young London and London Funders launched a Vision for Young Londoners to 2025, Rosie Ferguson, Chief Executive of London Youth, Sharon Long, Director of Partnership for Young London and David Warner, Director of London Funders blog about why we should invest in London’s young people. Over 40 providers of housing, youth services, health, education, sport and the arts have contributed to the Vision which was officially launched at the London Eye.

Working with children and young people is an incredible experience. To support and challenge them to develop their confidence, their resilience, their skills and relationships, and see the impact on them as they grow into socially active, happy and fulfilled adults is a real privilege.

But so often, we find our ambitions dominated by concerns about the obstacles that prevent us from doing this as effectively as the young people might need: making the most of the resources we have and working together in a collaborative and co-ordinated way.

In a city as complex as London this can sometimes feel overwhelming. The sheer numbers of young people who live in the capital – 2.6m under-24s according to the 2011 census – creates a scale of challenge different from other areas. And the pace of change in London is hard to keep up with: the population shifts to the outer boroughs, such as Hillingdon in the west and Havering in the east are creating new pressures and new needs among young people which require different solutions.

And the needs themselves are changing. To the well rehearsed challenges around skills and employment, the risk of violence and gangs, and all that goes with living in poverty or deprivation, young people now also face acute housing issues, which the changes to housing benefit announced in last week’s budget may further exacerbate. And new safety and safeguarding issues are emerging, related to the internet, social media, or specific concerns such as radicalisation.

In London there are a huge number of people, organisations and institutions whose role it is to support and challenge young people to navigate this evolving territory. And many different, committed and progressive funders who desperately want to see the impact of their support add up to more than the sum of its parts.

The challenge for all of us who are part of this is to be joined up so that collectively we can provide the best support for young people who need it, and secure the appropriate resources.

Earlier this year, as a group of leaders within the world of young people’s services and funders, we decided we wanted to stop being victims of circumstance, of shifts in policy and priority, and set the agenda ourselves. So we invited as many different organisations working with young people as we knew to come and help us work out a collective plan to work better together in the future.

To be taken seriously we needed to reach out beyond traditional youth service providers and engage housing providers, funders, the health service, schools, arts and sports providers, as well as local authorities, businesses and pan London bodies.

In February, over 40 organisations drawn from all of these interest groups and more came together, including many well known providers within their sectors. We had no set outcome in mind other than finding common ground on which we could agree; but we committed to not letting ourselves out of the room – and off the hook – until we’d achieved something that could be considered a genuine starting point. The process wasn’t without challenge: some organisations had particular issues they understandably wanted on the agenda; others were reluctant to commit to calling for action beyond their own specific interest or expertise, even though all of us recognised the need for joined up work.

Nevertheless, we worked these through, and the result of that day was a draft Vision for Young Londoners to 2025 – an aspirational document which nevertheless sets out some clear objectives, and gives us something to galvanise around to hold ourselves to account on.

Since February we’ve been working with these 40+ organisations and many more, to refine and challenge the Vision, so that it is as inclusive as possible while retaining its core principles and purpose. And while it is important to note that this Vision was created by and for providers, not young people, many of the organisations involved have great records of youth involvement, and in the next phase we’ll seek to engage young people more directly.

On Wednesday 15 July, we formally launched the Vision. It proposes a range of policy aspirations; and makes the case for how we use our resources and expertise differently to achieve our collective aims.

If we are going to deliver on it, however, we all know that it will require a mind-set change: all of us working with and for young people in London need to think of ourselves as a team, whether we are a charity, a funder, a local authority, an academy chain or a housing association.

The countdown to the London Mayoral election in 2016 has started. None of us working with young people are big enough individually to shape the agenda for any of the candidates – but together, as a team, we can. And if we achieve political buy in, we still need to make the Vision a reality – and we are the only people who have the power and will to make this happen. The Vision isn’t about sitting around and waiting for someone else to change the world for us. It is about a shared sense of where we’re going – and a genuine commitment of us and our organisations to work hard and long and together to get as close to this reality as we can. We need all to believe that together we can make London the best place in the world to grow up.