Jacob is eighteen and from Tottenham in London. “I first got involved in my local community when there was conflict between the younger and older generations on my estate,” he says. “There was tension because we wanted somewhere to play football and there wasn’t anywhere. A councillor lived on my estate and we asked her to help us out – we kept asking until eventually we managed to get a football cage.” “During that time we met a youth worker and he got us to join the Young Advisors. At first I got involved just to get the football cage but now I feel like I have the power to say something.” The skills, knowledge and confidence Jacob gained by taking action have made a huge difference, not only to his own future but to that of his neighbourhood. Since then, he has helped his local housing association improve their youth engagement strategy, and raised funds for new community resources.
Recently, he teamed up with London Civic Forum to lead Take Part Northumberland Park, a learning programme which helped neighbours of all ages get more involved and have a say locally. Later this year, he and other young people will contribute to the development of a new local initiative to tackle youth unemployment in Tottenham, led by their local authority. There’s a lot to get involved in. Did you know that all police Safer Neighbourhood Teams have their strategic priorities set by panels of local community members? Or that in each borough, a Healthwatch Community Panel will soon hold local health services to account? In most areas, councillors chair neighbourhood assemblies which engage with local government and sometimes make funding decisions.
Particpants in intense discussion
For more information about these, and many more, chances to have your say in the capital, see London Civic Forum’s online Participation Map. And local action will only continue to get more important as the government’s Big Society and Localism agenda kicks in. Local communities now have new spending and decision-making powers including, for example, allocating Community First funds and creating Neighbourhood Plans. For these new powers to be meaningful and for their outcomes to be fair, they need to be exercised by as many citizens as possible, including those currently under-represented in civic life
Participants voting ((Mis) Understanding Youth Empowerment Conference)
Sadly, that includes young people. Research shows that the ‘civic core’ is a small sub-set of the population, predominantly made up of middle-aged professionals. There is also strong evidence that the poorer you are, the less likely you are to feel you have a voice, and that black and minority ethnic citizens are underrepresented in local decision making . Now is not the easiest time to engage the disengaged. Public disillusionment with bankers and politicians is especially keenly felt by younger people. And there’s a lot more to be concerned about: record numbers of young people not in employment, education or training, the loss of the Education Maintenance Allowance, rising fees for higher education and massive cuts to youth services. Disheartening?
Yes. All the more reason to help more young people have a voice and make it heard. And neighbourhoods are a good place to start. Stories like Jacob’s show that anyone can make a difference, if you know who to talk to and have the tenacity to keep asking. Young researchers leading our ‘Empowering Young London’ research project found that if young people are given the skills, knowledge and confidence to lead their own engagement, gather their own evidence and bring this to local, regional and national decision makers – making a difference, on their own terms. London’s flagship Young Mayor projects, in Lewisham, Tower Hamlets, Newham and Lambeth, are fantastic examples of this.
Voter turnouts in Young Mayoral elections are consistently higher than turnouts for the equivalent adult elections. Local involvement offers fantastic opportunities to skilled, confident and experienced young members of Junior Chamber International. You have a huge role to play in bringing a young voice to local decision making, and ensuring that decision makers and community groups do more to engage and skill up more young people from all backgrounds. The rewards in terms of personal and professional development are high.
Working to make a tangible difference with tight resources in a community setting helps develop excellent transferable skills and knowledge – just ask Jacob.
London Civic Forum runs Take Part active citizenship learning courses across the capital. Our programme ‘Your Voice, Your City’ runs events which help Londoners understand decision-making in the capital, and how to have a say in it.
To find out more, visit www.londoncivicforum.org.uk.
Take Part Learning Manager London Civic Forum
PHOTOS: Young people have their say at LCF’s (Mis)Understanding Youth Empowerment Conference
Categorised in: Community
This post was written by makedo