Why should we engage and inspire young people?

Jessica Taplin, 20 November 2017

Young people are now the age group most likely to give up their time to help others. 42% of people aged 10-20 in the UK took part in meaningful social action in 2016. Engaging and inspiring young people is vital, not only for their own development and wellbeing, but for the communities they live in, too.

Young people have a natural passion, enthusiasm and desire to make the world a better place. Last year, v•inspired helped 31,439 young people do 460,611 hours of voluntary work. That’s a £2.3 million contribution to the economy. There is a powerhouse of skills and knowledge waiting to be tapped.

Young people have a natural passion, enthusiasm and desire to make the world a better place.

Maya Williams, 21, devised, organised and hosted an open mic night in South London. She created a relaxed and safe space for young, queer, black artists; a night where creative artists and audiences can network, perform and see themselves in art.

“We are bombarded by hate. The experience I aimed to create was one that uplifts, and lets this community see their identity as something rich and worthy.”

A new generation is engaged in consistent, ongoing volunteering. But often they’re not catered for with appropriate opportunities. Their needs are not always properly understood or met. We should be helping them build social capital, expand their networks and strengthen their communities from the inside.

Over the last decade there has been an explosion of organisations involved in youth social action and volunteering. This is partly due to the advice and findings of a cross-organisational review called the Russell Commission over a decade ago. The framework set out the need to increase the level of community participation by young people across the UK, to the point that volunteering becomes a common feature in their lives.

No one has come up with a better, more coherent proposition to date. It champions a simple user journey for young volunteers.

1. Engage

Engagement is the start of the journey, involving things such as citizenship in schools and national campaigns.

2. Inform

vinspired.com does an excellent job of giving young people everything they need to get involved. There is significant ongoing investment in the digital infrastructure.

3. Support

There are many excellent, if mostly underfunded, local Councils for Voluntary Service and volunteer centres doing their darndest to deliver this despite the funding vacuum, and doing it very well.

4. Give opportunities

It’s important that there are varied and diverse options for young people to get involved, and that funding is made available for these.

5. Benefit

Volunteering is about give and take. By giving a little time young people:

  • meet people and make new friends,
  • feel good about themselves and help others,
  • learn new skills,
  • help themselves get better jobs,
  • go to new places, and
  • build stronger communities.

None of this has changed since the Russell Commission report was published. But there is a lack of stability that can make it hard to focus on these principles. Stop, start, stop, start, another new minister, and it’s all change again.

We need to evolve, but not in a simplistic survival-of-the-fittest way.

Baby-out-with-the-bathwater funding decisions, and a desire among many funders and parts of government to come up with the next big thing, mean that there is a lack of long-term vision. And the sector is often forced to acquiesce and jump through the latest project-shaped hoops.

Instead, what we need is focused, strategic investment in continuous improvement, enhancing and improving core systems.

Those who work with young people understand what needs to change. But we’re too often disregarded in the desire to start over. The cycle of churn means constant organisational death and renewal. We need to evolve, but not in a simplistic survival-of-the-fittest way. We can take a collaborative approach that goes beyond brand and looks at what elements we need in order to provide a strong and robust whole that best meets the needs of young people, now and in the future.

Young people have the most amazing capacity. Let’s put the tools in their hands and support them to thrive not just strive.

Jessica Taplin is chief executive of v•inspired. She was previously chief executive at Get Connected, prior to merging it with Youth Net to create The Mix. Jessica also previously managed partnerships and public engagement at The Big Lottery Fund.