Community Links

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Posts Tagged ‘young people’

Building emotional resilience in young people across the capital

Thursday, April 6th, 2017

Earlier this year Community Links were hugely excited to announce being awarded, by the Department of Health (DH), the opportunity to lead the highly innovative peer mentoring project, More than Mentors, which started its delivery in schools within the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. Since this announcement we have also started work in the London Boroughs of Hackney and Haringey, and are reaching out to other schools and community youth groups to offer this crucial work in differing and diverse settings across the Capital.

Addressing the current crisis in young people’s mental health and focusing on building resilience 

Over recent years it has become increasingly evident that young people’s mental health needs to be seen as a priority for both health and educational services. Escalating demand against insufficient capacity within current services has created a growing crisis in mental health. As highlighted in our report: ‘Thriving Minds: Acting early on mental health’, the current crisis in mental health is as much a social crisis, as a medical or funding crisis. Mental health underpins so many aspects of our lives that, in order to tackle the causes of poor mental health, we need a far-ranging response beyond simply reforming mental health services. We need effective, evidence-based initiatives in the community that can deliver more preventative support and are focused on building resilience.

More than Mentors is a new and creative model of peer mentoring, which has been co-designed and co-delivered as a pilot study in east London. Through the Department of Health’s “health and social care volunteer fund” Community Links has been invited to take the lead in rolling this programme out in 5 boroughs across the capital – with Jo Richardson Community School and Eastbury Community School, both in London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, being the first schools where we have successfully delivered this intervention.

Building on this success, we are now not only continuing to work within these 2 schools, but have also brought on board 4 more secondary schools in Barking and Dagenham with whom we shall be working over the next academic year. With the support of the Barking and Dagenham CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) and the Education department within the local authority we are aspiring to offer this programme in every secondary school within the borough by the time the project has been completed in March 2019.

But we have also begun working in the London boroughs of Hackney and Haringey, and will be offering this More than Mentors approach within both boroughs in schools and youth groups, build the evidence base for its impact and demonstrating the wider need.

More than Mentors draws on the best evidence from across the field, exploring peer mentoring as a way of preventing significant mental health conditions in young people. Peer mentoring – where older adolescents support their younger peers – has been shown to prevent the development of mental health problems in research studies. However, frequently in practice, little attention is given to the evidence around recruitment, training and support of these volunteer mentors. Community Links, with a wider partnership team (including East London Foundation Trust and the Anna Freud Centre) are working with adolescent volunteer through to commissioners, to further co-develop, test, evaluate and subsequently disseminate an approach which sustainably delivers an effective voluntary peer mentoring workforce across London.

Rolling out More than Mentors across the capital

The More than Mentors delivery team, based at Community Links, are now busy training peer mentors, supporting peer mentoring and will soon be Training the Trainers as More than Mentors youth practitioners. The programme strives to prevent future mental health conditions in young people, and to ensure those who are struggling are able to access the support available across schools and community settings within the capital. By supporting students earlier, we are addressing early markers for mental health conditions such as depression, stress and anxieties, reducing associated symptoms and supporting students in feeling able to overcome everyday pressures. Furthermore, by connecting with the local transformation agenda for Children and Young People’s mental health services, we will also look to support the development of an approach that is focused on building resilience in young people.

The More than Mentors programme

This programme trains young people aged 14-18 years old in schools and community settings such as youth clubs, to become peer mentors through a 2-day/5 session accredited (NOCN) programme of learning. Mentors are then able to offer a 10-week programme of support for mentees (aged 11-16 years old) – a programme that offers both one-to-one support and group-based, positive activities. The mentors and mentees are supported throughout the programme by experienced More than Mentors Youth Practitioners and a mental health specialist. At all stages the mentors are supervised and supported in their development as a mentor, ensuring that they can offer guidance and support to their mentees.

More than Mentors is an ambitious programme, which aims to support many young people across the capital by taking a new and innovative approach. Our first 2 schools have allowed us to work with 40 young people so far. But now, we are hoping to involve up to 400 young people over this coming academic year – having a real impact on how we support young people and build their resilience. We are keen to keep you informed of how the work is progressing. We will be sharing regular blog posts so that young people and professionals can read about the project, and hear what young people and wider stakeholders feel about the work and its impact within their schools and communities. These are exciting times for Community Links, and we are looking forward to sharing this important work with you.

If you are interested in learning more about More than Mentors, then please get in touch;

Jason Turner – Project manager

Nick Barnes – Strategic lead advisor for More than Mentors

Partnership success that builds brighter futures for young people

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

Last night Community Links and our corporate partners Bank of New York Mellon won the Corporate Community Local Involvement Charity Times Award for our Future Links employability programme.

Since 2009 this fantastic project has enabled hundreds of young people furthest from the labour market to develop the necessary skills to progress into work or further education, with 85% of our graduates moving into a positive destination.

Our CEO, Arvinda Gohil, who attended the awards, said:

“I am delighted at this result, many congratulations and well done to everyone who was involved and continues to be involved in this great partnership. My particular thanks and congratulations to the young people who have participated in this programme and made it such a success over the last 8 years.”        

Key to the programme’s success is the longstanding partnership and support of our corporate sponsor BNY Mellon. Long-term partnerships with companies are invaluable to organisations like Community Links, enabling us to plan ahead, build our sustainability and innovate. This national recognition of the strong local partnership we’ve developed provides an opportunity to reflect on what’s key to a successful relationship between a charity and a company.

Future Links supports young people aged between 16-19 years old who live in Newham and who are not in education, employment or training (NEET). The training is focused on building the confidence, resilience, networks and skills of our young people and supporting them through the job application process. Alongside being the sole funder of Future Links, BNY Mellon plays an important role in the programme delivery. Participants visit their offices twice during each 10 week course – receiving support from employees with their CVs and interview skills and attending a graduation celebration at the end.

Future Links success would not be possible without the support of BNY Mellon and our skilled and committed programme staff, who dedicate so much time, energy and enthusiasm to the young people they work with. At the end of the day, Future Links’ success is a reflection on the hundreds of young people who have worked so hard over the years, and who have built brighter futures for themselves, their families and their communities.

Making apprenticeships work for all Londoners

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

The London Assembly Economy Committee is today hearing evidence from Community Links on the lack of diversity in apprenticeships in London.

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘apprenticeship’? Most people would associate it with youth, opportunity and work. The reality is that if you are a young Londoner, from an ethnic minority or living in a deprived area, you are less and less likely to reap the rewards of the Government’s expanding apprenticeship scheme.

10 years ago under 19 year-olds made up over half of apprenticeship starts in London. Today that figure stands at just 22%. Those from ethnic minority backgrounds fare little better, being overrepresented in low level apprenticeships in sectors with a history of low pay.

Earlier this year we submitted evidence to the Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy inquiry into apprenticeships, and called on the Government to address the growing underrepresentation of young people (especially those living in deprived areas). Today the London Assembly Economy Committee wants to know how the Mayor can help increase participation from under-represented groups, in good quality and higher level apprenticeships.

At Community Links we believe the Mayor and Government need to do more to support and prepare young people for apprenticeships, whilst ensuring employers are incentivised to offer the flexibility and understanding to take them on. We prepare thousands of young people in East London for employment each year and know they have the appetite and drive to become successful apprentices or employees, but often lack the social and communication skills. Our Future Links and Talent Match programmes deliver pre-apprenticeship and pre-employment training to young people furthest from the labour market. This training is focused on building individuals confidence, resilience, networks and skills and supporting them through the job application process.

The harsh reality is that the Government recently cut funding rates for the most deprived 16-18 apprentices by up to 50%, effectively disincentivising employers from taking on young people from deprived areas such as Newham. This move will only precipitate the steady decline in the numbers of young Londoner’s entering apprenticeships.

It’s high time we gave young people, ethnic minorities and under-represented groups a fair deal. This starts with ensuring they have the best possible access to high quality pre-apprenticeship training and support. Likewise employers need to be properly incentivised to recruit young people onto apprenticeships and to better understand their needs. Overall the Mayor and the Government should set hard and fast targets to dramatically increase the proportion of under 19-year-old and ethnic minority apprenticeship starts by 2020.

Violence begets violence: on the folly of water cannons

Monday, July 4th, 2016

Last week it was reported that London’s new Mayor, Sadiq Khan, will sell the Metropolitan Police’s unused water cannons, bought by his predecessor back in 2014. The money made from these, reportedly in the region of £200,000, will be used to fund youth services.

In the aftermath of the 2011 summer riots Sir Hugh Orde, at the time President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, was quoted saying that such a tool could fill a ‘gap in the armoury’ of police forces, prevent future riots from happening, and would save the government ‘millions of pounds’. At the time London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, echoed this idea and said that the water cannon would be effective in stopping violence by ‘nipping it in the bud’. It took three years for Johnson to finally follow through on his idea, purchasing three water cannons for £218,000. This announcement was met with criticism from human rights groups and, following the Home Secretary’s refusal to sanction their use, they have since languished in storage: unusable, undesirable and ultimately a complete waste of money.

Violence to prevent violence?

As advocates of early action, we are all for inventive ideas that improve public services, prevent social problems from occurring in the first place, and save the government money. Putting aside the important issues of the inflexibility of such devices in dealing with the type of riots we saw in 2011, the health risks, and the general ethos behind their usage, it is clear that – as with many homelessness ‘prevention’ strategies – the logic underpinning the use of water cannons is a peculiar misconception of prevention.

It’s not going to shock anyone to suggest that by the time we reach riots something has gone terribly wrong. There isn’t space in this blog post to go into the reasons why the summer riots happened in 2011 (for an overview, the London School of Economics did some excellent research on this topic), but suffice to say it was largely caused by anger at the police, social policies that harm and further disenfranchise young people (something that’s only got worse since), and poverty.

There are no easy, quick, or simple answers to these huge issues. In addressing feelings of disenfranchisement and anger at the police, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that water cannons are hardly likely to improve the situation. There are, however, inspiring practitioners working across the country who are trying to tackle some of these issues.

To take one example, we’ve been speaking to Tottenham Thinking Space (TTS) in the London Borough of Haringey as part of our growing early action case study library. TTS is a community-based therapeutic initiative that aims to improve mental health and empower the local community by providing a safe space to talk. It was set up in response to the riots and a perceived need within the local population for mental health support that was not only accessible, but would enable people to work together to help themselves and their community. Although the formal evaluation has yet to be published, early indications are that the services has been successful in improving mental health, enabling people to feel like they are contributing to – and therefore also part of – their community, and ultimately promoting positive social action.

Another example is Includem, a Scottish charity working with young people with complex needs. Its unique and intensive approach – offering 24/7 one to one support – marks them out as different to other services in the eyes of young people and gives them confidence that staff will be there over the long term to enable them to turn their lives around. In doing so it seeks to break the cycle of intergenerational social exclusion, arguably a major cause of the summer riots (even if they didn’t reach Scotland).

The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the second best time is now

To paraphrase (and possibly butcher) a well-worn Chinese proverb: the best time to tackle disenfranchisement is twenty years ago, the second best time is now. If we manage to sell the cannons and use the money to fund youth services that have early action at their heart, undoubtedly these activities will be far more effective in preventing violence than the cannons ever could be.

If you have any suggestions as to other case studies we could include in our soon-to-be-published online case study library, please do get in touch with Rosie Hayes.

There’s nothing like a referendum to get young people voting?

Monday, June 13th, 2016

Last week the register to vote website crashed due to unprecedented demand from people under 35, forcing the Government to introduce legislation to extend the deadline. At the same time our own Youth Worker, Tola Jaiyeola was participating in a live EU referendum TV debate with Nigel Farage and David Cameron, smashing the stereotype that young people are not interested in the decisions that shape their lives.     

At Community Links our Talent Match London team have been working with Bite the Ballot engaging young people in East London in the EU referendum debate. The message has been clear, whether you’re in or out, make sure you turn up to vote and understand what you’re voting for.

In the past young people have been criticized for showing apathy and antipathy towards politics, with the likes of Ed Miliband recently issuing a ‘call to arms’ to young voters, urging them to register to vote for next week’s referendum. Leave or remain, politicians know that young people’s votes are an untapped resource, with turnout amongst 18-24 year olds in the 2015 general election nearly half that of the over 65s. In a previous blog we highlighted how low political participation is contributing to young people lagging behind their older relatives in-terms of income growth and homeownership.

Voter registration data published last week shows that this might be changing, with hundreds of thousands of young people making a last minute dash to register. Could the EU referendum be reconnecting young people with politics, the same as the Scottish referendum did? We won’t know until after the 23rd June, however, what is clear is that young people do care about these issues. Following Tola’s TV appearance, she wrote an opinion piece for the Guardian, outlining why she believes young people need to speak up:

“My final advice to my peers is not to be intimidated by politics or by political leaders, but to get involved. It was nerve-racking being on camera and putting my question to Farage, but a few days on from the debate, I feel proud to have stood up and had my voice heard. Let’s not leave the older generation, who may not be around for the consequences of these decisions, to decide our fate alone.”

Let’s hope that when the ballot boxes open next Thursday, young people from across the country follow Tola’s lead and take the future in their hands, proving, as they did in Scotland, that there’s nothing like a referendum to get young people voting.

Have you been bitten by the politics bug? We joined the NVRD campaign to ramp up the numbers of young people registering to vote

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Do young people not care about politics or does politics not care about young people? Community Links teams up with Bite The Ballot and some of our young members in Stratford to challenge the stereotypes.

Since the change from ‘head of household’ to individual electoral registration, 800,000 people have dropped off the electoral register, and the move has particularly affected young people and students. The current system is not working for an entire section of our society. British politics hasn’t been kind to young people in the past few years – youth clubs are being closed, and university fees have tripled. The harsh reality is that a lot of Government decisions have been made which affect young people, yet by not voting, a majority of young people haven’t been part of that decision making process. This begs the question, do young people realise how deep-rooted politics is?

If you were playing a word association game, what words would come to your mind if someone mentioned ‘politics’? Perhaps middle-aged men, wigs, power, voting – or maybe corrupt, out of touch or even broken promises? Do you ever associate the ‘P’ word with opportunity? Or do you consider that actually much of what you do; in your school, in your youth centre, even in your own house is affected by politics. Its influence reaches a lot further than you may realise – and it isn’t just confined to the ambling corridors surrounding the 1,000 rooms inside the Houses of Parliament.

This simple idea is the driving force behind Bite The Ballot, a charity which aims to inspire and engage young people in politics, so they can become active changemakers in a society. While there are currently 7.4 million 16-24 year olds living in the UK, only half of those are registered to vote and – of those registered and eligible – only 43% turned out to vote in 2015. This is a worrying trend among young people in politics and a problem Bite The Ballot have tasked themselves to address.

“I would tell my friends to vote because I think it’s important to voice your opinion”

Last week marked the third ‘NVRD’ (National Voting Registration Drive) – an annual campaign launched by Bite The Ballot, addressing the stark lack of young people registering and voting in the UK. During the week of 2-8 February 2015, a record-breaking 441,500 people registered to vote, including 166,000 on one day alone. With registration rallies, workshops and events taking place in schools, colleges, youth clubs and students’ unions across the country, Bite The Ballot announced that this year, with the focus fixed on reaching the most-marginalised groups in society, NVRD has inspired an additional 134,000 citizens to take a stake in democracy for the first time.

Some of that success took place at our Rokeby community hub in Stratford, where Community Links joined forces with Bite The Ballot to allow for the voices of a group of young people to be heard on the issues they care about. Bite The Ballot’s community engagement officer, Ashar Smith, led the interactive workshop called ‘The Basics’ which started off with a debate round called ‘Vote on your Feet’. The small group of ten were asked questions such as ‘should the UK stay in the EU?’, to which all of them voted by steering to the left of the room for ‘Yes’. This was followed by ‘should we abolish the monarchy?’, ‘should the UK take in more refugees?’, as well as ‘should we bring back the death penalty?’.

The participants really got involved in the debates. Ashar said: “We’ve had great responses. We talked about whether 16-year-olds should be allowed to vote, which was a really interesting topic. One member of the group said ‘when I was 16 I didn’t know anything about politics because they don’t teach you about it at school.’ And that’s one of Bite The Ballot’s aims – to make political education a priority in every school’s curriculum”.

Having worked at a grassroots level for the last five years, Bite The Ballot know that young people care about political issues – it’s the lack of education that’s the problem. “There’s a lot of first time voters who come out of school when they are 16 or 17 and they can get disillusioned or disenfranchised because they are not given any information about how they can change things in local or national government”, Ashar explained. Ralph Adjei-Tetteh, 23, who has been going to the Community Links Rokeby youth centre since last September, agreed: “I think when it comes to talking about politics, most of us would not know anything about the Government and voting until we’re 18”.

By rebranding political jargon into plain English, Bite The Ballot are actively engaging more young people into democracy, and encouraging them to bring about substantive change. Ralph, when asked what he might say to his friends about voting, replied: “I would tell my friends to vote because I think it’s important to voice your opinion as it can affect a decision that might benefit us”.

“If young people registered to vote it would make a big difference to the democratic process”

The geography of politics is currently changing. MPs’ constituency boundaries are set to be redrawn based on the current electoral register, which will leave young people further under-represented at Westminster. As Ashar explained: “If young people registered to vote, then what they want would get listened to. It would make a big difference to the democratic process. But there are other things that need to change too. Why can’t we vote online? Why can’t the council register us automatically? And why don’t schools take political education seriously?”

At the end of the session when Ashar asked the group if they would like to register to vote, one participant responded: “Yes, I think my voice counts”. That answer in itself shows the worth of NVRD and why Bite The Ballot’s work is needed to engage young people in democracy. Likewise, our Rokeby youth centre and other Community Links hubs, are playing a major part in fostering the concept of community development and democracy. By providing important spaces for people to address local needs or problems, they signify a symbol of togetherness and empowerment which work towards achieving positive futures.

Most of the members who participated in the workshop for NVRD at the Rokeby hub are being supported by Talent Match London and attend the centre most Fridays. Talent Match London is a brilliant initiative focusing on unemployment hotspots in the country by taking a partnership and youth-led approach. Funded by the Big Lottery Fund and led by London Youth, Talent Match supports young people into sustained jobs, overcoming personal barriers on the way to employment. If you would like to know more information about the hubs and programmes Community Links run, please click here.

And don’t forget, make sure you register to vote. You can do it online at:

The Barrow Boys and Girls Academy – what’s it all about?

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Monique Graver is undertaking a college course studying business and in this blog post explains how she tested her academic studies in a practical project pitching her ideas and then test trading at a Hackney Market as part of the Community Links Enterprise project.


BBaGA in operation

‘What’s the BBaGA?’ you ask? – it  stands for ‘Barrow Boys and Girls Academy’ and is the most unusual, but most rewarding activity I’ve had the pleasure of taking part in whilst at college.

So, I’m a second year college student at present, studying Business, Finance and Accounting; subjects that I can either love or hate depending on the task at hand and the delivery of the task. I’ve always loved business though, well ever since the realisation that I too can have my own business one day – they don’t teach us this at college. We get taught about business structures, profit and loss, the business environment, different aspects and takes on accounting, market research, recruitment etc. – and I get a bunch of assignment briefs sent my way. But on this particular Wednesday morning I entered my college’s main hall and prepared myself for what they call ‘The BBaGA’.

They started off with a small introduction and then the team from the Community Links enterprise project began to explain what I’d be doing today. In no time, I was put into a small group and together we began brainstorming ideas of potential products or services that we would actually retail on a London market. At first, no ideas came to mind, but after hearing suggestions from other team members, I too felt overwhelmed with the amount of ideas that came into my mind. The possibilities were endless but we had to choose the one great idea that could generate the most profit and was affordable within our £100 budget. There was still so much to think about – What do we call our company? What kind of product do we sell? Is the product practical affordable? Where do we purchase the resources from? How do me make a profit? What’s our break even figure and how do we work it out? Our budget, priorities, roles and responsibilities? How many units will we buy? (Or can afford?), Marketing? Promotion? do we have a unit selling price? (Product mark-up?) How would we be acquiring these things? And if so how will we prepare them or preserve them if perishable for the day at the market?

Our idea didn`t make a great deal of sense at this point but we couldn’t spend a lot of time trying to perfect it, as we had to present everything we’d come up with so far to a panel. Every member of each group had to get involved in the presentation despite the fact that some of us were stronger talkers than others.

I dislike talking in public; I couldn’t imagine how I’d manage to speak my part without stuttering or getting tongue-tied or sounding silly. My team had the best idea and I’d hate to be the one to let us down by not delivering on my part. This was a great exercise in teamwork, encouraging others and challenging yourself.

After rehearsing a few times, the BBaGA facilitators called our group out and we were lead out of the hall and into the classroom that I usually have my business lessons in coincidentally. Before any of us opened our mouths the judges sitting in a straight line in front of us wished us luck and told us to relax and speak clearly. At that moment the first speaker in our group began with the introduction. I thought five minutes of straight talking was unnecessary but when one of the judges stated that our time was up, five minutes really wasn’t long at all – luckily we’d reached the end of our pitch.

I had presented in the past for assignment purposes, but this time was different for me. The nerves I usually experience before talking to a group of people were still present, but I didn’t feel like I wanted to run home. I actually wanted to present our ideas and the competitor in me wanted our team to be chosen to sell at the market!

After answering the judge’s questions we made our way back into the hall to collect our belongings and go home.

A week later, my form tutor told me that we were put through to the next stage!

Suddenly, college and the Business, Finance and Accounting lessons I had been attending all year started to mean something. I was able to use all the knowledge I’d acquired when we next met to discuss and decide on all the important decisions that we didn’t necessarily think about during our first encounter.

We had a lot to decide together and the contrast in our personalities and opinions was challenge. We all learnt about cooperative and collective working listening, compromise. Eventually, with good communication and compromise, everything was sorted and a proper workable plan was laid out.

Finally the weekend we were all looking forward to arrived. We needed to put everything we had planned and discussed previously into practice and win this competition!

Selling was very slow at first but I put that down to the early morning crowd we were dealing with and the fact that we were all amateurs. It was business as usual at the market and we were fortunately located in the middle of the street, surrounded by regular market stalls. It wasn’t longer before we all started to mimic the way in which they communicate to the public (walking up and down the street promoting our product and product features) and sell their products (discounts, banter and honesty).

The BBaGA was fun a great learning experience, a chance to learn new skills, make sense of what you learn form day to day at college, build your confidence and tap into the entrepreneur within, so if you get a chance let your school or college get your class to Roll up! Roll up! and have the BBaGA bring enterprise to you.

Youth advice improves mental health

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Any charity providing advice on issues like benefits, debt, or housing will tell you it has the power to transform lives, that its impact extends far beyond the transactional exchange of information, that it is an indispensable public service . But ask us for robust evidence and we’ll look guiltily away. There is scant research into the impact of advice, particularly on factors beyond the immediate issues at stake. In straightened times with funding scarce this is more desperately needed than ever.

That’s why the excellent Youth Access‘ frequent research reports are so valuable. Their latest, released today, was carried out by respected legal researchers from UCL, who surveyed almost 200 young people accessing advice services around the country, looking at their mental health, the impact of advice, and costs this saved other public services.

Shockingly they found that levels of mental illness amongst young people seeking advice were higher even than levels found amongst rough sleepers. Forty five percent of clients reported their health as suffering as a result of social welfare problems, and 26% had visited a doctor or counsellor.

They found that a young person with a social welfare problem relating to housing or money has typically already cost local health services, housing services and social services around £13,000 before finding their way to an advice service, suggesting considerable scope for acting earlier.

And they found that “A typical advice intervention in a youth advice setting costs under £100, after which seventy per cent of young people report improvements in their mental and/or physical health. The analysis indicates that the resulting savings in GP costs alone are likely to exceed the cost of the advice intervention.”

So youth advice is desperately needed, is cheap and saves money for other public services, and could be done even better earlier. Yet, as Youth Access found when they surveyed youth advice charities a couple of months ago, almost half are experiencing cuts this year compared to last, most compounding cuts in previous years. Rigorous research, widely disseminated, has never been more important.

Reacting to the Riots

Friday, December 16th, 2011

I’ve been to two events on the summer riots this week.  On Wednesday the Guardian, LSE and JRF launched their research “Reading the Riots”, the result of interviewing 270 people who were involved.  There was a wealth of interesting data and discussion at this event, but I came away with a sinking feeling that the reasons that many of those interviewed gave for taking part in the riots last summer will still be there next summer – if not even more acutely.

The government set up an Independent Panel on the Riots, Communities and Victims, who have also just released their interim report – another fascinating piece of work.  The Panel are now looking at what can be done to prevent riots happening again.  The Chair of the Panel, Darrah Singh, was struck by the words of a young man he visited in prison who said he had taken part because “I have no hopes and I have no dreams”.  I was invited to share with the Panel the Community Links experience of how we help young people have hopes and dreams for their future.

Last year we worked with well over 5,000 young people – through our school for children who’ve been excluded from mainstream education, our youth clubs, our specialist advice & guidance service, our targeted NEETs and into-employment programmes, and our Street Action Team which goes out in advance of the local police to the places where trouble is kicking off, and diverts young people into more constructive activities.

Across all of our work with young people, we have one common approach.  We value who people are,  and we focus on their potential for the future rather than the (sometimes very long) record of what has gone wrong in the past.  This is incredibly powerful – for example in our school, where we can say to a young person who may have been excluded many times “What you did yesterday doesn’t matter to me.  It’s what you do today and tomorrow that’s important”.  We build a deep value relationship of trust and respect – made possible in many cases by the fact that many of our frontline workers experienced problems themselves when they were young, and are able to say “I understand where you are because I was there too.  But I made a decision to change my life”.  With the young person, we co-design a programme of support and activities that is right for them, recognising that the challenges they face are often complex and that no one size intervention fits all.  And finally, we stay with them for as long as they need us, not just to the point where they have returned to school, started a training course or found work.  It’s often in the first few months that things can go wrong, and our frontline workers are there for the young person to turn to when they need to talk things through.

I see the journey that young people make with our support.  When they first come through our door many are wary, angry even, shoulders and hoods up, responding with a shrug to the question from well meaning visitors “what do you want to do with your life?” A few weeks later, these same young people are able to articulate some hopes.  Three months, and they will confidently stand up and present what they plan to do, the steps they are taking to get there, their experience of trying so far, what they have learnt from new connections with businesses, schools, mentors.

The government is announcing one new initiative after another for young people developed in response (partly) to last summer’s riots and also to the dramatic increase in youth unemployment – although in totality these still don’t amount to what they cut in the first place.  We recognise that resources are limited but we’d point out two things: our intensive approach with troubled young people works, but it’s not cheap and it’s not quick.  However, the alternative – a lost generation of young people who don’t have hope and who can’t realise their dreams, is extremely expensive and will last a lifetime.  So Let’s start sooner: young people often reach us when things have already gone wrong for them.  The earlier we can take action the better.  We know that on the estates where we have community centres, crime and anti-social behaviour drops by up to 60%.  Leaving aside the cost to the state, that’s a lot of young people without a criminal record, who will therefore find it easier to get work, and are a lot less likely to riot next summer.

This year’s Guardian Christmas Charity Appeal is, as editor Alan Rusbridger explains, to benefit charities who give young people the hopes and dreams Geraldine describes above, and Community Links is delighted to be one of the recipients. All day tomorrow (Saturday) Guardian journalists including Alan will be manning the donation line, so please do call. Full details are on the Guardian site.

Tackling youth unemployment

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Earlier this week Patrick Butler wrote an article in The Guardian about whether the Work Programme was helping tackle youth unemployment. Today the youth unemployment figures are out and to no great surprise they exceed 1 million, more than double the figure for the wider population and the highest since comparable records began back in ’92.

Patrick  illustrated that the problem didn’t lie with the supply chain in terms of having specialist provision there, but that it lies with a poor referral process from Jobcentre Plus to get young unemployed people onto the Work Programme, and in not having enough specialist providers. Sadly he delves no further into this point and concentrates on the contract design of the Work Programme.

There’s a lot Government needs to do to make a real dent in the youth unemployment figures that were published today. As a provider for the Work Programme with a strong track record of supporting young people we were one of the handful of organisations that met with the youth division team at the DWP yesterday – Patrick referred to it when he said primes are talking to ministers about how a situation it regards as complex and difficult” can be ameliorated’.

Youth unemployment is complex and difficult but it is by no means impossible to tackle. Better identification of NEETs (not in education, employment or training) and even those young people at risk of becoming NEET (potentially by developing better partnership working with local authorities and schools, youth clubs etc) and a quick referral onto a supportive programme will stop young people becoming lost in the system which decreases their chances of gaining employment.

The Minister for Employment referred to the Work Programme in his formal response to the employment figures, but with a scarcity of specialist providers delivering employment support programmes for young people through the Work Programme, supply chains will need to be  revised.

Patrick talks about the successful intervention the opposition party brought in when they were in power, the Future Jobs Fund (FJF) – guaranteeing a young person a job for 6 months at national minimum wage for 25 hours. Government funded these job opportunities, so effectively it was a job creation scheme. It was a very good idea, but it wasn’t perfect. There are many success stories – one of which Patrick refers to in his article, yet there was also a lot of dead weight that came from this programme. There were people accessing the FJF that really didn’t need it, they were very employable and would have been successful in gaining employment anyway. There were people who were originally volunteering who then got paid to do what they were already doing and did not wish to use FJF as a means to get back into work following the 6 months payment. The point being that any initiative to tackle youth unemployment needs to be targeted at those who actually need it. Every administration has a habit of designing very sophisticated programmes based on a type of  benefit – jobseekers allowance, incapacity benefit etc – rather than basing the interventions on a person’s needs and the barriers they face to getting into work. We outlined the importance of tailoring support to address need in our briefing paper (word) and shared this in the meeting yesterday.

Rather than introducing a job creation scheme for young people this government is focusing on apprenticeships to solve the issue. With concerns about having enough accessible places, employer’s ability to deliver apprenticeships and whether or not they will lead onto paid employment, BIS announced new apprenticeship friendly measures today – cutting much of the red tape for employers, introducing financial incentives etc. However if you look at the Jobcentre jobs section there are many apprenticeships as waiters and kitchen porters, paying £100 a week for who knows how many hours. Without any safeguards in place the apprenticeship schemes could become a means for exploitative employers. It’s not quite an apprenticeship but this article illustrates how mismatched some of the youth employment interventions are to the particular needs of young people, and ultimately what motivates/incentivises a young person the most is taking home some money at the end of the day! Young people are by no means a homogonous group and each person has their own needs and barriers, but to tackle unemployment all young people do need the opportunity of employment.

By Maeve McGoldrick