On July 4th, I was given the unique opportunity to attend UK Youth’s Strategy and Innovation meeting. Representatives from dozens of youth organisations came together for a day of collaboration and innovation with the goal of strengthening their impact on the lives of young people across the UK. This was one of the first meetings with all the organisations since UK Youth launched its Movement of people and organisations coming together to stand with young people and campaign for them to have access to high-quality services in every community, regardless of their background or circumstances. It was hard not to feel energised by a room full of Innovators who are passionate about providing the best opportunities for young people.
The day started with a presentation from the University of Birmingham’s Angela Paine, who has spent years researching public attitudes towards the voluntary sector, with an emphasis on the 1940s and 2010s. What fascinated me most about her research was the fact that though the volunteer sector has always worked to fill gaps in government services, the public perception of this work continually changes. For example, in the 40s, many people felt that charities were part of a collective effort to take care of the community. This perception shifted in the 2010s to a much more individualistic approach. Instead of feeling a call to help others, the public began to associate charity with handouts. As we discussed this paradigm shift in small groups, we found that UK Youth is in a unique space when it comes to the volunteer sector. It is a charity, but one that centres on putting the power back into young people’s hands, thus allowing them to find responsibility and success in all areas of their lives.
While the role of nonprofits as gap-fillers remains the same, it seems the voluntary sector and the government are still trying to find how to work together in a symbiotic way. I could tell that all the organisations at the meeting felt almost an urgency in trying to mend this gap. With the significant funding cuts over the last decade, the youth sector is eager to be back on the main agenda of government. Paul Schofield, Head of Policy DCMS, spoke to us about these gaps and what the government is currently trying to do to mend them. It was a fascinating dialogue between Paul and the rest of the leaders in the Youth Movement – I have never been part of important discussions like these that have the potential to accelerate a cause as important as youth work.
The dialogue continued with John Hubbard, Department of Education, regarding the importance of character development being delivered in the classroom. Of the youth organisations in attendance, everyone agreed that character development should be just as important as academic achievement. While many youth organisations already work to develop young people’s emotional and social capabilities or ‘character’ including confidence and resilience, it seems the government is still trying to find a way for schools to do so in a unified, coherent way. From the discussion there was some amazing opinions and feedback, ranging from partnerships between the youth sector and schools to thoughtful reflection on how one’s character is developed. I’m not sure if character development is on the agenda in the education system in the US, so I am very eager to see how this new priority will play out in the UKs education system.
Overall, the day was extremely empowering and thought provoking. To learn from so many experts in the youth sector was a special experience, and I truly felt their passion radiate from them. The issues affecting charities in the UK are different than in the US, so I learnt a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of the sector. I walked away from the meeting feeling empowered by the work of UK Youth and eager to see how the new Movement grows in the future.
This blog was written by Sophia Brinkley, a university student from Texas who is currently undertaking a work experience placement at UK Youth with the Engagement and Advocacy Team.