Youth workers supporting young people to lead change in their communities

23 November 2020

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According to the National Youth Agency guide to youth work and youth services (2014), there may be over 500,000+ youth workers and volunteers working and supporting young people across the UK, with this number increasing yearly. Now more than ever before, the valuable contributions of youth workers in the journey of young people are evident and even more needed in our society. So, for this #iwillweek, we want to spotlight the tremendous work and support provided by youth workers to the young women and girls on the EmpowHER programme. We also want to highlight how the support from youth workers has challenged and helped the young women and girls to lead change in their local communities through youth-led social action, even amidst the global pandemic.

At UK Youth, we know that youth work enables young people to develop holistically in their personal, social, emotional, mental and educational capabilities as they mature over time. We understand the important roles that youth workers play in building self-esteem and self-confidence in young people as well creating positive learning and social experiences for skills development and inspiring social commitment and cohesion as they grow older. Considering the Covid-19 pandemic, youth workers have stayed positive and become even more agile and creative with their approach to youth work, to ensure that young peoples’ needs are still being met through various online methods. This was evident on the EmpowHER programme as we saw a majority of Cohort Three delivered and adapted to online.

EmpowHER was created to address the worrying low levels of wellbeing amongst young women and girls in the UK whilst using social learning and social action as tools to help them build self-confidence and lead change in their communities. The programme is delivered by UK Youth in partnership with the British Red Cross and the Young Women’s Trust and is funded by Spirit of 2012 and the #iwill Fund. The National Lottery Community Fund and the Department of Culture, Media & Sport have each invested £25 million seed funding to create the #iwill Fund to support young people to access high quality social action opportunities. The success of EmpowHER would not be without the tremendous work and commitment from youth workers, especially following the national lockdown measures put in place in the UK. EmpowHER youth workers have given extra time and resources in planning great online sessions and materials for young people to ensure that the young women and girls had great learning and social action experiences through online programme delivery. This included but was not limited to creating wellbeing packs for the young women and girls delivered to their homes, sharing resources to help young people to stay informed about the pandemic, creating interactive sessions with the young people for online programme delivery, conducting 1-2-1 sessions to check in on the young women and girls wellbeing, and helping the young women and girls acquire digital support and devices through funding and resources available.

Through the continued support of youth workers on EmpowHER, many young women and girls have taken part in meaningful social action projects within their communities. These youth-led social action projects not only gave them a stronger sense of belonging in their communities (National Youth Social Action Survey 2019), but also allowed the young women and girls to show their communities that “young people really care” (Salvation Army staff member, Preston). For example, EmpowHER groups in Cornwall came together to support their peers in foster homes by creating ‘Happy Packages’ to encourage young people to look after their mental health and wellbeing. These groups received positive feedback from their communities with one council member saying, Wow! This is just incredible that at a time like this young people are leading by example.” One of the young people who received a ‘Happy Package’ expressed how supported they felt and said, “It really makes you feel good knowing that we’re not forgotten about” (Young person, Cornwall). Additionally, the young women and girls realise their inherent capabilities and continue to grow and learn new life skills and lessons about themselves and others as they participate in youth-led social action. According to a young person who completed the EmpowHER programme,

My most significant change has been my confidence, it has grown so much that I can even do things like public speaking which has helped my self-esteem and helped me to believe in myself.” (Young person, Young People Cornwall).

During EmpowHER Cohort Three (2020), results show that 91% of respondents agreed that EmpowHER had made them feel less alone during the pandemic, thus further highlighting the benefit of youth-led social action and the support provided by youth workers on the programme.

Overall, it is evident that by having committed and supportive adults, youth workers in this case, is vital to not only meeting the needs of young people but also in supporting them to take on social action challenges to create impactful change in their communities. Youth-led social action contributes to the development of young people and communities in numerous ways and with the support of their of youth worker, young people become empowered, use their voices and become confident to lead change, making their own impact on society for the greater good. Findings from EmpowHER Cohort Three (2020) shows that, 46% of participants reported they would take part in subsequent social action within the next 12 months, further highlighting the double benefit of youth-led social action on both young people and their communities. In celebrating #iwillweek, with the theme of Lead, Challenge, Learn, we want you to CHALLENGE yourself and others around you to help empower more young people to get involved in social action today.

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