21 February 2023
By Finn Grant – Assistant Director of Collective Action
Last Thursday I had one of the most inspiring days I have had at UK Youth – and there have been a few! I joined the UK’s biggest ever Hope Collective ‘Hope Hack’ at the inspiring setting of Olympic Stadium attended by hundreds of young people from across the capital.
UK Youth is a strategic partner of the Hope Collective, a progressive partnership of leading organisations from across sectors with a shared vision to work together in unity to create real change for young people and communities across the UK. The Collective runs ‘Hope Hacks’ all over the country to enable young people to come together with decision makers, have their voice heard and design solutions to the most important challenges they face.
The London Hack was organised by the London Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) and the National Citizens Service (NCS) and the day was kicked off by some of the young people involved in the VRU’s Young People’s Action Group. They talked about the power of the Hope Hacks and the youth-led work of the VRUs and their tangible achievements to date including changing police behaviour, building links with businesses to create employability opportunities and elevating young people’s voices. Then a young person called Henry from My Ends Programme took to the stage, bringing the local area to life through a rap about his neighbourhood. He was followed by Joe Lyons CEO of the West Ham Foundation, based now at the London Stadium speaking with real care about the local community and their work.
The first session of the day was a brilliant youth led Q and A session with Sadiq Khan and West Ham footballer and ambassador Calton Cole facilitated expertly by Reannah Britto and Jade Barnett about raising young people’s voices, aspirations and impact across the city. Calton Cole coaches the West Ham under 16s and sees the realities of what they are going through. He was calling on everyone with a platform to use it to help others. ‘What you show to the world influences everyone else’ and went on to challenge the room of hundreds of young people. ‘Today has to be about having uncomfortable conversations – as they leave us room to grow. Don’t just turn up today – take part’
Sadiq Khan spoke passionately about how integral young people’s voices are in all youth initiatives and spending in the capital, calling Young Persons’ Action Group ‘the brain’s trust’ and confirming that they are involved in shaping the spending on young people in the city. He also called on everyone to make the most of the day. ‘This hack is the biggest ever in this country – all the right people are here… let’s get all the ideas, solutions, links, networks coming through – but most of all enjoy the day’
Reannah Britto from the London VRU’s Young Peoples’ Action Group who was facilitating the Q & A reflected: ‘We have been through a lot – still getting over the hill of Covid, cost of living, war, now school closures… It’s easy to feel an essence of desensitisation – feeling that nothing will come of anything. But that’s why we need to have a city that is reflective of us – with young peoples voices heard, ideas taking off, everyone working together, see the funding come though, seeing days like today and what comes from it’.
I spoke to her afterwards and she said ‘what we are going through is unprecedented and we need the voices of young people in the spaces where decisions are being made more than ever. But my message for young people is to remain hopeful, be optimistic and be persistent because if we keep applying the pressure the change will happen…’
I met siblings Evan, Iris and Gracie – all #iwill ambassadors – who were thrilled to be part of the day. Gracie said of #iwill ‘the power of #iwill is knowing you have all this support behind you in all that you do. It’s a feeling – the connection, the community. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever been involved in.’
It was then time to break out into workshops with 10 different workshops facilitated by the VRU, NCS and partners. Each workshop focused on a different key issue for young people spanning community, cost of living, mental health, relationships, online safety, going missing, housing, racism, work and criminal justice. Many of the workshops were being held in the inspiring settings of the private boxes surrounding the stadium itself and the groups spent the morning understanding the issues before starting to come up with solutions.
At lunch I spoke to Richard from Fight for Peace who are part funded by the VRU and engage young people through their boxing and martial arts academy. He had been facilitating the session on young people and their communities was blown away by the quality of the discussions from the young people. ‘The conversations we had were extremely, extremely powerful. Now after lunch we are going to work out how we want to present our case back to everyone else’.
‘Today’s been brilliant – really really brilliant. There are lots of events where you look at the issues but here you are understanding the issues, but then focusing on the solutions, working together to kick them about and develop them. And then you get to present them to a huge room of all the right people – who can either do something about it or will know someone who can. It’s amazing.’
While the workshops were taking place there was lots of filming in the main room with young people being interviewed and interviewing each other. I saw inspiring 12 year old Jeriah Kibusi from Sky Kids interviewing other young people about what young people need in London. Jeriah’s mum Tanya was watching and said: ‘I’ve never been to an event like this – I wish there were events like this when I was growing up!’
After lunch the hack was re-energised by another member of the Young Peoples’ Action Group, South London rapper MYA who gave an amazing performance to huge cheers from across the room. It was then time for the morning groups to reconvene to work up their solutions and how they wanted to present them at the end of the hack.
Anisa, one of Youth Advisory Board members of LMK that help young people to forge healthy relationships, put it profoundly when she said ‘everyone talks about being a voice for young people. Young people have voices already – but we want to be their microphone!’ Certainly the Hope Collective is doing just that.
The groups spent the next hour drilling down on the solutions they wanted focus on and how they were going to bring them to life for the rest of the attendees. There was lots of debating initiatives, drafting slogans, scribbling on flip charts, choreographing – and laughter. And then urgently assigning roles as the clock counted down to presentation time.
Just before 3pm all the groups were ushered back into the main room for the final presentation session and as the room was buzzing as it filled up with all the groups and their newly formed solutions to the biggest issues they collectively face.
As the first group took to the stage to discuss Cost of living impact on young people the very first recommendation of the day was: Invest in youth clubs.
Presentations ranged from spoken word, to dance, to role play, to call and response with the audience, to manifestos and more. There was such creativity in both the solutions proposed and the format that they were presented, with huge cheers around the room at the end of each presentation.
And whatever the topic – employment, online safety, mental health or any of the other issues the groups were tackling – investment in youth services and clubs and outdoor activities came up time and time again.
As one of the speakers said to a round of applause ‘No one is going to make a change – not government, business, no one – unless we get out there and shout loud and demand for the changes we know we need and where funding should be spent to fix our problems. That’s why we need days like today’.
Another young speaker passionately reflected to the room ‘I am so inspired today. You all inspire me. You are creating change today for young people and for all. It starts today at London Hope Hack. So give yourself a pat on the pack and a round of applause!’ There was no need to tell the room twice.
This amazing event concluded with countless more powerful, informed recommendations for change to be included in the upcoming Hope Collective Reimagined Manifesto for building a fairer society for all. And the Hope Collective team were already turning their sights to the next Hope Hack next week being hosted in a secure young people’s estate in Stoke on Trent. The progressive youth led alliance of Hope Collective continues to gather momentum and bring young people together with decisions makers to understand the issues, craft the solutions and help shape a fairer society for all – a society designed by young people, for all of us.
Find out more about the Hope Collective and how your organisation and young people can get involved on the Hope Collective website.
You can see another #iwill Ambassador Jonas who’s also on the VRU’s Young People’s Action Group and opened the day talking about it on BBC News here.