Supporting young people to work with and for their communities beyond the pandemic. Page Nyame-Satterthwaite (27) reflects on her recent visit to Parliament discussing the youth-led Civic Journey programme.

On a busy Wednesday in early November, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was getting ready for Prime Minister’s Question against Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition. Our board was also in Westminster, preparing for an important political debate of our own.

Why? Because we – a group of 16- to 30-year-olds advising on the Civic Journey programme of research and youth social action, have questions for parliament too. Questions about government support for children and young people. Questions about intergenerational engagement for people in the UK. But most importantly, because the board was in Westminster, a call to move from questions about how young people engage in their communities, to actions supporting them to do so.

This Civic Journey project started last year. It is led by and for young people, delivered with the Institute for Community Studies to supports research and engagement in social action, community activism and entrepreneurism across the UK. We are all on a journey of some type within our communities offline and online, but evidence gathered by the Institute suggests that many young people lack the necessary support to engage in the world around them. And that’s why, in November, I spoke in a parliamentary roundtable with members of the House of Lords, MPs, and other key stakeholders involved in children and young people’s engagement, including representatives from the National Citizenship Service.

To begin the session, Lord David Blunkett described his work pioneering citizenship education in schools, and Richard Harries, Director of the Institute for Community Studies, reflected on youth volunteering since the Russell Commission in 2005. We then focused on the present and future, reflecting on government policy to support young people’s engagement with the National Youth Guarantee. This was announced in February 2022, pledging £560m of funding to give every young person in England access to regular out-of-school activities, adventures away from home, and opportunities to volunteer by 2025. We’re seen economic and political turbulence since then, but our board remains focussed, and so we wanted to ask, what’s happening in parliament? How can we inform decision-making? And what will be done with this £560m?

Rebecca (24) described the opportunities and challenges of engagement she has experienced in London and in the north of England, when she went to university. Ashleigh (31) discussed the distinct challenges in Northern Ireland, and Lloyd (18) raised the transport difficulties in Wales that impacted upon their engagement with local services. The key lessons were that, while there are huge regional differences for young people around UK, everyone’s civic journey matters – and because it matters, this work requires resource. It matters for the individual and also for our communities.

Given the timing of our session after the mini-budget and before the Winter Statement, financial support was a focus of discussion, but we also highlighted the importance of creativity.

Through my involvement in this work, I’ve been struck by the importance that many young people place on helping others, not just to build their CVs and develop skills (though this is a benefit), but because they want to do so. Young people helping in their communities was a notable but under-recognised feature of volunteering in the pandemic, from delivering groceries to helping in vaccination centres. While digital skills are for all, there is also a particular optimism about the digital tools that young people have always known, which may support engagement with online and offline communities.

I left the discussions with a strong sense of why it’s important for young people to be at the heart of designing and delivering this programme, alongside others of all ages, with a range of experiences.

The civic journey is not only about young people – but the conversation is greatly enriched by bringing young people’s experiences and ambitions for the future into the room.

My hope is that this optimism continues. I hope we see policy for continued support of volunteering in our communities, which was fostered out of necessity in the pandemic. I hope that every young person in the UK feels supported to engage in a fulfilling civic journey – and that people of all ages, locations and circumstances experience the benefits.

Our policy symposium, Young people and the civic journey, is at Conway Hall in Holborn, London, on 7 December 2022. Contact for more information or to express your interest to attend. 

Institute for Community Studies Posted on: 5 December 2022


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