Power of Youth: Everybody benefits when we empower young people
Helen Whyman, Head of #iwill Fund
Inclusion, empowerment, making a difference: these are just some of what youth social action means to our recently formed #iwill Fund Advisory Panel.
Since 2016 the #iwill Fund has proudly worked alongside young people to make social action part of life for as many 10 to 20-year-olds across England as possible. The #iwill Fund is a collaboration of over 25 Funders working together with The National Lottery Community Fund and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to enable more young people to take part in high quality social action that builds a habit for life.
So what is youth social action? It refers to activities that young people do to make a positive difference to others or the environment. These could include volunteering, fundraising, campaigning or supporting peers. From our work with young people, we know they feel being given the opportunity to take small positive actions can make a big difference to their confidence and can lead to fantastic action in their communities, whether in their local neighbourhood, town or global community.
During the Power of Youth Festival we wanted to share some of what the #iwill Fund has achieved working alongside young people. At The National Lottery Community Fund we believe when people are in the lead great things happen, and this is true whatever age you are! The #iwill Fund is focused on supporting young people to take social action, which benefits themselves and their communities, whilst also creating a collaborative learning environment amongst funders and delivery partners to embed youth social action.
Through the different programmes within the #iwill Fund we have supported over 400,000 young people to undertake youth social action since 2016, with the aim being to reach 580,000 young people in total. This is youth-led and allows young people to identify changes they want to make in their community and empowers them to do so.
Ensuring young people are at the heart of our decision making on youth social action means that we are asking the right questions and being correctly challenged to ensure our funding is for all. That’s why, here at The National Lottery Community Fund, we are working to ensure decisions being made about young people all involve young people. As a result, the Advisory Panel - which provides strategic vision to the #iwill Fund - is made up of 16 members, half young people and half funder-led. The young people come from the funders’ advisory panels with experience in social action.
Young people have been doing amazing things within the #iwill Fund well before the COVID-19 pandemic and we have seen this continue throughout this very tough time. A few examples are: Creating care packages for those in need, writing letters to elderly people in care homes, volunteering at local food shelters, helping to shop and deliver food for the elderly and vulnerable community, creating kindness trails in local parks and creating wellbeing and kindness messages in creative ways across social media.
The great thing about taking action in your community, is that it is mutually beneficial, and through doing so young people can see for themselves the difference they can make. One young person on a programme involved in letters to care homes project (funded by Clarion Futures & the #iwill Fund) said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”
Participants on EmpowerHER (funded by Spirit of 2012 & the #iwill Fund) noted “Social action gives me something to do at the same time as helping others.” A young woman said “I don’t feel confident in myself, but I feel more confident in the fact that I know I can make a difference if I set my mind to it, for example I didn’t know how easy it was to sign petitions, and how much of a big impact it had on a cause.”
Sharing lessons and working together
Within the #iwill Fund we believe that our strength comes in working and learning together. By sharing lessons about how we are working with young people and by embedding, listening and learning we are finding out more about what youth social action can look like, and how this may vary from community to community.
The #iwill Fund Learning Hub pulls together the learning from our different programmes to collate and share across funders and delivery organisations. Organisations are seeing the benefits of embedding youth social action opportunities and how this in turn can improve their organisation.
‘Benefits to staff often become more obvious over time – as volunteers take designated roles off their hands. One Trust explained to me that when young people spend 1:1 time with patients, this usually improves a patient’s mood – and then it’s easier for staff to give medical care. Embedding youth volunteering has been very gradual in some Trusts…demonstrating one ward at a time how young people are making a difference.’ Annie Caffyn, Researcher at IVAR (working with NHS Trusts funded by the Pears Foundation & the #iwill Fund)
‘This initiative has turned the normal ways of working with young people on their head – we’ve created the conditions which allow young people to lead and do as much as they want within the right framework… Young people have led on tree-planting, film making, and designing way markers as well as getting involved in on-site activities such as yoga and bush-craft…we’ve created the parameters for young people to have the ideas about what should happen within the Forest, and [they] put them into action.’ Jules Acton, Ambassador at The Woodland Trust (funded by the Pears Foundation & the #iwill Fund)
When young people are given the opportunity to identify and make change in their communities, we see amazing things happen. If you are a young person or work with young people, please do visit the Power Of Youth Festival to see the events and sign up to the charter if you can.
Together we can make sure young people can lead the way to positive change in our communities.