YMCA Milton Keynes has been participating in the Youth Power Fund – exploring ways to share power with young people using their Spark funding of £5,000 for one year. Kat Newman, Director of Youth & Community at YMCA Milton Keynes, reflects on their experience, sharing valuable lessons, insights and the lasting impact the Youth Power Fund has had on their Foyer’s work.
What motivated you to apply for YPF funding? Why do you feel it's important to share power with young people in your service?
At YMCA Milton Keynes, young people are already at the heart of everything we do but we wanted to tangibly give young people more power and decision-making ability across the organisation. One of our young people suggested the creation of a YMCA Milton Keynes digital app, and we saw an opportunity to co-produce it with our residents and applied for YPF funding to make the idea a reality.
Where did your youth power and leadership journey start for your service? Where has it grown to?
Young people had been regularly consulted and engaged with across our service, but we were struggling to meaningfully co-create or co-produce as staff were used to creating the ideas or original concepts without young people present. Through the co-production of the YMCA Milton Keynes digital app, made possible with YPF funding, we saw residents and staff gain respect and appreciation for the other and the unique strengths, perspectives, and expertise each group brought to the table. For instance, young people asked if the app could be made available to young people in any language which was an inspired idea to maximise inclusion that staff hadn’t come to alone.
What have been the biggest barriers or challenges to sharing power with young people in your service? How did you overcome this?
Like most workplaces, our staff team are used to leading on and having decision-making authority over their work areas so we had to really challenge the normal inbuilt structure and way of doing things. For example, we flipped the typical project style which was for staff to proceed with a project and consult or engage with young people in certain places along the way. We supported a group of young people to interview, select and work with the app developer directly on their own and staff were then given the opportunity to input at relevant points. This challenged everyone’s thinking and was a big change, and there was some understandable resistance at times, but both staff and residents learned a lot in the process and it allowed us to rethink how we deliver projects and work with young people in lots of different areas – it has really changed our culture for the better.
What support (e.g. resources, funding, relationships, training) has been useful to maximise your youth power / leadership work?
The Foyer Federation was invaluable throughout this process as their funding allowed us to pay young people to participate in the project as well as covering our other project costs such as staff time. The Foyer Federation also provided regular feedback from their staff team and young people themselves and provided us with a safe space to reflect and positively challenge where necessary along our co-production journey.
What have you learnt about sharing power with young people since the start of your project?
We have learned that it is 100% possible to share power with young people, and by going through this process, our staff team now see further opportunities to share power with young people everywhere! We originally had a small core of staff who were passionate about enhancing youth participation and youth led activities at YMCA Milton Keynes, but this passion has now spread across the wider team. We still have some way to go, but it’s been a joy to observe from beginning to end and I’d highly recommend other youth and community organisations giving co-production with young people a go.
What has been the impact for young people, staff and/or the organisation as a whole?
Due to the success of this project and the progress we’ve made, our organisation now has a new Youth & Community directorate which ensures youth participation. Youth-led activity is given strategic weight and importance alongside other areas such as housing at our Foyer, and we are currently creating a new youth-led strategic goal – co-created with our young people – to this aim.
What advice would you give another service starting out on their youth power journey?
It’s okay to not know and make mistakes – we weren’t sure what co-production would look like in our organisation on a practical level but we had a go and figured it out. I would say focus on progress rather than perfection; it’s okay if you don’t achieve your aims overnight as long as you’re consistently moving in the direction of giving young people more power overall.
Expect setbacks and disagreements, conflict can be meaningful and healthy when done right.
Finally, ask young people – they will tell you if it sounds boring or if they don’t want to do it – and then make sure to really actively listen! Some of our best work has come from young people telling us that we’ve got something wrong, and then us having the humility and curiosity to ask them to work with us to make it better.
Kat Newman, Director of Youth & Community, YMCA Milton Keynes