Through its participation in the Youth Power Fund, YMCA Crewe has been exploring ways to share power with young people. The team at Crewe have made a great deal of progress across several areas of their organisation. From building young people's belief in their own power to galvanising the board of Trustees to get behind the plan, the project has been transformative. Becky Parke, Head of Housing and Support Services, looks back on their first year of participation, describing their experiences, learnings and the lasting impact of the Youth Power Fund on their Foyer’s approach.
What motivated you to apply for YPF funding? Why do you feel it's important to share power with young people in your service?
We were originally motivated to apply for the Youth Power Fund because it fit with our organisation’s ethos. YMCA Crewe subscribes to Advantaged Thinking and Psychologically Informed Environments, both of which are approaches that place young people’s voices at the centre of delivery. We felt that this funding would enable us to further improve our services and increase the level of direct guidance we receive from the people using them, especially young people.
However, one of the most attractive elements of this funding was the outward-facing nature of the outcomes. Often, the funding we receive funds a specific project that only benefits those who attend, but this grant is different as it will impact our organisation, as well as giving young people the opportunity to impact their community and organisations further away.
Where did your youth power and leadership journey start for your service? Where has it grown to?
Prior to the Youth Power Fund starting, our youth leadership was between the ‘informing’ and ‘consultation’ stages on the Ladder of Participation. We ran quarterly resident surveys and had a Resident Reps group that came and went intermittently. However, we are now confidently in the ‘partnership’ stage of the Ladder, thanks to the Youth Power Fund.
Ladder of Participation
We have set up a Board Advisory Group, who hold meetings to discuss strategic points ahead of our Board Meetings, and young people are playing a more active role in our recruitment process. Indeed, a group of young people recently led on recruiting a new staff member for the Youth Power Fund project we are running. Four young people were actively involved in shortlisting, setting the interview questions, and running the interview itself.
What have been the biggest barriers or challenges to sharing power with young people in your service? How did you overcome this?
At the start of this grant, we anticipated that the idea of power-sharing with our Senior Leadership Team and Board of Trustees might meet resistance. To pre-empt this, we allocated a Board Champion to be involved throughout the process, which overcame this barrier before it had a chance to become one. However, there are one or two barriers we have had to overcome.
First, relationship building between young people and staff was difficult, as well as developing trust between young people. To overcome this, we employed a relatable individual into the post of the Youth Advocacy Worker, involving young people in the entire recruitment process.
Second, there has been a high level of enthusiasm from young people, but they have needed help generating ideas. The young people in our service often come with a low level of educational attainment, both formal and self-guided, and have adverse childhood experience. To overcome this, we have used a mentoring approach, ensuring individuals such as ex-residents or young volunteers who have more experience are also part of the group and we have also invested in training for young people to improve their confidence and communication skills etc.
Finally, one barrier that we are currently working to overcome is that there are not many opportunities to partner with organisations doing similar power-sharing work in our area. Whilst this is a good indication of the innovative nature of our work, it does limit our practice-sharing and opportunities for young people. We are hopeful that our final resources will help address this issue.
What support (e.g. resources, funding, relationships, training) has been useful to maximise your youth power / leadership work?
We have benefited from the Youth Power Cohort, which we have access to through this funding, as well as the Power Up Youth training provided by the Foyer Federation. Additionally, we booked the Loudspeaker training, which was possible because we had the additional resource to purchase high quality training through the Youth Power Fund.
What have you learnt about sharing power with young people since the start of your project?
The first year of our Youth Power Fund project has generated some valuable learning from us. There have been positive surprises, such as the ease with which we have recruited ex-residents to our Board Advisory Group and their willingness to give up their time to support our organisation, or the fast uptake of our new Power of Us group.
However, we have noted some points for development. It is more difficult than we anticipated to encourage young people to share their stories, and we underestimated how difficult this would be. Although we do not yet have the perfect solution to this, we have found that providing clear terms of reference about how a person’s story can and will be used is a helpful part of this process. Additionally, ensuring young people feel valued for sharing their experience and expertise is important. We have achieved this by paying them for their time, using vouchers, and providing them with ID badges to make their part in the project feel like any other role.
What has been the impact for young people, staff and/or the organisation as a whole?
The impact of this project has been widely positive. For some young people in our service, it has given them confidence to apply for jobs or other posts, eg as Youth Ambassadors for YMCA England & Wales, travelling to other parts of the country. Others have begun taking initiative and ownership over their place in our organisation, eg encouraging other residents to show their rooms as part of an interview (but to tidy them first!). However, the greatest impact has been showing young people that their contribution can make a tangible difference and that their voices are heard. This has improved their confidence and generated a sense of community and unity amongst them unlike other projects we have run.
What advice would you give another service starting out on their youth power journey?
As an organisation, it has highlighted to us that it is possible to hand some of our decision-making over to young people, particularly in recruiting to jobs that will directly affect them. It has improved our data-led decision-making, but also shown us that there is still a lot of room for improvement in what we are doing. However, with what we have seen from the Youth Power Fund project so far, we now know that those improvements are possible.
Head of Housing and Support Services