With my thoughts slightly jumbled, my hands trembling and a steel heart of intention, I clicked the ‘join meeting’ button. It was the first Conversation of the month leading up to the Room For Young People (R4YP) awards. While I was excited to see what people had to say, my anxiety always liked to try and get the best of me – ‘try’ being the operative word.
In this blog, I want to give you an overview of what the Conversations Series was all about and give you a short snapshot of the awards and how invigorating they were for young people. Read on to find out all about our key speakers, the team that put the series together, the take away from the series, and the addition of my own two pence of what I thought of this amazing month of discussion.
WHAT WAS THE R4YP CONVERSATIONS SERIES?
Have you ever been asked to share your views on a subject that affects you, but been frustrated at not being heard? Most of the young people we talked to for the Conversations Series had had this experience. Instead of those important views and opinions being lost in the wind, we wanted to create a platform for discussion in a safe space. Where everyone would take something positive away, with a more open-minded vision for young people in their sights.
The Series was led by young people, including me – an Ambassador for the Foyer Federation. We held one online session each week in October in the run-up to the R4YP Awards.
The topics we chose were inspired by the young people who were nominated for R4YP Awards this year. They were:
- Let’s Talk About Mental Health
- Youth Leadership and Social Action
- Entering The World Of Work
- Understanding Youth Homelessness
These were the subjects that resonated with most winners and with the Conversations Series team. Personally, I have very strong opinions on all four of these topics, having experience in all of them. Often, the best way to get people to listen to young people about these topics is to get them talking about their own views on the subject. It creates for a very interesting, important discussion, as we later came to find out.
One vital part of the conversation series was the team behind it. I’d like to introduce you to them here:
“The conversations that were had really broadened my awareness of different topics young people are interested in and I was inspired by their passion.”
“The October Conversation series held by R4YP was a mind-opening and enlightening set of discussions which ramped up the anticipation to meet like minded people at the awards dinner. The conversations were a cauldron of engaging and challenging thoughts and all attendees brought a fresh perspective and challenged one another to expand the way they viewed the topics and themes of the session.”
“The conversation series really opened my eyes to so many diverse opinions. It was an honour to be a part of, and I really hope this is the start of more important discussions going forward for young people.”
We were tasked to co-create a platform that would get people talking in a safe space. We created the slide show content, questions and activities, all to help people feel comfortable opening up about their thoughts and feelings. It was nerve-wracking for me, as I’m sure it was for Jessica and Uche! However, the nerves were worth it.
HOW IT WENT
In one word, I’d describe the Conversations Series as empowering. Every conversation was interesting, diverse in opinion, and educational. From a presenter, creator, speaker and attendee, I can safely say that everyone walked away with a new way of looking at each subject.
Let’s Talk About Mental Health
This topic included discussions on anxiety and depression among young people, the stigma young people face when diagnosed with a mental illness, and the mental health system in this country.
“People don’t realise that everyone has mental health. Everyone is on the spectrum of having mental health. Whether that be good, bad or just okay. Much like physical health, it's so important to look after.” – Molly May, Youth Consultant and Foyer Federation Ambassador.
Youth Leadership and Social Action
With a focus on young people’s stories of social action, leadership and change, we had some brilliant discussions and takeaways. One story was that of Jonas, a young person from Lewisham, who led his own social action project throughout the country on social media with the ‘Health is Wealth’ campaign. Stories like Jonas’ make you realise how much young people can accomplish with the right support from charities and housing associations.
“I thoroughly enjoyed attending and supporting by facilitating these sessions and can’t wait for another opportunity to continue the conversation.” – Uche, Clarion Apprentice.
Entering the World of Work
This Conversation posed thought-provoking questions on topics like education, work experience and employment. Discussion points included the Universal Credit system, the different avenues young people are faced with when exiting education, and the challenging point of view of thinking you need a degree to get a high-level job.
“This conversation highlighted to me that the world of work is so tough for young people to navigate. Young people should be getting more credit for their achievements.” – Jessica, Clarion Apprentice
Understanding Youth Homelessness
This Conversation covered national statistics on youth homelessness, as well as the work of organisations like Foyers and the experiences of young people who have been made homeless. A Foyer resident named Josh allowed us to share his story, which was one of the most powerful moments in the Series.
“It was really hard. I started off sofa surfing for two years until I found the Foyer. It was amazing to be able to wake up in the same bed every morning.” – Josh, Foyer Resident.
I think the main takeaway from this month-long series is the importance of discussion and communication in our everyday lives. The topics we discussed have such an influence on young people in the modern day and need to be talked about – and young people need to be heard. If not, there will never be a change in our communities.
The Conversations Series was a small example of what discussion can do to help others learn and re-evaluate their thinking. Something that is so important in a world that is battling issues such as racism, prejudice and small-minded thinking.
However, I’d like to think that these small examples are slowly morphing into a revolution of change. Because without these small examples, we wouldn’t be able to offer young people opportunities to lend their voices to bigger changes that we are seeing creeping into our society. For example, the power young people have over the climate crisis today.
You may say my thinking is far-fetched. But I very much believe that we are creating the building blocks for change for young people in a society that is crying out for their voices to be heard.