With support from Blagrave Trust, The Youth Power Fund was established in March 2022 to fund new thinking and innovation that embeds sustainable youth leadership and shifts the balance of power in favour of young people who live in youth-supported housing. We funded six proposals for youth-led approaches that planned to challenge existing power structures, lead to long-term, sustainable, systemic change, and act as a catalyst for young people to lead in the local community and beyond.

Now that Foyers are at the end of their second year of funding we asked them what they’ve learned about sustaining youth leadership projects and what’s their advice for others.

Start with the individual’s power  

The thinking behind the fund's criteria was that building personal power was the first step to growing local and national leadership. This is now bearing fruit. Young people being supported to develop their leadership skills and confidence, then exploring it within their Foyer community, has inevitably led to young leaders looking outwards and demanding change more widely. In turn, this is changing the culture of the Foyers. Whether that’s young people more proactively engaging in learning options, becoming equal partners in delivering the service or demanding a seat at the table in strategic decision-making. Young leaders are no longer coming to staff merely with problems, but with solutions and the drive to make change happen. 

Starting with young people’s power in their own lives, their leadership skills and confidence have been vital for this sustained success. 

Maintaining engagement 

As Foyers reach their two-year mark, many have been grappling with their committed young leaders moving on from the service. Staff have had to start afresh in building relationships, understanding new members' needs, and integrating them into the project community. For some, allowing young leaders to continue their involvement after moving on has proven a positive way to foster continuity, including through formal employment. 

For all projects, interrogating what enables young leaders’ engagement has been really important, whether this is additional support for their mental health and well-being or a consistent youth-led payment policy for involvement. By really listening and responding to what young people need and want to get out of the project, all have seen higher levels of engagement. 

Projects have needed an ongoing commitment to foster new relationships with young people to counteract the natural ‘churn’ of participants. This ongoing recruitment takes time and resources, sometimes meaning that project aims stall as the group reestablishes. When planning a youth leadership project this should always be factored into planning timeframes and budgets. We have seen that by investing ongoing time in building trusting relationships and using creative youth-led approaches to attract new members, projects can not only maintain but revitalise engagement. 

Importance of flexibility and learning by doing 

Using a flexible approach, to allow ‘learning by doing’ creates the greatest success in delivering a truly youth-led project. This has fostered the space to adapt and flex to the unique needs and circumstances of the Foyer community and individuals within it. The only way to be meaningfully youth-led is to be adaptable where young people’s voices are followed. Allowing the group to learn through their experience of the project rather than professionals setting all expectations at the beginning, has meant that young leaders have the freedom to explore, create and learn. Our Foyers’ advice to others is to have the flexibility to look for what excites your young people and harness that energy to drive your initiatives forward. 

Benefits of connecting with others

Lastly, all projects saw the benefits of not working in isolation, whether this is partnering with outside organisations to inspire their young leaders in social action or leadership skills or through connection with other organisations working on youth power and leadership. Networking, and sharing best practices as well as challenges, have continued to keep staff and young leaders motivated and inspired. Look outside of your immediate surroundings, what are others doing in your sector or region? Are there other projects you could get advice from or be inspired by? 

Want to empower young people in your service? We can help! 

Our Powering Up Youth Training provides a dedicated space for your team to reflect on your current practices as well as gain inspiration from the wider sector. We've also compiled useful resources to help jumpstart your youth leadership journey – check out our Top Five Tips, plus get inspired by real-life experiences from young leaders like Tori-Jade and Yazmin.

The Foyer Federation is registered in England and Wales under company number 2699839 at Work.Life, Core Building, 30 Brown Street, Manchester, M2 1DH. The charity is registered under charity number 1040482.
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