Sandra Vacciana from Partnership for Young London writes about the findings of 25%, a joint youth consultation initiative created to gather the voices, experiences and input of young people in London to drive the development of youth policy.

25% was a joint youth consultation initiative led by Partnership for Young London(PYL), the British Youth Council and London Youth, in collaboration with a range of partners including housing associations, local authorities, youth councils and specialist youth agencies.

It aimed to build on existing dialogue with young Londoners and ensure their varied experiences and knowledge continued to steer the development of the policies that affect their lives.

Training sessions

The work started in June 2016, when a group of enthusiastic young people arrived at London Youth’s headquarters and formed the 25% Youth Board – tasked with developing and delivering a programme of activities to enable Londoners aged 11 to 25 to share their thoughts and feelings on life in the Capital. 

Over the next seven weeks, the Board’s members attended sessions to sharpen their skills in a range of different areas. This included leadership, group facilitation, public speaking and research. They also embraced the opportunity to share their motivation for being engaged in shaping social change. 

Most were members of pre-existing youth boards and had previous experience of campaigning on human rights’ issues. For example, Vanessa became a young cabinet member for health and social care in Redbridge to work for better mental and physical health provision for young people. Emmanuel was a motivational speaker. Adam was engaging with young people through sport and James had been part of a team of young people who ran the UK Youth Parliament’s ‘Make Your Mark’ consultation. 

The Youth Board's commitment to civic activism was grounded in reality as well as hope. Everyone recognised that achieving significant shifts in policy was a complex process. They also acknowledged the challenge of instilling a sense of belief in the idea that young people can influence change, amongst those who felt jaded by youth consultation exercises. However, their strong sense of optimism and commitment outweighed any potential obstacles to getting the message out to their peers that their views mattered.

By the end of the training period, the 25% Board had a framework for delivering focus groups, an online survey and Selfie Pledges anchored around three key questions: What opportunities are available to young people in London? What challenges do young Londoners face? And what might some of the solutions to those challenges be?

A focus group being facilitated by Matteo, Daniel and Fred.

A call for change

What the 25% Board found amongst their peers in London was an appetite for civic engagement. Just over 500 young people took part in this consultation and they want to see change! The majority of respondents were proud to identify themselves, first and foremost, as Londoners (38%). And the top three things that young people enjoy about living in London are the diverse communities who live in the city, the transport system and the educational opportunities. 

For example, respondents said 'I love London's diverse cultures, entertainment and facilities' and 'free and cheap transport means that we can get around, access other parts of the city and explore'

Respondents also shared their appreciation of the specialist resources available to help marginalised groups meet and gain support; access to apprenticeship-employment; and the infinite number of chances for networking. 

Some of the most life affirming moments were shared during the focus groups, where members of the Youth Board could use their own wisdom and experience to support their peers. 

In a session led by Bridget and Ishrat, one group member commented that not everyone gets the same chances in life. Bridget nodded in agreement at the sentiment of the person speaking, then replied ‘…make a success of your own experience’. Her sound advice provided the space for everyone in the room to pause for a few moments to recognise the importance of their own self-agency as part of the process to becoming empowered.

Opportunities and challenges

Conversely, the examples cited by some as opportunities were seen as challenges by others. It was felt there was a growing sense of fear about travelling on public transport due to safety. And violence was cited as one of the most significant challenges for young people generally; with gang-related violence being of greatest concern. 

Whilst there was support for the point about opportunities for networking, it was argued that it varied across boroughs and was dependent on the good practice of individual organisations rather than efficient systems for collective data- sharing across all service providers.  

Although the diversity of London was considered one of its virtues, young people stated another key challenge they encountered was discrimination in terms of race, gender, disability, age, religion and class. Another sobering point reinforced through this research was that the experiences of young people from more marginalised communities remain under-reported within these debates: namely those with disabilities; young parents; those from the LGBT community; and young women and men from the poorest socio-economic backgrounds. 

The increasing cost of living pitched against a discriminatory living wage on the grounds of age, and extortionate fees for fundamental public services such as further education, health care and housing were all identified as massively prohibitive factors to young people having equal opportunities across different areas of their lives in comparison to adults. Furthermore, ‘the stigmatising of youth' by adults, in the media and more generally, was a lament shared frequently by participants in both the focus groups and the online survey.

The Roundtables – presenting the data

The findings of 25% were shared at three separate roundtable events. These were co-led by members of the Youth Board and staff from PYL, and attended by representatives from a range of services; members of the Department for Culture Media and Sport; and from the London Mayor's Assembly at City Hall. 

The common narrative running through all the feedback was that greater parity of opportunity is required across every sector of service provision for young people. One young person echoed this, saying that ‘all young people should have the same access to opportunities’. There is an abundance of wealth in London, but not all young people have access to its rich resources. 

Youth Board members led roundtable discussions on a range of issues. Ayesha prompted attendees to examine diversity within the workplace in relation to their own employment practice. Daniel represented a majority view, saying that a broad-based, cosmopolitan approach to learning – that extended beyond academia – would provide a more valuable educational experience for all young people, ultimately benefiting society as a whole. 

Adeola also reported back on education, asserting that there should be a safety net for students who change their minds about their exam options and Shezell asserted that vocational and academic subjects should be weighted equally. 

Votes at 16 was a solution given to redress the imbalance of power between older and younger people, and there was a call for 'more active engagement with young people', '...more advocates for young people' and 'more youth clubs and activities...’

Bridget sharing her views with Matthew Ryder, Deputy Mayor.

Where next?

The findings of 25% will feed into wider campaigns addressing the priorities for young people over forthcoming years such as Vision for Young Londoners. This is a cross-sector alliance with service providers and policy makers to cohere policy and practice. Youth Board members gave a presentation at a recent event to review the progress of the Vision and shared findings from their research. 

Keynote speaker, Matthew Ryder, the Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement, endorsed the premise of taking a collective, solution-based approach to ensuring that every Young Londoner is afforded the same basic opportunities in life, and that young people’s participation is intrinsic to strategic development moving forward.

The event highlighted the principle of investing time and resources in young people’s civic engagement and treating young people as a stakeholder group. Spoken word artist and young entrepreneur, Benna captured the essence of 25%, The Vision for Young Londoners and similar drives to improve outcomes for young people in his poem ‘What is Vision with No Hindsight?’ Put simply, he said

‘…our voice should be a direct contribution to society, if we are the ones to inherit it’.

For further information on 25%* please email Zoe.Nation@cityoflondon.gov.uk

*25% is funded by Erasmus