*A collaborative post.
When I left sixth form I was proud to be awarded my school’s first community service award.
I spent my evenings and weekends volunteering with children with learning difficulties, and had my 18th birthday party surrounded by the children I loved at their youth club. We had jelly, we had cake, we had a magician but most of all we had fun.
People thought I was the kind one for giving up my time but even then I knew I gained just as much if not more from what I did as the young people I was there to help.
I learnt about strength from parents who had been given more to deal with than most of us could imagine. I learnt about resilience from children who kept trying no matter what the odds against them were. And I learnt about the kind of teacher I wanted to be from the teachers and support staff I had the privilege to work alongside.
Without Youth Social Action I probably wouldn’t have got into Cambridge University.
Yes I had a good academic record, but my volunteering showed that I was so much more than just an academic. Even more importantly though without Youth Social Action, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Maybe I would never have discovered that Autism was my passion, and I would have almost certainly not been driven to write this blog in this way, as my way of continuing to give back.
So when Mumsnet asked me if I would like to take part in the #iwill campaign I was more than a little bit delighted.
After all knowing how much I gained from Youth Social Action, it’s something I would definitely like to see more young people do.
Feeling a little out of touch with the opportunities that are open to today’s young people I interviewed Graham Razey, the Principal Of East Kent College, to see just how much things have moved on since I was younger. I was more than a little bit impressed with what his answers to my questions, and especially his approach to working with young people with additional needs.
So whether you’re a teacher wondering if this is something your school should get involved in, or a parent wondering whether your child would benefit, please do read on.
My Razey makes a compelling case:
So Mr Razey, what does youth social action mean to you?
For me, Youth Social Action is seeing our students taking part in activities which stretch and challenge themselves, and result in a tangible benefit for our local community. As the Principal of a large Further Education Group which spans five separate communities, it’s really important to me that we’re doing what’s right for our areas. Part of that is developing a bond and understanding between our students and their community. Social action plays a major part in that, and allowing our students to lead projects which benefit the community can develop so many positive outcomes.
How are you and East Kent College involved in youth social action?
When I joined the former Thanet College, which is now East Kent College, I felt that the community, and the young people within it were disconnected. It was important to me to build those links, as our mission at the College is centred around working to serve our local community. One way I knew we could break down those barriers was for our young people to be more visible and work in partnership with community members and organisations. This led to me exploring the possibility of our students getting involved in social action projects. Since that time, the College has delivered more than 300 projects, with over 90,000 hours of social action by our learners. We’ve adopted a full College approach to social action, with our young people developing their own projects to ensure they’re meaningful to them. This has built great links with the communities we serve, and achieved some fantastic results for a range of community groups and charities.
What do you feel are the benefits of youth social action to young people?
There are absolutely loads of benefits for our young people. Some of these are tangible, such as the development of our students’ technical skillsets through relevant social action, to those which are less so, like the improvement of our learners’ resilience and ‘grit’. For me, the real benefit is seeing the relationship between our young people and their community, and the pride which students’ draw from their projects.
What are the benefits of youth social action to the education sector?
Youth social action brings a range of benefits for educators. In further education, we can obviously encourage our students to take part in projects which grow the skills they’re learning as part of their course. We’ve had real success with that, and seen our learners tackling some incredible projects, such as our work at Radnor Park Lodge. These projects can sometimes even make our students consider where they want to go in their careers, building their aspirations and opening up new opportunities for them.
What are the wider benefits of youth social action to society?
It’s clear to me that enabling our young people to take on meaningful social action projects which benefit their community develops a range of wider societal benefits. From the surveying we’ve done, we’ve found that it develops a sense of connection to the community in our students, who take pride in the work they’ve done. They are also more likely to get involved in social action in their own time, and engage more in community events. It can also build bridges between generations, and help our young people understand the rest of the community, and vice-versa.
Where can parents, teachers and young people go to find out more information about opportunities in their area?
Obviously the #iwill campaign is a great place to start. Local delivery centres of the NCS initiative are also useful for young people looking to engage in social action.
Are there opportunities for young people with additional needs to get involved?
As the second largest provider of SEND provision in England we’re passionate about opening up opportunities for students with additional needs. I can honestly say that our supported learning students lead the way when it comes to social action. They have delivered some wonderful projects, with really meaningful outcomes for both themselves and the community or organisation they’ve been acting for. It’s brilliant to see their personal development through these projects, and I’ve personally seen them take on real challenges and achieve so much.
Would young people receive support whilst being involved?
While we always encourage our students to lead projects themselves, our staff are always there to lend support where required. You’ll always see better outcomes when there’s someone with experience to guide our young people, but giving them the freedom to define their own projects is also really important for the students’ growth.
What would you say to a young person with autism who was keen to be involved in youth social action?
Get involved! Don’t let anything hold you back, because you really can achieve whatever you set your mind to. With support from your college or school, find a cause you’re interested in and a project you can deliver which makes a change. It really is that simple, and you’ll find it such an immensely rewarding thing to do
So, what are you waiting for?
Why not check out #iwill today and see if there’s an opportunity which appeals to a young person you know.
Or, headover to the Mumsnet #iwill page to find out more about the benefits of youth social action, how you can help get your children involved, and download an iwill guide.
If you need any more arguments as to why getting involved is a good idea you might also want to check out Mr Razey’s own blog post on the subject