My year at The National Lottery Community Fund

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This time last year I left my Clarion family to embark on the most exciting chapter of my career as Head of Youth Voice at The National Lottery Community Fund. I was so excited to be taking on a role where I could not only embed a culture change for involving youth voice at the largest funder of youth activity in the UK, but more importantly be the catalyst for that change in other organisations too.

When I arrived, I soon realised there were so many amazing building blocks of knowledge and experience at the Fund. Through long-term, strategic funding programmes such as Talent Match and #iWill Fund, we fund over 6,000 children and young people projects across the UK. For example, funding partnerships supporting #iWill have generated £39.5 million in match funding, showing the scale of what can be achieved when the public sector works together with young people.

What the Fund needed was a driver to bring all this together into one collective voice of and for young people. Therefore, if I was to symbolise my role it would be with a bridge – a bridge between the amazing connections and platforms the Fund has access to – to the voices of young people directly and through great youth organisations already doing this work.

As with all my roles in the past 15 years, my first action was to recruit a team of young people – our amazing Young People in the Lead (YPIL) team. The most important characteristic was that the individuals we took on represented their communities and had lived experience of their passion. One of my favourite quotes from the YPIL team is: “no-one else has walked in your shoes”, which makes them all experts in their own right and why they were chosen.

So, what have they been up to I hear you ask? Luckily, we met in person in Birmingham for our first session, which was of course very fortunate for building foundations and starting the first project: A quality youth project is… This laid the foundations for their checklist and session in June, which now features on the Fund’s YouTube channel, along with a session on the importance of youth voice. YPIL reached over 200 external stakeholders through these one-hour sessions that they planned and delivered.

Watch “Youth Voice in Funding”

Watch “The importance of youth voice”

Throughout COVID-19, the Fund’s YPIL have attended numerous sessions with a variety of funders and other stakeholders, informing us all of what young people need during and post coronavirus. Mental health and their future transitions to employment all feature high; but so did support for trusted adults so as to build their confidence in dealing with cyber bullying and being able to support safety online. But the most poignant priority they told me was that they want a purpose. They pointed out how this will be their future and they want to tell their stories in order to help shape it. That is where I felt the need to step it up and lead Youth Voice on behalf of all funders and not just The National Lottery Community Fund, as part of a Children in Need-led strategy. This has therefore, led to many of the sessions I talk about below influencing over 300 different stakeholders, mainly funders.

A session that will stay with me forever, and hopefully the 200 people that signed up, was The importance of youth voice session on International Youth Day. In our weekly sessions, YPIL created top tips and were in a headspace where they were comfortable to share their stories of why being given a platform was so vital to them and their goals to make a change. I’m a pretty emotional person, but this was certainly one of those days when I was bursting with pride in seeing what they had become in only six months.

There have been some other great successes too, with some of our young people now holding great positions following their involvement in YPIL. We have two YPIL sat on our England Committee; one on our Board; one on the new Phoenix Fund panel; another on the #iWill Match Fund Leadership Board and one on the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) steering group. Not only are they all making themselves proud, but also us at the Fund.

“Thank you for giving me the space to share my experience in the YPIL team – a great example of empowering youth voice” – Ruhina

“Thank you for all the opportunities you have given us – with each one I grow closer to my goal”  – Kianna

In order to demonstrate my final comment, I thought it would be useful to share common questions I answer at events, demonstrating the need of my ask to you as readers: that we all need to be champions of youth voice across our forums and platforms.

Common questions:

How do you find young people?

They are all there, we just need to go to where they are – youth clubs, Instagram and through their trusted adults such as youth workers.

Young people aren’t interested in sitting on a Board?

There are lots of ways young people can be supported to do this (shout out to Young Trustee movement) but as there are adults that want to sit on the Board of an organisation, there will be young people too. We just need to meet at times to suit them; support them as we would any new Board member, with a good induction process and a buddy to mentor them and check they are ok. A text or call before and after sessions goes a long way in building confidence of anyone experiencing something new – especially a young person.

Can we borrow YPIL?

Yes, they are amazing, but there are plenty of other amazing young people too and ones that will be relevant to what your organisation needs help with e.g. designing a sport activity with someone that has been there and done it. Start by asking what will make them walk through the door or click on a Zoom link.

YPIL are clearly confident young people with experience – how do you build it?

If only you could see us all behind the camera. There are bags of nerves, but equal amounts of reassurance, supporting each other.

What is the secret ingredient to doing Youth Voice well?

To the all the tips i have already shared I would add trust. For me the most important part of this is to believe in them as individuals and for them to trust you in being transparent.

You have such a fun job

Yes, I do truly believe it’s the best. BUT with every moment you see the amazing young people I get to work with, you can triple the amount of time that is spent convincing people of how and why they should invest time and resource to do it right.

In fact, this last question leads me to the biggest challenge I’ve had throughout these roles and I know I speak to every youth worker and participation worker out there – how do we prove the impact of our work? I can show you retweets, numbers reached. But I’m relying on others to tell me what they have changed because of what they heard from our YPIL, which sadly is not always possible to get. YPIL will tell you how it’s improved their confidence and given them new opportunities, but that doesn’t always present as impactful as actually meeting them before and after to truly see that change in them. I always wish you could bottle it.

So help me to spread the word of how involving young people is not only the right thing to do as they are the future, but also bring diversity to your organisation from the communities you aim to reach; a fresh pair of eyes to the challenges you face and most of all a passion you can’t buy.

And finally on a personal note, I would like to use this space to thank the Fund for creating the role and giving me this opportunity, but most of all I would like to thank YPIL for being my sunshine throughout the last few months and driving my passion every day to prove the impact of Youth Voice.

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