This page provides some context on our youth work practice at Mary’s. It is designed to give a broad overview of our approach and share some of our aspirations. It starts with what we want to do and explains a bit about how we settled on our mission to get young people better connected with society. It then explores some of the ways we have started to make strides to grow our network or partners and supporters and illustrates the difference this will make to young lives. Finally, there are some case studies on how we have worked with young people, both individually and as peer groups and the impact, this work has had on them.

What we want to do

Based on our experiences and learning over the last few years, we want to continue to facilitate open access, inclusive youth services co-run with young people: a provision that helps young people from all backgrounds to be better connected and better equipped with the skills and confidence to form and engage with supportive networks of friends and family, health and social services, businesses and organisations.

We believe that being better connected improves the prospects of young people, brings greater opportunities and sets up young people for lifelong fulfilment.

We want to do this through building on a comprehensive service that has both universal and enhanced programmes for 10-19-year-olds, where young people, staff, volunteers and our community work together to share experiences, create opportunities and develop together.

The activities are organised across four zones; skills for life, health and fitness, creativity and social action. Employment and education are woven through the programme, offering: advice and guidance on career planning, jobs and apprenticeships and where to find them, work experience, CV writing, job applications and interview preparation.

Our enhanced programme provides tailored one-to-one support, including mentoring, work experience, signposting, referrals to specialist agencies and advocacy.

Why this approach?

Youth work is an educative practice and as such we are always learning about our members, young people and the wider community. Over the last three years, we have been researching, listening, reflecting and testing in order to provide high-quality youth services which will have a greater positive impact with young people in our community. We’ve also shared with and learned from the wider field of youth work and community development. As a result, we now have a deeper understanding of how Mary’s can make a big difference for and with young people.

What we have learnt

Young people are isolated from the rest of society

We have learnt and have become concerned that local young people and many of their peers don't feel included with the wider world. And even within the realm of opportunities for young people, they aren't clued into much of what is available outside of school. For those who are, they are faced with fragmented services, with many organisations focusing on a single or narrow interest. We realised that there would be little point in trying to replicate the work done by other organisations and instead, that young people could really benefit from some help navigating these continuities and services. We know from our members and our research that one of the things youth clubs like ours provide for young people is ease of access to opportunities, whether it be for employment, joining a sports team, championing a cause or accessing health and social services. We know that this is particularly important for young people who are the least connected.

Our conclusions are backed up by a number of studies and organisations looking at isolation and the lack of intergenerational social mobility.

The Lonliness Experiement - BBC/Welcome Trust for London - Inequality Social Mobility HMGov

A long-term approach is needed

In 2015, our new employability programme focused on older teenagers to help them to achieve in education or employment. Our Co-producer and employability programmes are a cornerstone of our work, with both long-term members and newcomers benefiting from participation. It’s also one of the ways in which we try to anticipate the needs of young people. Working with this cohort demonstrated the challenges young people face entering the labour market and an adult-oriented society.  It’s a tricky transition that members tell us school doesn't prepare them for. There are obvious benefits to young people, such as their getting a job, giving them a chance to make a difference and developing their leadership skills. So while we supported our older members through this transition, we also looked at what we could do for our younger participants to prepare them from an earlier age. As a result, we now have a balanced programme of activities with younger as well as older young people in mind allowing for more meaningful interventions and a deeper impact.

Beyond outcomes, preserving the long-term impact - The Centre for Youth Impact

Gathering data, listening & understanding

We collect and analyse data concerning our members, our local community, local/regional contexts. One of our biggest developments over the last three years has been our monitoring and evaluation of progress for young people and the effectiveness of our programme. With some trial and error, we have made big strides in our understanding of evidence and impact, something we know is a hot topic in services for young people.

We get feedback from our members all the time, they speak with us and we reflect on what they say. We also conduct surveys, focus groups and debates. The primary purpose of this is to encourage young people to have a stake in the things that affect them. It also provides us with lots of information to mull over. From this, we know that an (if not the most) important aspect of our Youth Club is that it’s a safe place for young people to hang out, make friends and try new things. Aside from all the other aspirations that they, we and our stakeholders have for young people, this is paramount. And so we’ve turned our focus to providing this alongside our specific programmes and extra support.  This goes for all ages.

As for our older members, they are worried about how they are going to survive in the world beyond school. The world is not presenting the rosiest of pictures, and the conversations that are had in the open Youth Club and in one to one session reflect this, for some more than others. Many of our members report a lack of confidence and anxiety about their future via our self-assessment tool. To address this we want young people not only to be more resilient but also to be confident to challenge and shape the world. We are especially keen for young people to do this through our social action programmes, to develop a sense of duty to self and others.

The numbers

We have developed a comprehensive set of monitoring tools (which we’re really proud of). We know that you can't measure good youth work solely by the numbers but we do think they can play an important role in shaping our interventions and evidencing our work. When we were awarded Project Oracle Standard Two, we were able to take a deep look at the quantitative data and further develop our understanding of what was happening for our members. We also changed the way in which collect the information data as a result.

Impact Evaluation 2017

It’s really difficult to get good numbers from open access provision over short periods. In addition, given the difficulties surrounding self-reported indicators, we were not totally convinced of the value of this data. While we were able to make some recommendations from the information we had, we realised we needed a much longer timescale. As a result, we have developed a methodology of observing in practice when indicators are met. The delivery team now submits reports and evaluations which include detail on what was happening when an indicator was met.

By far the best thing to come from this change is that staff and volunteers are able to focus programmes towards meeting indicators across a range of activities, themes, programmes and interventions. This means that a young person who demonstrates leadership whilst taking part in a creative programme will have this leadership recognised as opposed to only when they are participating in a leadership activity.

Working Alongside Others

There are a number of services available to young people across the capital.  Some are more easily accessible than others. Our project is designed to ease this access by making sure that young people have the right information and know how to get the right support.

Locally, we work with other organisations to make sure that young people have access to the very best opportunities and support. For example, we work with Solace Women’s Aid to develop programmes on sexual health and relationships and we are also able to make referrals to their support services. The Peel Institute have helped us deliver activities that focus on mental health and wellbeing. We are always exploring ways that we can work with partners, for example, Awesome CIC have asked if we can help transition some of their older members into local youth clubs. We helped one young person gain a summer job through the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign in Islington. We took members to see a production by Angel Shed Theatre to inspire them to get involved in inclusive performing arts. We signposted a young ‘mum to be’ to Inspire (All Change Arts) to get support along with other ‘young parents’. London Village Network has been developing their short-term mentoring app with us and we’ve provided their staff with support in developing their practice with young people, especially around safeguarding.

We use our knowledge and networks to help young people, and in some cases practitioners, to navigate these services and help them to discover the right opportunities for them.  We take a long-term view to this, the idea being that from the transition into and through adolescence to becoming an adult, our programme will be there to support young people make the most of all the opportunities available to them.

Through networking and becoming known by local and regional players as an outward-facing and partnership-seeking organisation, we are receiving more and more approaches for new collaborations.  One such new partnership is with Grandparents Plus, a national charity supporting grandparents who have taken on the responsibility of legal guardians for their grandchildren. When they wanted to expand their work into Islington, they approached us. By sharing a cause, the flourishing of their grandchildren, we hope to develop a fruitful partnership that not only helps us reach more local young people in need but supports their carers in dealing with some of the challenges their wards present to them.  Our plans include supporting the development of an Islington based network of kinship families, running events and training for those guardians and supporting their young people with our enhanced offer.

Working with

We have also been approached once more by The Peel Institute, a local community organisation based in Clerkenwell looking to develop interest and engagement amongst their local young people with a stake in their neighbourhood and to equip and empower them to initiate and lead community work that improves their lives.  Hearing about our Co-producer (trainee youth worker) scheme, they asked us to support them in the development of a similar scheme.

We’re increasing our work with those on the fringes of exclusion, both academically and socially, through teacher referrals; also those with additional needs through our partnership with Samuel Rhodes Special School. Part of this work is about establishing partnerships where referrals can be made: more importantly, it's about young people knowing our youth service is there for them, to engage with, in their own time and on their own terms.

We have started working with a sixth form academy consisting predominantly of pupils who have struggled to achieve the grades they needed to work towards their aspirations. The school is keen to take an alternative approach by introducing more informal methods of learning and development. One of the teachers at the school heard of our reputation for providing opportunities for growth and especially supporting peer-led programmes and asked us to replicate elements of this for their pupils.

In order to support our existing and further grow our partnership work, we have developed a new role within Mary’s to broaden the depth of impact in our community. Our Community Partnerships Worker is tasked with developing links with other organisations and businesses to help young people be better connected. There are a number of key objectives that we want to be realised in the first six months, focusing on our partnerships framework, for developing, maintaining monitoring and having a greater depth of belonging, and therefore impact, with our local community.

The Difference We Will Make

Based on our learning over the past three years, we will ensure that young people have wider and more diverse networks to support them. Young people living in deprived areas such as Islington and the surrounding boroughs are less connected outside of their homogeneous groups. We will encourage and teach young people from different backgrounds to develop associations and in so doing provide opportunities to practise and better understand how these relationships develop and the value they have.

We know that mental health is a major concern for young people, particularly loneliness, stress, anxiety and depression. These can be addressed much more successfully when young people have access to good information and supportive services when they are knitted into a strong and encouraging network.

Develop social competence

Our innovative youth work approach creates opportunities for young people to develop ‘social competence’, by focusing on interpersonal skills, especially those needed for the workplace. It inspires young people to ‘be good at being good’, to be considerate of others, to have empathy and to foster positive relationships.

Grow belonging

Young people want to have a sense of belonging and our services recognise and develop the roles they play in the community. We will enable young people to achieve together as well as individually, and we will support them to express shared values in a range of contexts.

Try new things

Young people must aspire beyond their academic results and career goals, and start considering how they might live fulfilling lives outside of school and work. We want them to have broader horizons and the networks to explore them. We aim to give them the inspiration and desire to try new things and share experiences.

Build agency

Finally, young people must be in a position to change the world for the better, even just a little bit. We want to help young people organise themselves and recognise the collective influence they can have on creating a better, fairer society.

Young People And Community Involvement

Mary’s Youth Club is youth-led, and this happens in a number of formal and informal ways.

We surveyed 170 young people from across Islington and the surrounding boroughs to see what they think youth services like ours should focus on. On an on-going basis, we collect feedback from young people and parents about our and other services they engage with and feed this into our development plans.

We also speak with schools, teachers and our wider field colleagues, often responding to requests to facilitate an element of the programme in their provision. For example, a school asked us to help train their pupils to deliver the enrichment programme to their peers.

We train and employ young people to develop and deliver our programmes since they have a good understanding of the issues and aspirations young people have. Together with youth workers, they create the programmes.

We are big advocates of volunteering, with many of our members volunteering in the Youth Club. In addition to this, we facilitate volunteering opportunities for local residents within the centre, helping to deliver programmes and giving something back to the community.

Opportunities to get involved are extended to local businesses. Some help by offering services or goods (in one case, baked goods!) or by lending expert staff. One such partner has sent a bicycle mechanic to help on our bike project and offers work experience to our young people.

Our staff take part in regular local, regional, national and international network events.  This ensures that we are up to date on recent developments. In London, we are part of the London Youth and the Partnership for Young London. Locally we engage regularly with youth commissioners and practitioners and we work with the police and targeted support providers.

There are a few individuals who donate to the Youth Club specifically and support the centre in other ways.

The most important thing we do is we pay attention. Our work is focused on the mutual trust we build in the relationships we have with young people. This means we get a really good insight into what’s happening in the places and spaces where they live their lives. By paying attention to this, we are able to combine our knowledge and experience with that of young people to shape the services.

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