Nadia Zemouri and Sam Bell also attended the Portsmouth Social Action Conference and recorded their impressions of the events.
On the 16th Feburary 2017, Sam Bell and I attended a conference on Youth Social Action, held at Fratton Park football stadium in Portsmouth.
The day was overwhelming, discussing many different aspects of social action, from sharing good practice and forming relationships/networks to benefit young people from across the city. Unlike most conferences, the network of people involved were often unaware of each other’s existence and work. However, with slots in the programme designated purely for networking, organisations, both statutory and non-statutory, formed friendships that will, undoubtedly, lead to benefits for young people across Portsmouth and, arguably, the country.
The day started with several speeches, firstly Brian Bacher (Portsmouth Togethercoordinator), who introduced the key aims of the conference, highlighting the existing work that is being carried out and how to expand, continually improving upon work undertaken.
The conference aimed to bring together both young people from local schools/colleges and professionals in the youth work industry. This collaborative approach, with the aim of gathering a range of opinions from all ages and backgrounds, was incredibly useful in alleviating stereotypes and naivety and offered a whole new thinking aspect to many. He then introduced the six speakers who would form the panel for the Q&A discussion, alongside Steve Frampton MBE.
After a brief interval the crowd were split off into the first of their selected workshops to have a focused, in-depth discussion around key issues. The four workshops available to attend were: Benefits and barriers to young people getting involved in youth social action, Creating more opportunities for young people involved in volunteering and social action, Enabling more young people to make a difference across health & social care and Giving young people a voice.
In the workshop I attended - Enabling more young people to make a difference across health & social care - some of the delegates, representing the local NHS trust, were particularly interested in how to engage young people in the evaluation of NHS services within the area. They were unsure about how to go about involving young people; fortunately, opportunities arose for them to utilise experience, to which we contributed our own experiences along with our counterparts in the group discussion. The delegates from the NHS had several avenues to utilise/include young people in their research, thus ensuring a more accurate evaluation/reflection.
After the first workshop, everyone enjoyed a buffet lunch. The delegates were encouraged to network over the lunch period. Afterwards, the groups switched around so that everyone was in a different workshop. Along with the aforementioned intervals designated for networking, some VIP guests attended. Two Conservative MPs (both representing Portsmouth constituencies) gave their personal time to attend, speak and acknowledge the work from volunteers, organisations and charities from across their city.
The overwhelming consensus of the event appeared to be positive, with the young people wanting to engage further in youth social action and the professionals in attendance left with real food for thought on how to improve their current operations.
In this blog written for the Centre, Jack Welch, one of our Young Researchers, reports on his personal experiences from and thoughts on the Portsmouth Youth Social Action conference, held on 16 February, 2017.
Not so long ago, the mention of ‘social action’ in a voluntary context would generally be regarded as little else than another buzzword to be included as part of an already expansive collection.
That was my initial reaction, at least. Since the transition of government in 2010, we have already had ‘big society’, and, before that, ‘participation’. Priorities change, depending on the political weather. As with most opinions, they are open for change and reassessment, and youth social action, in particular, represents a wider umbrella term for all acts of activism in which young people can take part.
By the government’s own definition, from the Office of Civil Society, social action is:
‘… about people coming together to help improve their lives and solve the problems that are important in their communities.’
On the surface, it is vague as it needs to be. Social action manifests itself in the form of many aspects of community development, literally or more figuratively. From formal volunteering in an organisation to befriending and co-production, research has shown an upward trend in young people engaging in some kind of social action.
In the past two years alone, the #iWill Campaign, set up to help 60% of young people aged 10-20 become involved in social action by 2020, have calculated that 42% of 10-20 year olds have, at least, taken part in something ‘meaningful’ once in that last year. By most accounts, according to the data gathered, there is a marked benefit in terms of life satisfaction and increased resilience to challenges they might face in their lives.
Numbers are of little significance though, in proving impact, compared to witnessing the testimony and evidence of individuals themselves, which is why the Portsmouth Youth Social Action Conference made the personal value of social action a driving focus for its event. Hosted by Portsmouth Together, it was valuable to see a more equal balance of young people and professional attendees in the room for the day.
What was immediately striking, from the line-up of diverse speakers in the morning agenda, was just how commonplace certain terminology had become. As Steve Frampton, Principal of Portsmouth College, remarked, we are now in need of a ‘Curriculum for Life’ (more detail on its definition here) to ensure that social action can be embedded earlier on, through education. A campaign led by young people is now a movement across distinct sectors in society, especially education and voluntary.
Full-time volunteering, as presented by speakers on behalf of City Year, is another example of how young people are willing to commit to social action, in this case for at least a year of their lives. The evidence has already pushed government to pursue a review of how full-time volunteering can be given legal recognition in the UK. As highlighted by Deputy CEO of Step up to Serve (#iWill Campaign), Rania Marandos, there is, however, still a visible gap in the numbers of young people taking part in any kind of social action, let alone full-time, when compared from the most to the least affluent backgrounds (9% in 2016).
I was very interested to hear, in the course of the panel Q&A following individual presentations, a question raised by an audience member, about how disabled people can be engaged in social action. Most were giving encouraging overtures and their support to ensure those with additional requirements have the same level of access to take part but, as with employment, this is not always easy to put into practice and barriers are still to be overcome for all social action opportunities.
Within workshops, it was interesting to hear just how many attendees (who are not exclusively within youth sector provision) had heard of few or no examples of the benefits of youth social action. Good practice sharing is vital and a common aspiration to ensure there is greater success within the social action framework, but even for charities (as I was gathered from group discussions), this does not always present itself as we would like to believe. Additionally, many businesses and other organisations with a smaller capacity, who would like to take on more volunteers, are often limited in giving support and training to support those who could be engaged. For small institutions, such as local museums, who depend on volunteers, they are likely to lose out on this opportunity most.
For every barrier though, the benefits outweigh these recurring problems: inclusion, responsibility, empowerment and personal development prime examples of evidence of the strengths of social action.
Whether a revolution, or simply the next phase of enhancing our society, youth social action looks set to stay for the foreseeable future. While its benefits, which seem obvious, make it a worthy theme of development in the political spheres and beyond, it needs to find a way to serve a much wider group of beneficiaries and to be taken up by other than the usual suspects within the sector.
This is something of which the #iWill Campaign and other supporters are fully aware. For cities like Portsmouth, a good case study of social action taken seriously, cutbacks in public funds have meant its own youth projects have had to acclimatise to a less hospitable climate. While we may take these projects for granted, continued squeezing of resources will ultimately diminish the level of work able to be accomplished, regardless of the high ideals we place on its societal value.
It is time this imbalance was addressed.
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