Chair of YOU London, Hugh Purcell, on how to provide a sense of place and purpose for young people
After the riots last August, it is more important
than ever to strengthen our communities
and engage young people in purposeful activity and learning. All young people
need and want excitement
and things to do; for some young people that is not always easy to find in an
urban environment. There is also ample evidence that young people thrive with
regular activities and contact with adults that provide an opportunity to shine
outside of the school environment. Thousands of young people involved in
uniform groups are benefiting from this experience.
There is a lot of interest in this type of activity. The
Centre for Social Justice has recommended “all secondary
schools and colleges in Gang Prevention Zones should either have a Volunteer
Police Cadets programme or be affiliated to one nearby”. Police officers and staff can provide
positive role models for young people and cadet programmes offer an excellent
opportunity for this as well as providing structured, disciplined activities
and further integration of the police with their communities. Over time the VPC
could encourage more and much needed, ‘locally grown’ police.
Similarly, the Cabinet Office has identified the role
that uniformed groups such as cadets can play in reducing
offending/re-offending. We know that
once a young person enters the criminal justice system around 76% go on to
re-offend. However, it is not all about
offending and the Prime Minister recently launched a joint DfE and MOD cadet in
schools initiative, the aim being to create 100 new cadet units based in English
state funded schools by 2015 to help teach teamwork, discipline and essential
life skills. This must be balanced with cadet facilities based in the
So to make best use of what already exists we should
invest in success. We have in our communities a range of uniformed
organisations, Air Training Corps LaSER, Army Cadet Force, Boys’ Brigade,
Girls’ Brigade, Sea Cadet Corps, St John Ambulance, Community Fire Cadets,
Girlguiding LaSER, Volunteer Police Cadets (VPC), and the Scout Association
Greater London, that can have a role in delivering structured activities. While
they exist to serve all young people, they are also well equipped to benefit young
people at risk of ending up not in employment, education or training (“NEET”)
or offending. The challenge, therefore,
is to leverage their thousand years’ of successful experience of youth
Although the organisations vary in role and ambitions they
all have the ability to target young people who are vulnerable and at risk of
disengagement, by building networks at a local level and working with partners
such as local authorities and third sector organisations, as well as using
other routes such as police community engagement teams.
There are several other benefits to structured activities,
as many of these organisations support young people to gain accredited
qualifications and awards, for example,
John first aid, the Duke of Edinburgh awards and BTEC.
This type of activity also provides continued contact for young people, whereas
a YOT worker can only meet a young person every three weeks, or a Connexions
key worker who is only able to meet perhaps once a week. Such activities can also
provide weekly support to a young person even after they have re-entered
education, training or employment.
The Youth Justice Board has also identified benefits,
not least that these organisations being in the community and involving adults
and young people, help to build stronger communities. Additionally, mixing those
at risk of NEET with others who are more engaged can have a positive impact.
Government youth policies are to develop strategies
that encourage the personal development of all young people with a particular
focus on young people at risk of social exclusion. The development of individual
young people is central to the ethos of many of the uniformed youth groups,
specifically the military cadet forces with their altruistic ideals for their
130,000 cadets supported by 23,000 adult volunteers and other schemes like the
Prince’s Trust and Skill Force.
Our challenge, across all the uniformed youth
organisations, is to recruit more volunteer adults, in order to enable more
young people to join. A measure of
success would be the number of younger people who are off the streets and
engaged in positive enjoyable activities, as well as by the number of
volunteers recruited to guide them.
Find out more about ResPublica/ NCVYS Commission on Youth here.