On BBC Breakfast this morning there was a story about a group of students at the RCA who had designed a coat for refugees that doubles as sleeping bag and tent. It struck me that news about a group of art students’ latest project would never have made it onto BBC Breakfast if there wasn’t a link to an important, current social issue.
This got me wondering if there will come a time when young people using their skills and interests to tackle social issues, both inside and outside the classroom, is no longer headline news, but the norm.
Some would argue that the UK is already on the way to recognising and making the most of young people’s potential to positively shape the world around them. In 2013, the Cabinet Office took on responsibility for Youth Policy from the Department for Education to “drive forward its ambitious youth agenda in which civil society, local and national government support young people to realise their potential and have the supportive relationships, skills and ambitions they need to succeed”.
I recently visited the Youth Policy team at the Cabinet Office as part of NCVO’s A Day in the Life scheme. This was my second time participating in the scheme – a work-shadowing initiative that enables staff from government and voluntary organisations to step into each other’s shoes for a day and learn about how the other sector operates. I was paired with Richard Cox from the Youth Policy team, and I was interested to find out how our work at Student Hubs fits into the broader context of Youth Policy.
Throughout the day I met staff from the teams working on Youth Policy, Insights & Analysis, Democratic Engagement and Social Action. In one meeting I was discussing how to better use evidence to inform programme design and delivery (a current priority for Generation Change organisations). In another, we talked about the role of government in meeting the unique support needs of the voluntary sector at a time when resilience to change is essential. I enjoyed joining up the dots between day-to-day work at Student Hubs and all of these different Cabinet Office teams behind the scenes.
I had a lot of “small world” moments throughout the day, like chatting to the National Citizen Service team about pipelines in and out of the programme – an area of work that Student Hubs is involved in to ensure that NCS alumni have access to social action opportunities at university. I bumped into Charlotte Hill from Step Up to Serve, whose #iwill campaign we are proud to be a part of. I also met the person who oversees sector resources such as the weekly Funding Central newsletter (this saves us countless hours of grant research each week!) and discussed student voter registration with the Democratic Engagement team, who already knew about Student Hubs thanks to our work on Student Volunteering Week.
In this way, my day was full of lots of little ‘ah ha!’ moments, rather than any major epiphanies. These opportunities to identify overlap, reinforce collaborations, put faces to names and share best practice enable us all to continuously improve what we do. A lot of this was about strategy and infrastructure, which reinforces the need for youth social action organisations on the ground that, as our local Hubs do, provide space and opportunities for young people to contribute.
As the spotlight on youth policy, and particularly youth social action, continues to grow, I’m excited to be working somewhere where we can proactively enable university students to shape this work and, ultimately, a better world.