Not even 24 hours after their annual awards ceremony, UK Youth came through again with their 2018 UK Youth Conference. The focal point of this year’s edition were youth workers’ efforts to better understand young people’s needs, and how to engage and communicate with them effectively. The main aim: improve both local and national youth services to better ‘click’ to the issues young people face daily.

The Importance of Youth Centres 

The conference kicked off with UK Youth CEO Anna Smee’s address to the guests. She stressed the importance of youth centres and workers as role models for adolescents in their pursuit of identity. Individuality and authenticity — these principles should guide youth workers when assisting young people to discover their own unique personalities. Youth centres, she continued, provide a sense of community and a stable support system in times of crisis for everyone involved. And namely, this safe environment encourages young people to keep on searching for themselves in this ever more complex world.

Youth workers should also bare in mind what they are collectively fighting for — drive change on national scale, harness impact, and financial sustainability amidst exponential cuts in funding to the youth sector. Without the attainment of these goals, centres all around the country would not be easily accessible to young people in need of support. A constant line of communication between Government and youth centres is, hence, a key in responding to these demands and implementing change.

Evidence for said change is already at hand. A starting point for the conference was UK Youth’s comparative study on the positive effects of youth services. Given these results, coupled with the desperate need for more opportunities for young people to realise their potential, one of the main takeaways from the conference were the questions:

‘What can we do more and how can we implement it effectively?’

In Pursuit of Answers 

Finding the answers to these questions was attempted during the conference’s interactive workshops. Young people’s and youth workers’ testimonies were taken at heart and unpacked in smaller sessions with an overarching topic — Championing Youth, Harnessing Impact and Diversifying Funding. This way participants from a myriad of youth centres around the UK were able to exchange ideas, ways of interaction with young people and how a small change in their approach can generate significant outcomes. One example that stood out the most was whether youth workers greet young people when they enter the centre. Reportedly, this minor behavioural adjustment makes adolescents feel more welcomed and, thus, more likely to return. Some of the other policy suggestions included better conflict resolution, establishing safer communities for young people, increased presence of social enterprises, and an approach to handle loneliness.

Understanding Young People in the 21st Century 

Of course, tackling youth-related problems involves deep comprehension of the contemporary political and socioeconomic context. One vital lesson from Torsen Bell’s speech towards the end of the conference, was that young people’s problems today have significantly changed in the least 20 years. The economic problems they are currently facing are much more crippling than their parents’. Despite the fact that young people today benefit from technological innovations, the impacts of the 2008 Financial Crisis have contributed to their ever-growing anxiety about the future. Inability to sustain a well-paid job and growing housing prices are part of the problem (not eating avocados).

‘It’s about what we already have, talking about it, sharing it and implementing it’

So how can we respond to young people’s struggles in a sustainable manner? Better information exchange between youth centres, youth workers and participants in these centres is the institutive step forward. However, youth organisations should also make sure their efforts are not undermined by those in power via funding cuts, thus calling for increased communication with policy-makers.

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