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Yorkshire Housing customer engagement and insight officer Alice Keirle attended a youth summit in Leeds recently.  Here, Alice details the lessons she learnt about youth engagement.

 I attended a youth summit organised by the Northern Housing Consortium and the Housing Association Youth Network. Engaging young people can be a challenge. I attended hoping to find the key to getting young people interested in Yorkshire Housing!

 It is important that young people feel they have a voice and a stake in Yorkshire Housing. They may be future customers and the more empowered they are the better our relationship with them.

 The summit was chaired by Ryan, a national ambassador for Clarion in 2016 and real life young person. He discussed his experience of getting involved, what made him get involved and what he got out of it.

 During a Q&A, Ryan detailed his experience of being an ambassador. He got involved because he wanted to work with the organisation. He saw the ambassadors making a difference and so wanted a say.

 What’s important about the ambassador programme is that it’s young people who drive it. They pick what they want to do, plan the work and they can see the difference their involvement makes.

 While discussing the barriers to youth engagement, one delegate gave an example of taking teenage girls to an awards ceremony. They were worried about what to wear because they didn’t own any ‘fancy clothes’ and their parents couldn’t afford any. The girls had also not heard of some things on the event’s menu.

 I don’t think young people are purposefully excluded. But things like this could make them think they are not the right sort of people to be getting involved.

 Ryan said he had thought “is my voice even important?” But being an ambassador made him more confident in his abilities.

 Even when you have every intention of taking the voice of young people seriously, the difficulty is how do you let them know how to get involved? Is a 16-year-old really going to follow a housing association on Twitter? One suggestion was to have a conversation with young tenants at sign up.

 Bea Herbert, 25, created States of Mind after finding she did not have enough experience for the jobs she wanted after finishing her psychology degree. Talking to her friends, she found mental health diagnosis and treatment didn’t work for them and so looked at what could be provided.

 Bea got a grant for a business training course designed for young people which gave her the skills to set up States of Mind. Bea now runs sessions in schools for young people about mental health. Participants designed projects including:

  • A wellbeing week;
  • a video about mental health and coping mechanisms;
  • and an open letter to Ofsted about how mental health is overlooked in education.

 The ideas come from young people and they drive the projects. Bea says her work is successful for two reasons: Young people are interested and passionate about mental health and they are asked for their help and input from the start. Bea grins as she says the attitude and body language of young people changes when she asks for their help.

 What does this mean for Yorkshire Housing? I think we need to ask some ‘why’ questions. Ticking a box is not going to get the buy-in of young people. We may need to accept that if we want to engage young people, we might have to engage those who are not yet our customers.

 My points to takeaway:

  • Ask yourself why youth engagement is important and what it is going to achieve;
  • utilise anyone who has contact with young people and see if they can sell your service;
  • don’t make it all about your aims, make it something young people would be invested in;
  • Not sure? Ask the youth!

 Here are some useful links for information about youth engagement and the speakers at the event, which was the Northern Housing Consortium youth summit held in Leeds on May 16, 2019: