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Janaki Allen has been a volunteer and Trustee of Unitas, Barnet Youth Zone since 2019. More recently she joined OnSide’s Board of Trustees. Here Janaki shares her experience of volunteering at Unitas, her passion for social mobility and why she believes every community should have a Youth Zone.
“I first heard about OnSide back in 2018. Walking into a Youth Zone for the first time was a lightbulb moment; I had no idea it would be so amazing. The quality of what’s available is incredible, I remember seeing eight-year-olds being taught how to use these fantastic cameras! Everything is on offer and nothing is too good.
I got involved with Unitas when they had an opening on their board for a trustee with a legal background, as I trained as a City lawyer before moving into the charitable sector. I was delighted to be invited onboard, and I’ve since joined the OnSide board of trustee too.
As a parent to three girls, I know how tough it is to be a young person today. Life is hard, and they know it’s hard. With everything they face, the Youth Zone is a refuge for them.
I was really interested in the volunteering experience, and I’m fortunate that I have time to give to volunteer on session, in addition to my role as trustee. I did my training and started my volunteering journey at the recreation area during Unitas’ opening, which was an extraordinary day. Since then, I’ve volunteered on junior and senior sessions, and supported on the Ambitions programme which offers employability, education, training, and enterprise support.
I’ve found volunteering at Unitas has been helpful for my role as a trustee. It’s given me a great insight into how the Youth Zone is run, the power of youth work, and the role of youth workers. They have an incredible way of getting through to young people, to guide them without them feeling they’re being dictated to, which isn’t easy.
OnSide’s work is important to me as I’m a product of social mobility, it’s something I’m truly passionate about. My parents met after they both moved to the UK, they couldn’t move back to either of their countries, so our family settled in Harrow, which is where I grew up. I received a bursary to go to North London Collegiate School and then attended Trinity Hall, Cambridge. The path I followed doesn’t seem to be one that’s widely possible today. I think young people need to be exposed and have access to a broader range of opportunities from a younger age, Youth Zones like Unitas help offer this.
On a personal level, I’ve gained a lot from giving my time as a trustee and volunteer. It’s so interesting to see what young people have to say about the world, and you’re able to make a tangible impact. The pandemic was a time when young people needed us most. This was particularly true after the horrific murder of George Floyd. This was a hard time for our young people at Unitas who needed support and comfort. However, it is incredible to think that the the ripple effect that started out of such tragedy in Minneapolis has reached North London, sparking change and starting an important dialogue at the Youth Zone.
Young people are the future, and if we’re serious as a society we need to be supporting their mental health, education, and state of living. It would be amazing to have a Youth Zone in every town and city. A space where they can have fun and enjoy being children, where they can also be supported to work out their future, if that’s what they need.
The Youth Zone model is something that’s proven to work, it can be delivered at scale and adapted to local needs. There’s an understanding that each community is different. Take London for example, the city is a collection of villages, so each Youth Zone is unique.
For anyone thinking of supporting OnSide and the Network of Youth Zones, I honestly cannot think of a more valuable thing to do with your money or time. There are too many young people going without this type of opportunity, you can help make a difference now and for future generations. Go and see a Youth Zone and you will be blown away with how extraordinary they are.”