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A festive message from our CEO, Kathryn

15th December 2021 by Kathryn Morley, Chief Executive, OnSide

It’s hard to believe that we’re already saying goodbye to 2021. As we reflect on the last 12 months, I want to say a big thank you to Youth Zone teams across the Network, our supporters, partners, trustees and patrons. Thank you for what we’ve been able to achieve together, and for your dedication to supporting young people.

Here are some of my personal highlights from 2021.

  1. Putting young people first – introducing our new Network Ambassadors

Young people are at the heart of everything we do, so it was a pleasure to welcome new Network Ambassadors this year, young people from across the Network, passionate about their Youth Zone, youth work and growing the Youth Zone Network so more young people benefit. They’ve had a busy 2021; visiting the Lake District on a Residential, taking part in fun and challenging team building activities by day, then spending the evenings considering how best they can represent their own Youth Zones. They’ve also been leading on Youth Zone tours with key decision maker for future Youth Zone projects, they’ve taken part in public speaking events and have shared their thoughts on the issues important to them as part of the Hope Collective Hacks of Hope a project which is part of the legacy of Damilola Taylor.

  1. Growing our Network of Youth Zones

Reaching more communities to give more young people access to transformational activities and support is important to us. We announced the development of two new Youth Zones; South Bristol in partnership with established local charity Youth Moves, and Barnsley which will be Yorkshire’s first Youth Zone. It’s also been exciting to see construction start on WEST Youth Zone in Hammersmith and Fulham, our fourth Youth Zone in London as well as strong progress in Grimsby’s capital campaign.

  1. Strengthening our Network of Youth Zones

Across the Network, youth workers continued to deliver a depth and breadth of support that changes lives, both for young people and their communities. The early part of the year in lockdown saw some very creative delivery and reached some of those worst affected by the lockdown. With full open access back we have been able to support young people with the ongoing impact on their long term education, confidence and belief in their future as well as supporting them to return to stronger physical health.

  1. Supporting diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Internally, we took a number of steps towards our vision for a diverse and more inclusive workplace. We created an Equality, Diversity & Inclusion strategy, we signed Business in the Community’s Race at Work charter, and our internal diversity and inclusion group FREDIE created a space for us to observe awareness days, share knowledge and have internal conversations on race. I’m grateful to the FREDIE group for all their work and dedication over the last year. There’s much more to be done to ensure we reach our aim of being a fully diverse organisation, and I look forward to continuing this important work in the new year and beyond.

  1. High profile visits

A number of high-profile guests visited our Youth Zones this year – fantastic opportunities for members and to shine the media spotlight on the vital role that Youth Zones play in communities. Firstly, in May, as part of Mental Health Awareness Week, members at The Way Youth Zone, in Wolverhampton met the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to share about the support on offer at the Youth Zone. Then in October, young people from HideOut, the East Manchester Youth Zone met Prime Minister, Boris Johnson and Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to share why their Youth Zone is important to them.

  1. Publishing our Annual Review 2020/21 and new Strategic Plan

More recently, we published our Annual Review reflecting on what was achieved over the last year and an ambitious New Strategic Plan; looking forward to how we’ll continue to build our movement and work towards our vision of ensuring every young person across the UK is happy, healthy and able to thrive.

Looking ahead to 2022

There is much to look forward to in 2022. We are seeing great developments across the Network too with some interesting new projects. For example, with the support of the Sony Music Social Justice Fund, the three London Youth Zones will be delivering music mentoring to 150 young people next year, supporting them to develop their skills and find their voice.

In the Spring we will open Warrington Youth Zone. We look forward to continuing our progress on Youth Zones in development; South Bristol, Barnsley, WEST London and Grimsby. We also look forward to the Youth Investment Fund which will be a big boost for the sector, offering a great opportunity for grassroots youth organisations and local authorities to work together to ensure young people have access to the support services they need.

Looking beyond our own activities, I feel strongly that we need to work together for young people, so I’m delighted to have been appointed to the role of co-chair for the Back Youth Alliance (BYA). The BYA was established with the aim of ensuring young people are heard, understood and prioritised, and to campaign for greater, more effective investment and support for young people and the youth sector. I look forward to working with senior leaders and youth representatives from leading youth charities in the UK, continuing BYA’s work of presenting a coherent voice to decision-makers with and for young people.

For now, I’ll wish you all a joyful, healthy and safe festive season and a happy new year when it arrives – see you in 2022!