I recently had the pleasure of meeting Jason Robinson OBE at HideOut, East Manchester Youth Zone. Jason is an inspirational figure and a sporting legend, having reached the highest levels in rugby league and rugby union. Jason is also a believer in the power of youth work, and as we walked around the Youth Zone, he spoke about his own childhood experiences of going to a youth centre and the impact that had on his life. Jason said something that really stuck out to me “1 youth worker, 1 teacher, 1 supporter has the power to change a young person’s life.”
The conversation reenforced the long-term impact that an adult’s actions can have on a young person and why it is so important to have strong adult role model around a young person throughout their teenage years. Because it only takes one person to change a young person’s life, for better and sometimes sadly for worse, a truth starkly brought to life in recent weeks as we learned about the horrific experience Child Q experienced at school, a place where she should have felt safe and protected by trusted adults.
I genuinely believe that giving young people access to trusted supportive adults can play a critical part in improving inequality and access to opportunity. Youth centres are leading the charge at providing opportunities in communities right across the UK with youth workers and volunteers and Youth Zones are providing these opportunities for young people at scale.
There’s sometimes a bit of a misconception about what we do at OnSide. While we aren’t apologetic about creating incredible, high-quality Youth Zones kitted out with fantastic equipment and a vast range of activities, the most important part of our work is the youth workers and volunteers that bring the buildings to life. It’s a privilege to be able to see first-hand the difference that youth workers can make – trusted adults who truly believe in young people and help them to see their potential and the bright futures ahead of them
These fantastic people work tirelessly to help young people to achieve their ambitions. Young people like Dylan, a member at Future, Barking and Dagenham Youth Zone who with the support of Bradley, a youth worker at Future, discovered that he could turn his passion for gaming into a career.
It’s a key element in transitioning to being a young adult, having positive adults in their life outside of their family and school. Someone who cares about them and is able to be there for the good and bad bits they are going through.
It shouldn’t be down to chance, luck or location that young people have access to opportunities. Every young person should have the chance to discover their passion and their purpose. When these opportunities are delivered by trusted adults who see that spark in a young person, there’s no end to what they can achieve and where it will take them. It won’t happen overnight, and youth workers may never hear of the great things that a young person goes on to do. But every action big or small, be it an act of kindness, sharing words of encouragement or simply being there to listen, has the potential to change a life.