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CEO blog: What the year ahead will bring

24th January 2022 by Kathryn Morley, Chief Executive, OnSide

What will 2022 bring? Here are the three things we’re looking forward to…

Supporting young people with what they need, when they need it.

The youth sector has had to be incredibly agile over the last two years. Youth service providers have responded to the changing needs of young people and pivoted to provide that support. The adaptability shown during the pandemic is now the norm. With an uncertain future Youth Zones will continue to react to change, helping young people become work ready, supporting mental health and wellbeing, and providing creative opportunities to inspire young people,  increasing their activity to help them live healthy, happy lives.

Youth Workers are at the heart of the talented Youth Zone teams, passionate to support young people at every turn in every way they can. OnSide will continue to invest in Youth Workers growth and development through the Talent Academy, our training and development hub.

Investing in young people.

This is a key time for the sector to work collaboratively for young people. Bringing together knowledge and expertise from right across the sector to ensure we most effectively support young people and communities across the country. This will be a big year for the Government’s Youth Investment Fund (YIF) and, by working together as a sector, we can ensure the funding delivers the maximum impact possible.

In the spring Warrington Youth Zone opens, supporting thousands of young people locally. Every opening is a masterpiece in its own right, the cumulation of many years hard work by so many people locally, not least the local authority and in this case Warrington Youth Club. It’s just so exciting to reach the opening. Young People, the businesses community and local organisations are also central to the collaboration ensuring the Youth Zone goes on to be a success for many years to come. By investing in a Youth Zone, our partners are showing young people that we believe in them and their futures, and will do what’s needed to unlock opportunities to help them reach their potential. It’s fantastic that we’re seeing this brought to life in Warrington, and in communities across the country as more Youth Zones projects go live this year.

Working together to shine the spotlight on youth work.

I genuinely see youth workers as heroes. They have the adaptability and determination to meet the needs of each young person; be it someone to laugh with, an ear to listen, or a helping hand. They see things others don’t; hearing words unsaid in silences and read between the lines to find what’s truly needed. That is the power of youth work.

Youth workers and youth services were the fourth emergency service for young people during the darkest days of the pandemic. We intend to build on the recognition achieved, to use the momentum to push forward further and will continue to play our part in raising the public profile of youth work, championing the power of youth services and the value they bring; not only to young people but to local communities.

We can’t underestimate the power of high-profile advocacy to stimulate public conversation. Just recently, Idris Elba and Ian Wright powerfully highlighted the importance of safe spaces for young people through the launch of the ‘No More Red’ campaign. I can’t remember the last time the critical importance of youth centres and coming together to do better as a society to support and protect our children was given such a prime national media slot. It has provoked lots of important conversation about the critical need to take action to help young people, in this case to combat knife crime.

Another way to create more understanding around the role of youth services is by sharing the views and experiences of young people. This graphic from members at The Hive, Wirral Youth Zone, brilliantly demonstrates the breadth and depth of the impact of a youth worker – from being someone to rely on, to creating a safe space, and empowering and encouraging young people.

There is much more as a sector we can do to amplify young people’s voices and share their stories about how vital the work of the youth sector is.

In my role as co-chair of the Back Youth Alliance (BYA), I am working with the fantastic youth charities that are part of the BYA to ensure there is greater recognition of youth work so that more young people can benefit from the support of trusted youth workers and access opportunities to help them grow and thrive.