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Last week I co-hosted The Big Ambition for Youth Work Roundtable with my recently appointed Ambassadors, Aaliya, Emmanuel and Penelope. The roundtable brought together experts and leaders from across the youth sector to discuss the theme: “How could the next government make children’s lives better through youth work and positive activities?”.

The roundtable stimulated so many great ideas on how to provide young people these positive activities and experiences across all ages and postcodes. These ideas will help shape the recommendations in The Big Ambition, which I will be taking to policymakers and politicians as we approach the next election.

Youth work is of such importance to so many children, who want fun activities, opportunities to learn and develop, and trusted relationships outside of school. The challenge for us is how we meet the need that children constantly tell me exists – for fun things to do near where they live, and someone they trust to talk to.

The three Ambassadors who took part in the roundtable have shared their thoughts on what youth work means to them.

Aaliya, 17, Children’s Commissioner Youth Ambassador

I recently attended the first roundtable as a part of the Commissioner’s Big Ambition survey results and it was an enlightening experience. The roundtable was all about youth work, the importance of it and how we can get the next Government to prioritise youth work in their manifestos and agendas.

I think that youth work is vital as it can help to solve many of the problems that young people are currently facing. We are on the tipping point in dealing with the mental health crisis and investing in youth work as well as investing in the training to provide more youth workers is key to ensure that all vulnerable young people have a person to rely on in times of hardship and have the support they need to deal with their mental health.

Moreover, youth work can help to deal with the problem of school absences and exclusions as if we have youth workers in each school and institution, then we can deal with the underlying cause of these problems which helps to ensure that young people are being kept safe and they are able to communicate any issues they may be having with people they trust.

My experience of youth work is being involved in a local campaigning group in my community that runs campaigns about issues that we are passionate about as well as issues within our local area. This has helped build my confidence and empower me to speak out against injustices. This is one very vital component of youth work: it has the power to instil confidence in young people. This is a task we must continue to work towards as we need to be empowering our future leaders and youth work is one of the more effective ways of doing so.

I found the roundtable incredible informative as I was able to hear the firsthand perspective of what working in youth work is like as well as hearing about some of the problems this sector is currently facing, issues that I was unaware of as I found that if you do not communicate directly with people who work in the field, you do not get to know about the intricacies of the job. It has left me feeling excited to see how our work surrounding youth work will progress and how we can use the experiences and feedback from the people who work in youth work to reach our goal of ensuring the next government prioritises youth work.

Penelope, 17, Children’s Commissioner Youth Ambassador

Youth work is such a significant opportunity that needs to be expressed to all young people across England. Children should be encouraged to have fun and safe activities that support all niche interests from sports to youth politics. Though many young people feel they are deprived of these opportunities, due to the lack of funding, young people are consistently disheartened to pursue these interests as they don’t have the stable emotional nor financial support to benefit them. Feeling privileged to have the continuous support of youth workers in various activities such as travelling to London and Poland on youth projects to promote change for young people, I believe children across England should be given the same experiences that are tailored to their interests.

Emmanuel, 16, Children’s Commissioner Youth Ambassador

Youth work is the building foundation of shaping a young individual’s mindset. It’s important for their personal development and overall well-being.

Youth work plays a vital role in providing a safe and supportive environment for young people to explore their interests, develop essential life skills, and build meaningful relationships. It helps them gain confidence, resilience, and allows them to achieve social solidarity. It keeps them positively engaged in their local communities, allowing them to be a part of an “ecosystem of change” and leading them on a path that discourages negative influences such as gang violence and drug use.

I believe that the next government should prioritize and promote youth work by investing in youth centres, community programs, and initiatives that provide a wide range of positive activities. These activities can include sports, arts and culture, leadership development, mentorship programs, and even entrepreneurship opportunities.

Speaking from a young person’s perspective, youth groups have definitely aided me as being involved has allowed me to ponder the question of “who I am” as a young individual. In my local community, there is a positive and inspiring Christian youth group called “Space” that promotes youth collectivism and engaging in positive activities. They have helped me to have positive cultural exchanges with other young people, being able to be compassionate and empathetic of others, and being able to come outside my comfort bubble within the safe environment they have created for me.

During the youth work roundtable, we talked about how the Government can invest in youth groups like Space, and how this can empower young people to reach their full potential and contribute positively to society. It’s not just about keeping them occupied, but also about fostering their personal growth, social integration, and active citizenship. The Government should prioritise collaborating with local organisations, schools, and communities to ensure that these programs are accessible to all young people, regardless of their background or socioeconomic status. It’s essential to create a level playing field and provide equal opportunities for everyone.

In addition to promoting youth work, we also discussed at the roundtable that the next government should also focus on providing adequate funding and resources for these initiatives. This will enable organisations and youth workers to deliver high-quality programs and support young people effectively. Investing in youth work and positive activities is a win-win situation for everyone. It benefits young people by shaping their future and creating a strong foundation for their success. At the same time, it contributes to the well-being and prosperity of society as a whole.

As a youth ambassador, I hope that the next government recognises the importance of youth work and takes concrete steps to promote it. Together, we can create a brighter future for our young people.

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