Celebrating International Youth Day 2020

As International Youth Day – 12 August 2020 – approaches, Reading Voluntary Action’s Youth Project Coordinator, Charlotte Netherton-Sinclair, and members of the RVA Youth Research Team, Zarah Khan and Joanne Mushi, talk about the Growing up in Reading study they’ve been involved with.

International Youth Day gives an opportunity to celebrate and mainstream young peoples’ voices, actions and initiatives, as well as their meaningful, universal and equitable engagement – United Nations

Charlotte – Youth Project Coordinator, RVA

Charlotte Netherton-Sinclair, RVA Youth Project Coordinator

At RVA we wholeheartedly agree that we need to listen to and amplify the voices of young people. Younger generations bring with them fresh perspectives, insights and ideas and great energy and enthusiasm, all essential for tackling the difficult challenges we face today, both locally and globally. Their actions and initiatives should be encouraged and supported, thus laying the foundations for tomorrow’s leaders. The theme for International Youth Day 2020 is ‘Youth Engagement for Global Action’, recognising that engaging youth at local, national and global levels enriches our institutions and processes.

Our recently completed Growing up in Reading study was led by ten young researchers, with the aim of seeking to understand the lived experiences of young people growing up in Reading. The organisations involved in the youth research – schools, colleges, youth groups and charities, RVA, Brighter Futures for Children, the University of Reading, and the Whitley Researchers – were keen to listen and understand.

This project also had the purpose of encouraging young people to speak up and get involved in local initiatives that matter to them. You’ll see quotes in the report that relate to the fact young people feel helpless to initiate change, that there is nowhere or no structure available to them to have their voices heard – so how can they make a difference when no one is listening? It’s up to us as organisations to provide our youth with those support structures and platforms they need in order to speak up.

We appreciate the value young people can bring to any conversation – political, social or otherwise, and we hope that this research and report is the start of a new wave of youth voice, change, and action in Reading.

Please take your time to read through this report when it becomes available (later in August) as there is something for us all to learn. Together, in partnership with local organisations and young people, we increase our reach, impact and potential – and collectively can make the lives of young people and their families in Reading so much better.

Zarah Khan and Joanne Mushi – RVA Youth Research Team Members

Zarah Khan, RVA Youth Researcher

It is a privilege for us to be able to write an article on the Growing up in Reading report, as we mark International Youth Day. Just as attention turns to the needs of 10 to 24 year-olds globally, we have been able to discover more about the needs of Reading’s youth, including the views of over 600 young people, and with a level of detail that will enable Reading to be improved as a home for youth.

This research, which began in November 2019, aimed to amplify youth voice and participation in activism to help both themselves and future young people living in Reading. It was conducted through a mixture of surveys, case studies and focus groups. Having these conversations on a personal level allowed us to see the great impact this research could have on individual lives and the importance of magnifying young voices.

One interesting finding that came to light was that even though 35% of young people feel unsafe when going out and 39% want communities to become safer, only 57% feel that they can turn to the police for support – this is particularly relevant in light of both the rising fear of knife crime in the UK and more recently, the effect of the killing of George Floyd, resulting in an upsurge of civil rights protests. However, not all our findings were negative: we also discovered that young people are passionate about solving political and social issues, with 59% wanting to become more involved in issues that bothered them. This shows that young people are not only willing but ready to work on issues such as safety that are affecting our daily lives.

Another more positive result that stood out to us, was the association between supportive and non-judgemental relationships with adults and a more positive outlook on life in young people. Despite the growing independence of the youth in this stage of life, caring and understanding two-way relationships with adults remain of great significance, which is another reason why reading and sharing the information in this report alone is helpful for young people in Reading.  We encourage you to read the rest of the Growing up in Reading report when it is published later this month as this is far from the only issue brought up; other concerning findings are related to mental health, self-expression, and future opportunities.

This report was always intended to eventually have a real and felt impact on the overall experience of growing up in Reading. Therefore, we hope that both organisations and individuals who come across this report will reflect on how its findings may relate to the young people in their lives and subsequently take opportunities to a better life for the youth.