Youth Voice – Participation/Volunteering, Newcastle Upon Tyne

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Youth
  • General resources

Basic details

Organisation submitting example

Your Homes Newcastle

Local authority/local area:

Newcastle Upon Tyne

The context and rationale

Youth Voice is for young people aged 16–25 years living in Newcastle upon Tyne who have experienced homelessness or housing issues. It’s a chance for young people to have their say about things that matter to them, learn new skills, meet new people and have fun!

Youth Voice is provided by Your Homes Newcastle (YHN) which is Newcastle City Council’s Arm’s Length Management Organisation (ALMO), offering a range of services to tenants in the city. One of these services is the Young People’s Service which works with young people and their families across 5 teams to: prevent homelessness, support young people in individual tenancies with on site support, provide hostel accommodation for young people in crisis, provide support in their own tenancies to develop independent living skills and enable them to sustain their tenancies. It has a 99% success rate. The Young People’s Service helps young people to develop their skills and provides them with opportunities to achieve, particularly for young people who have had difficulties at mainstream education or did not complete mainstream education. One way of doing this is the engagement of young people as volunteers through Youth Voice.

Youth Voice was modelled on the previous government’s idea of ‘task force’, where expertise was deemed to come from a bottom up approach. Young homeless people often feel excluded from society due to the difficulties that they have had and they feel they have little to contribute to society. This projects team understood that young people often had valuable comments to make about the services they received but had no where to voice these to have an impact or implement change. It was felt that young people were experts in the area of youth homelessness and were in a position to share these experiences to prevent other young people from becoming homeless. Young people also felt they had barriers to accessing employment and find it extremely difficult to gain experience in a range of areas which would support their employment applications.

To address this, Youth Voice was developed in 2002. The aim of Youth Voice is to provide a range of opportunities and support to allow young people to have their say about things that matter to them, allow them to learn new skills and meet other young people and share experiences. Funding was initially sourced from Connexions and New Deal for Communities in the west end of Newcastle and when this funding ended the project was mainstreamed and funded directly by Your Homes Newcastle. Additional funding from the local authority in terms of the Early Intervention Grant supports the Positive Activity programme delivered on an annual basis, although this funding is under threat for 2012/13.

The practice

A paid member of staff was appointed, who had experience of working with disaffected young people, to encourage a small number of young people (who were vocal about the services they had received) to come together in a group to air their views. 

Once in post the development of the work can be described below:

• Time, resources and support were agreed.
• Referrals come from the whole of Your Homes Newcastle Services and other agencies that support young people with issues of homelessness.
• All young people supported by the service attend a Youth Voice induction session, where the work is discussed – their interests; their details are noted so they can be contacted directly. Additional support is offered through attending sessions. Youth Voice has developed strong partnerships with other agencies who are encouraged to support the young people to attend the sessions available. Time has also been spent visiting agencies to update them on the activities available and to meet new young people directly.
• As staff within the Young People’s Service increased from 11 to 60, discussion with the whole team became vital to ensure everyone understood the aims of the project and could recognise how vital their role was in supporting young people.
• To help young people develop their ideas, a paid worker was allocated time specifically to support them in taking this forward.
• Suitable venues for young people to meet were identified, with resources they could use to take responsibility for their own projects and ideas. This included offering food and reimbursement for all travel (the young people being supported are living in poverty so food and travel expenses are extremely important) and providing access to phones, DVD equipment and computers where they could undertake work without interruption, but also be close enough to access support if necessary.

Weekly meetings
• Weekly meetings take place at the same time and place so young people who may not have attended for some time know these are consistent when they want to get back in touch. These meetings generate ideas from the young people and ways of developing these ideas are investigated. 
• All meetings aim to be creative and fun where possible – this breaks up the session and gets the most out of young people – they are giving up their own time so the meetings have to meet their needs.
• Agreement is reached with the young people about how often, when and where to meet again and all topics and ideas are generated from the young people themselves.
• Weekly meetings have several project groups so young people can get involved in the ideas that interest them. 
• The young people’s development needs are identified and staff support them in whatever way suits them from accreditation of their work through to Youth Achievement Awards, volunteering opportunities, public speaking, attendance at focus groups to work tasters. 
• Texts are sent to remind them of important meetings as they do not have diaries so can forget dates, the contact also shows them that their involvement is valued. 
• All of the young people’s details are retained in a database for future contact. 

• Strategic partners and decision makers relevant to the projects supported the development of these projects from a strategic level; for example, the Executive Director of Children’s Services was invited to listen to the young people’s ideas and she was able to respond directly to the questions the young people asked about services. 
• Sessions are organised with partners, to meet the development needs of the young people.

The Assistant Youth Voice Coordinator role has been developed as a training post for young people experiencing youth homelessness to gain paid work experience with the view to going on to further training in social work or youth work. As the young people developed their ideas of peer education, a Peer Education Coordinator was appointed to support colleagues in the delivery of the programmes. 

Examples of projects developed in partnership with the young people, other professionals and agencies, are:

Youth Independence Forum (YIF) meets monthly. The forum aims to provide an arena for young people who have experienced homelessness, to influence policy and decision makers across the city. Many local government and also statutory and voluntary agencies attend the forum for consultation purposes. The forum also works to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence of young people through positive activities and residential breaks. The meetings are held monthly but professionals are invited bi-monthly, this allows time with the young people to plan sessions and identify the skills they need to develop. These meetings also include training sessions with the young people, for example, to learn how to chair a meeting or take minutes. All young people involved are given opportunities to take a leading role in the forum; this can be anything from signing members in at the beginning of the meeting, to giving out agendas, to actually chairing the whole meeting. By taking part in the training the young people then develop their confidence amongst other skills; although this may take many months, but they will always be supported in developing their skills.

Code of Conduct is an annual programme that aims to improve the way that Newcastle Housing Services respond to young people. This project was developed to ensure that all housing providers and services working with children and young people, treat young people equally and with respect. A quality assurance framework was developed by young people and is used to inspect services and support them to improve areas which are important to young people, to ensure accessibility. This has been endorsed by the Supporting People Commissioning and Inspection team as innovative practice. 

Peer Education Programmes are education programmes developed by young people and delivered to young people in schools and other community venues by young people. Youth Voice young people, with staff support, have developed two peer education programmes to deliver in secondary schools in the city; a one-off Homeless Prevention session and a 6 week programme around Teenage Parenting which also covers healthy relationships, sexual health and the realities of being a teenage parent. In 2010, a DVD was produced by Youth Voice and Digital Voice written by, starring and presented by young volunteers. All sessions are evaluated by the students and teachers and these evaluations are used to further develop the sessions. Of the students who have seen the DVD, 97% said that after the session, they now knew where they would go for help and advice if they were worried about becoming homeless. Likewise, 98% of students participating in the Teenage Parenting programme said that they had learnt new things about sex and relationships that they don’t usually learn in school; while 95% said that that they knew where to go to get help and advice. All peer educators are CRB-checked and risk assessments are carried out to identify what additional support they may need to deliver the sessions. 

Positive Activities Programme is a range of positive activities offered on a regular basis to all service users. These informal activities are provided to encourage informal learning activities, develop skills, confidence and also to provide the opportunity for young people to experience a range of activities that they may not normally have access to because of financial or social constraints. Outdoor pursuits, sport, and other recreational activities like cinema, beach, bowling, theatre etc are offered each week. This programme is delivered using external funding. This year it has been funded via the Early Intervention Grant. The contribution of the young people to these sessions and other projects for which they volunteer, is used as evidence to gain accreditation via the Youth Achievement Awards.

The Young Persons Volunteer Programme encourages the young people to build employability experience and skills by being accredited for the work they are involved in with youth voice. Young people build up a portfolio of evidence to provide information about the personal development and hours given to volunteering activities with Youth Voice. This is submitted to the Youth Achievement Awards for accreditation. In 2010-2011 young people volunteering with Youth Voice contributed 2409 hours to their community. This was achieved through a range of activities including peer education, organising activities for other young people, representing young people at strategic meetings locally, regionally and nationally, and assessing service provision for young homeless people in Newcastle though the Code of Conduct.

Young People and the Your Homes Newcastle Board. Young people reported that they felt ‘uncomfortable’ attending some formal meetings such as Board meetings; so working with the Chair, a process was developed where young people could be involved in Board discussions without attending the meetings. This is done through the Chair creating a ‘blog’ (simplified version of the Board agenda points) and the young people watch this ad their questions, opinions etc, are fed back to the Chair, who discusses these points at the meeting and then feeds back via another blog.

Evidence and evaluation - making a difference to children, young people and families

Performance Measures

A Planning and Outcomes Form was developed for every activity/contact made, with all members of Youth Voice. The outcomes are linked to our local Newcastle’s Children’s Plan. Prior to this, the Every Child Matters Outcomes framework was used. This ensures an outcome focused approach underpins all activities. These are reviewed to identify what outcomes have been achieved for the viability of future sessions. 

As part of all processes undertaken, everyone involved in the Youth Voice project is asked to provide feedback in the form of a ‘Reflection Sheet’. This looks at what they enjoyed as well as what they didn’t and also what they learnt from a particular activity. These are used to support the planning process to ensure provision is fit for purpose. 

Evaluation data is also available in the project’s annual report; this is available from C4EO, upon request. Highlights from the report include:

In 2010-2011, 12 new volunteers were recruited and they attended a 2 day training session with Youth Voice. The sessions included positive listening skills, drug and alcohol awareness, the practicalities of being a volunteer and discussions with members of Youth Voice and a current volunteer. All volunteers have the opportunity to complete an NCFE Level 2 Certificate in Volunteering with our support. Current and previous volunteers who have completed their NCFE Level 2 were awarded their Certificate at our ‘All Stars Ceremony’ in February. Hours were volunteered as follows:

Corporate volunteer hours: 264
Community volunteer hours: 413
Counselling volunteer hours: 218
Youth Voice volunteer hours: 2409

Homeless Prevention Peer Education (HPPE)
In 2010-2011, 9 young people were trained as Homeless Prevention Peer Educators and volunteered their time to deliver sessions in schools. HPPE delivered to 593 students with the help of a new DVD, produced in 2010 by Youth Voice and Digital Voice Media, which provided essential information on homelessness support and services available to young people in Newcastle.

Teenage Parent Peer Education (TPPE)
In 2010-2011, 8 young people were trained as Teenage Parent Peer Educators and volunteered their time to deliver the sessions in schools.

In 2010/11, the TPPE reached a number of schools and services; feedback included:
“I leant that if you’re not ready to have a baby there’s always places you can go
for contraception” - TPPE student
“It was interesting to find out what other people thought on relationships and to be able to talk about what a healthy relationship is and what it is not” - TPPE student

The members of our group are not static and many new members come along and old members usually move on in a planned way. Feedback from the young people who have been supported is essential for measuring performance, and they are involved in both organisational quality assurance processes as well as external ones, such as Investing In Children membership. This allows for further confidential and independent feedback to be given which measure the performance of the team.

Helping others to replicate your practice

The current cost to the service for staff is approximately £100,000. 

This includes:

Full time Operational Manager – 37 hours
Full time Volunteer Coordinator – 37 hours
Full Time Peer Education Coordinator – 37 hours
Part time Youth Voice Assistant – 18 hours

There is also the added cost for the back room support – IT, Finance, HR, Office Equipment, Travel and mobile phones. Premises are in shared office space.

The financial cost of activities are supported via the Early Intervention Grant which is £16,000 this financial year.

The processes to actively involve young people in decision making in Newcastle has changed dramatically over the past few years. Young people are viewed as partners in a multitude of processes, including being involved with Newcastle Safeguarding Children’s Board, The Children’s Trust Board, and the Homelessness and Housing Strategy.

Partnership in schools has grown significantly and the Peer Education Programmes are now offered to every secondary school in the city.

The Youth Independence Forum has been strategically recognised as influencing a range of local strategies.

Key learning

• Ensuring that all young people supported by the service are encouraged to attend. This has been the most challenging aspect of the programme – young people in crisis often had more pressing priorities of dealing with real life, so commitment to the group could be sporadic. Support and encouragement to commit their time is one of the most demanding issues for the Youth Voice coordinator.
• A barrier to joining the group was often that the young people did not feel adults would listen to them and take their views seriously, so honesty is important from the beginning of their involvement. 
• Support workers, who have direct relationships with the young people, need to encourage their attendance at an initial meeting as often they lack confidence to attend group meetings – some have had poor experiences of school so find it difficult to mix with other young people and to concentrate for long. 
• It is important to constantly remind colleagues of the value of service user involvement and how beneficial this can be to not only the young person’s development, but the development of the service, the organisation and to commissioned services in the local authority. 
• Nurturing and support given to young people takes more than providing sessions and travel expenses; staff need to remind young people of sessions daily, be available for sessions, and have the capacity and skills to respond to some of their crises. Often young people are no longer working with support services during their time on this project, so knowledge of what services and support is available in the city is essential. 

The team has grown over the past few years. From what was originally one staff member, is now four plus adult volunteer support; so being clear about the remit and having a willingness to expand, must be identified at the beginning stages of the project.

The links in this example to C4EO’s golden threads are:
• You Can do it
• Holding the Baton
• Unite to Succeed


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