Big changes start locally

Youth Advisory Panel Thoughts and Reflections

#iwill Blog 4

Over the last few weeks I have been sharing the findings of the Foundations work with the Youth Advisory Panel to deliver the #iwill Take Action Fund.

In the first blog I shared our reasons for setting up a panel and the link to the evaluation film.

In the second I shared the key findings and recommendations of the evaluation.

In the third I shared the Panel’s own reflections on the impact they felt the Panel had had on their development.

In this final blog I want to share my own personal reflections and the challenges I found in working with a youth panel for the first time.

Clarity is key. You must be clear on your expectations from the outset. I don’t think I did this as well as I could have and faced questions on how often we would need them or what flexibility they had to change their process for shortlisting or reporting back to the Foundation. It took a few meetings to get this right for us and in later months, Youth Focus North East often split meetings into two to allow enough time for reflection. I was clear how much weight their decisions carried and the responsibility that came with that. Their views would need to be clearly articulated as they may result in an organisation being turned down for a grant.

Flexibility is also key. It may sound obvious but be prepared for young people to have different priorities and commitments to yours! Many Trusts and Foundations operate in ‘standard’ working hours – young people don’t. Assessment and monitoring visits often need to be outside school hours and Board meetings in the evening. It’s very difficult to do anything during exam times and school holidays so depending on the age of the young people you’re working with plan them into your timetable up front.

Expect the unexpected and accept it. I have arranged assessment visits around the Panel for them to then cancel at the last minute. I can’t then cancel on those we are assessing who have arranged for their young people to attend too. The Panel gave up a huge amount of their time to help us to deliver the Fund and sometimes were overly ambitious with the time they could commit; they were coming up to a coursework deadline, had a job interview or appointment arranged at the last minute or even just a diary clash with friends.

Have regular recruitment and/or rotation. Things change so quickly in the lives of young people. Over the two years the Panel was active this was very evident. Think about how long you intend to run the panel for and what age the members are when they join. I thought we had mitigated against the risk of losing too many members by having a wide age range on the panel; 15 to 22 when they joined, however young people who joined our panel at 15 and dedicated huge amounts of their time then found it difficult to commit when they started college and also needed a part-time job. Some who were at college found work and struggled to fit the panel in alongside work and other volunteering or caring commitments. Some successfully applied to University and moved to another area. We didn’t have enough young people to replace them, those that joined at a later date didn’t get to experience the earlier induction and training residential and towards the final assessments we struggled to get Panel members along to each visit. I didn’t want to recruit young people to join for the monitoring phase when they hadn’t had the experience of shortlisting and assessing those grants.

Build in time, more time than you think. I had to shortlist much earlier than other programmes we were running as the applications needed to go the Panel before they were assessed. This then shortened the assessment window. Assessment visits could be complicated to arrange to everyone’s timetable. I needed time to talk through assessments with young people in advance and time for them to reflect recommendations back pre adult panel. This wasn’t always done as well as it could be.

Weigh up the benefits of having someone run the panel for you. I am not a youth worker. I didn’t feel I had the experience necessary to run and support a panel of young people. Commissioning a young people’s charity to run the panel for us felt like the best route. They could deliver training we don’t have expertise in, run the residential, manage expenses, manage the sometimes conflicting opinions within meetings and deal with any feelings or issues that may be brought to the fore. Additionally we’re a small team and I am the only staff member working on the #iwill Take Action Fund. However, saying that, having a second organisation running the Panel sometimes added an additional layer of complexity. The young people want a clear and direct link to the adult panel – that’s development for them. Once I got to know them I often ended up emailing them directly, ringing them in advance of assessment meetings and texting them to confirm. Did I rely too much on our partner rather than building my own expertise? In hindsight I would suggest running the panel ‘in house’ with the support of a charity with expertise in this area. A small but important distinction.

The benefits are huge. To us and to them. I can’t emphasis enough how much the young people have added to the programme. The level of thought and consideration they put into each application has been huge. Their views have, at times, completely surprised me and have changed the way I look at applications. We as a Foundation have learnt a huge amount about working with a ‘lived experience’ panel and plan to do it more! We are also exploring how we can better, beyond the life of the #iwill Take Action Fund, support young leaders to influence change.

Additionally, the young people have told us that being part of the panel has contributed to positive changes in their lives and skills gained. I’ve seen their confidence grow. Young people now at college or working. Confident to speak up and speak out. Young people with varying challenges confident to be their unique self and relate their experiences to some of the young people applying. It has been wonderful to see.

I can’t thank the Panel enough. The programme wouldn’t be the success it is without them and I can guarantee that their contribution will change the way we work in any future programmes.

Rachel Kyle-Barclay

Programme Officer

Virgin Money Foundation

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