Last week I attended London Youth’s launch of ‘Hunch’,* their vision for youth work in post-austerity Britain. It’s a beautifully written document and reclaims some simple truths about what young people need to grow up well. Their thesis is that, firstly, all young people need trusted adults they can rely on, who see their potential and who encourage their development. Secondly, they need positive peer groups. And thirdly, young people need the chance to find activities that they enjoy, that they can put their energy into, and that they feel proud of.
London Youth call their vision ‘Hunch’ because they have a ‘hunch’ that good quality youth work is essential for helping young people be the best they can be. It is, of course, much more than a hunch. We have all been young; we all remember the importance of positive adults, good friends, and interesting activities that bolstered our self-esteem. Yet ‘Hunch’ is based on more than just common sense. There is ample research to support the fact that these basic elements have a powerful impact on young lives.
Like London Youth, Friendship Works primarily aims to support emotional resilience and capabilities in young people. We also realise that it can be hard to sell these ‘soft skills’. As a society, we tend to focus too much on measureable statistics (academic achievement, employability, etc) while overlooking important character traits that are more difficult to quantify (courage, compassion, resilience, etc).
Yet paradoxically, focusing resources on the latter is the quickest route to developing the former. In my previous job as a music teacher I saw how children flourish when they are confident enough to fail, persist when they have enough resilience to be optimistic, and concentrate when they are happy enough to relax. These ‘soft’ skills are the building blocks of serious, lifelong success.
This weekend I had the pleasure of meeting eight new volunteer mentors at Friendship Works who were taking part in our introductory training course. As always, I was hugely impressed by the commitment and seriousness with which the volunteers engaged with the training. They are all good people, exactly the kind of sensible and trusted adults that can make a big difference to the life of a young person. Our volunteer mentors are not professional ‘youth workers’, but they have many of the qualities of great youth workers; they know how to listen, they don’t judge, and they are positive role models. Through their support, each child is given access to new opportunities and is encouraged to try new things.
Friendship Works supports London Youth’s vision. We support it because we recognise the importance of strong and trusted relationships in a child’s life. As London Youth state in their report:
Finding the things you’re good at and an adult who believes in you can change your life forever.
It is a simple and self-evident truth. Let’s not lose sight of it.