Ana Brankovic, Dare London

Describe your role
I am the Co-ordinator for a youth advisory board called DareLondon, which works for London Youth, Summer Uni London and the Greater London Authority (GLA). The board works with young people aged 16 – 25 and offers opportunities for involvement in the three partner organisations on many levels, including decision making, consultancy, speaking on behalf of and representing the partners at events, being involved in other pan-London projects and organisations e.g. Healthcare for London, Transport for London – there’s a lot! Basically my role involves getting all the opportunities together and ensuring the right people are involved in the right things so that they gain experience and have a great time doing it. And we’re currently recruiting, so if you’re a young Londoner check out!

What makes a good participation worker?
Someone who’s quite resilient and can bounce back! Working with young people is immensely rewarding but pretty challenging, and sometimes we set ourselves very high expectations. I think it’s most important to try and involve as broad a range of young people in as broad a range of activities as possible – and to give them the opportunity to choose their own level of involvement. What you need is to be able to give endless encouragement and to have boundless enthusiasm for what you do. Everything else will, hopefully, fall into place!

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?
Mostly I think it’s to do with preconceptions/misconceptions. As workers we sometimes doubt young people and what they’re prepared to put into something, and I think young people also make judgments about what’s on offer without really being open to giving things a try. I think it’s a reflection of the throw-away-world we live in – it’s like everyone’s always waiting for something that might be better. But that might never come so it’s about being open and just giving things a go. Also, young people must really see the benefit of their involvement in order to want to take part – it’s such a cliché but it’s important that participation is real and engagement isn’t tokenistic.

What are the benefits?
Numerous! I’m very proud when the young people I have worked with have a direct impact on the workings of an organisation which is geared towards providing services and opportunities to them. What better way to endorse an organisation’s work? It shows that young people do have a voice and that their opinions, suggestions and input are important and are taken seriously on the same level as those of adults. Where I am based (Summer Uni London) has a long history of participation work with young people, and the whole programme of free summer courses, and our hopes for national expansion – where there would be a summer uni for every young person – have strong and ongoing input from various groups of young people whose task it is to keep us on track.

What tips do you have for effective participation of children and young people?
That’s a hard question! Young people need to be given great opportunities so that they want to participate. They need to be given loads of encouragement, you need to try and foster in them an open mind, and you need to find a common ground between all young people so that they can work well together towards common goals – that way they can have a great sense of achievement.

What is effective participation?
I think it’s about giving young people a real opportunity to influence and shape change – and being prepared for the consequences!

Participation Works is a partnership of…
British Youth CouncilChildren's Rights Alliance for EnglandKIDSNational Council for Voluntary Youth ServicesNational Youth AgencyNCB