Charlotte Allinson, beat

Charlotte AllinsonDescribe your role

beat is the leading UK charity for people with eating disorders and their families. My role at beat is Young People’s Participation Manager. I manage two members of staff, one who runs our mentoring project and the other who supports the remainder of our young people’s participation including our social media presence. We run an award winning Young People’s Participation Forum and beat Young Ambassador scheme, within this we are developing and maintaining several projects: Young Healthcare Campaigners, an Education Programme and a Youth Council.

What makes a good participation worker?

A person who understands and always remembers that the experience and knowledge of young people is valid, diverse and honest and that it can contribute to their organisation’s work in a positive way.

A person who is comfortable with young people, genuinely enjoys working with them and who has a sense of humour and who is aware of boundaries but makes this clear to young people in a clear yet relaxed manner.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?

One of the main barriers for us is stigma. Mental illness, particularly an eating disorder, can be misunderstood. We do have very brave young people who are able to stand up in front of professionals, the Government and commissioners about their experiences but we also make sure that anonymity is always an option - although not one that hinders a young person from being heard. In some organisations participation may not be a priority and I can see this being a barrier. At beat, participation is a core service, it is appropriately budgeted for and the whole organisation is behind it.

What are the benefits?

We benefit by involving young people in our youth focused projects at the developing stages, this ensures that they believe in what we are delivering, that there is honesty to it and that it truly caters to their needs. This ensures that young people engage with the projects and that they are successful.

What tips do you have for effective participation of children and young people?

Be flexible. In the deadlines you set and the workshops you develop. Your project isn’t the young person’s main priority so you will find that some forget to reply to e-mails and need reminding. In workshops sometimes when young people go off topic what they do discuss can be very helpful and insightful for you.

Be honest, don’t promise things that you can’t deliver on and if circumstances change which then cause elements of a project to be behind, tell them.

What is effective participation?

Acknowledging the difference that young people’s participation makes and thanking them for it. We changed our operating name to beat in 2007 to enable us to engage with more young people. Young people told us that we needed to rebrand so we did. Effective participation in a project happens when young people are consulted, engaged, listened to and supported throughout. It is also present when young people have the opportunity to be awarded for the contribution that they have made. We offer young people the opportunity to gain a youth achievement award. It helps them to collate evidence of all their contributions and to be acknowledged.

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