Chloe Darlington, Youth Communications at the Woodcraft Folk

Describe your role (give an overview of your job, where you work, what you do, how long you have been in post)

I work at Woodcraft Folk as Development Officer for Youth Communications and I’ve been here since April 09. I’m working on a Big Lottery-funded project to help young people participate in the organisation at all levels and beyond, and communications is key in helping young people have their say in Woodcraft and in the wider world. My main responsibility - and the most fun part of my job - is supporting twenty young people who form the Communications Group. The initial name for the group was ‘Young Communications Advisors’ but they’re far from advisory - they create materials, plan campaigns and promote young people’s involvement in Woodcraft activities.

What makes a good participation worker?

Flexibility: you don’t know what young people are going to think and do, otherwise you wouldn’t be inviting them to participate, so trust them and make sure your plan/project/service is flexible enough to incorporate their views and actions.

And being yourself - there isn’t one model of ‘participation worker’ that you have to be, anyone can do it if they really want to involve young people. You don’t have to have all the answers; adults and young people can work together to develop their participation practices.

What do you think are the main barriers to children and young people's participation? 

Bureaucracy and layers of hierarchy make participation - by anyone, not just young people - difficult in some organisations. Woodcraft Folk was built on principles of co-operation and participation and we have a relatively flat, unbureaucratic structure that allows young people more direct access to our decision-making procedures. We’ve still got some way to go in making sure all our committees and roles are accessible to young people, and young members have told us they want better communication of the opportunities available, fun meetings (don’t we all?), and to be treated like equals - not ‘us and them’.

Also the perception that it’s time-consuming and expensive; change takes time, but young people are no more costly to involve than anyone else, it’s just updating old-fashioned systems that requires resources.

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

Make sure everyone is clear what the objectives of the participation are, and that the benefits to the organisation are only a means to the end of benefiting the people it serves.

Celebrate everyone’s hard work regularly - it’s a chance to recognise the outcomes of young people’s participation, register the impact it’s having on them and the community, and reflect on how you could do even better. And it’s a good excuse for cake. It’s not just about numbers - look at the journeys of individual children and young people through the project and learn from them.

What is effective participation?

Everyone in the community working together as equals, with tailored support to ensure they can all contribute as much or as little as they want.

One thing that would improve children and young people’s participation in England would be… (a change in law, policy, funding or practice which would help participation) ...More free support for volunteers to train and develop their participation skills, delivered at times and in places they can access easily.

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