Erin Hoekstra, PeaceMaker

Describe your role
In my role as the Delivery and Training Manager, I oversee the creation and delivery of all of our projects. We work with young people from Key Stage 1 up to undergraduate age. Our programmes include peer education projects that focus on active citizenship, giving young people an understanding of the world outside of Oldham and how they can participate most fully in it and inter-community mentoring projects that bring a diverse group of mentors together with a group of local young people. Our mentoring projects work with refugees and asylum-seekers, young people at-risk of exclusion from school for racist incidents, young people at-risk of extremism, both far-right and so-called Islamic extremism, and local community groups of young people. I also work with our programme of strategic training that trains and supports adult professionals across the country to develop an appreciation for equality and diversity and to develop a deeper critical and practical understanding of current issues, such as immigration and extremism.

What makes a good participation worker?
A good participation worker is one that successfully engages young people, actively listening and asking questions. This person should bring young people together who would otherwise not have the opportunity to interact, giving them opportunities to influence the making of decisions that affect their lives.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?
From our experience, the barriers are usually organisational. When children and young people are offered the opportunities to get involved, they are usually not shy! Our strategic work supports organisations to change the ways that they work and put young people at the centre of their decision-making strategies. When they see the benefits to this, they usually come around.

What are the benefits?
The benefits of involving young people in the creation, development, and delivery of projects are plentiful. For us, it ensures that our projects are relevant to and meet the needs of the young people that we work with. It is a necessary component for success of any project and any organisation. The challenge is to make other organisations see the benefits of working with young people in this way.

What tips do you have for effective participation of children and young people?
At PeaceMaker, we are committed to involving young people in the creation and delivery of our projects from the inception of the idea to the planning of each session to the monitoring and evaluation. Ensuring this participation is vital and central to the work that we do--that is how we have become involved with Participation Works. We are using the 'Hear by Right' self-assessment tool in order to ensure that our projects still have this level of participation from young people. If we do not engage with young people at every point in the creation and delivery of the work that we do, then our work will not be relevant to the needs and concerns of young people in our communities. On the one hand, ensuring this participation obviously contributes to the survival and success of PeaceMaker and our projects, but more importantly, on the other hand, it helps us to engage with the most hard-to-reach young people. PeaceMaker and organisations like ours can't afford not to involve young people every step of the way.

What is effective participation?
At PeaceMaker, we measure effective participation not in the numbers of young people that we work with, but in the amount of time that young people stay actively engaged in our projects. For instance, we have young people who have been with PeaceMaker since our very first projects. Some of our peer educators have worked with us for six and seven years. To us, this means that they feel valued by the work that we do and valued as an important member of our community. We also measure effective participation in the change that we see in their lives. We have mentors working with us who were on opposite sides of the 2001 riots. That they would go from fighting each other to working alongside one another to overcome prejudice and champion equality is what successful and effective participation means to us.

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