Kemi Akinola, Coram

Kemi AkinolaDescribe your role

My name is Kemi Akinola and my role is Placements and Volunteer Coordinator for young people in Coram. I work with support workers and youth workers in Tower Hamlets and Brent to ensure that the wider needs of all young people involved in Coram’s projects are met. This takes the form of assisting with college or training applications, visiting museums and galleries, accompanying young people to take part in projects set up by partner organisations, working on smaller in-house projects stemming from young peoples ideas and facilitating forums which the young people have set up themselves. I also actively work with other charities, such as V and the Who Cares trust,  and companies, such as Deutshe Bank and O2 Think Big,  to seek out opportunities and ensure that every young person undertakes at least one meaningful voluntary position during their involvement with Coram.

What makes a good participation worker?

If an organisation is one slice of bread and young people are the other, participation workers are the filling (the bit in the middle that brings them both together). And the filling comes in a variety of flavours, colours and shapes. The best participation workers are client focused, versatile, enthusiastic and  keep in regular contact with their clients. They ask young people for their ideas at every stage of the project and feedback with improvements and news; they encourage, support and champion every young person involved regardless of their positive contribution.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?

Young people often put up their own barriers when first approached to be involved. Young people are not used to being asked for their opinion or their opinion counting and making a change. I think that many young people are unaware of how strong a voice they have and are apathetic in attitude to traditional feedback.
Young people have social stigma attached to them that is institutionalised and it is hard to break through these barriers with professionals in order for them to work with the young people as individuals.
A major barrier that has faced many projects is money. Lack of funding has decreased the amount and quality of participation work that can be carried out and the venues to do it in.

What are the benefits?

The benefits are countless. Services become more useful and honed to the needs of the clients they serve. Workers better understand the clients and develop better relationships with them. Clients are more interested in work and can eventually take charge of some things. I have seen young people develop skills they didn’t know they had, find a vocational direction - and move on to employment as a result of the experience they gained - and encourage each other to do better. The peer-to-peer social networks that develop continue long after they have left the service or the project has ended. Whether this is intentional or a by-product, peer mentoring has a wonderful effect on the success of participatory projects and young peoples futures.

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

Ask and listen - always ask a young person for their ideas or run things past them before organising.
Food  - (preferably not sandwiches!) always provide food at events.
Fun - every consultation should involve or lead to a fun activity that young people (and your manager) have agreed.
Rewards - this could be a certificate, a gift, a trip, points, stars, coffee.
Clarity - always explain and agree from the outset what is expected from participants and what they can expect from you.
Travel- always reimburse travel, as they have taken time out for you they should never be out of pocket.

What is effective participation?

That’s a good question: Ask your client or young person, that would be the right start.

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