Leslie Silverlock, Groupswork

Describe your role
I set up the Young Advisor movement, with Sue King, for the Department for Communities and Local Government. It is now a national charity, the first in the country to be authorised to have young people under 18 as trustees.  Young people are also on the Board – the Chair is a young woman of 16. My role involves training, coaching and strategic development.

Otherwise, I am a Neighbourhood Renewal Adviser for community empowerment and making partnerships work. Current developments include Participatory Budgeting and an early Neighbourhood Charter involving young people. My history of empowerment for young people includes GUST (Give Us A Say In Things), the Parliamentary Lobby for Youth Affairs, and the film The School Belongs To All of Us.

What makes a good participation worker?
A readiness to trust young people to get it right. Listening is not enough - young people must be given real power and resources to make fresh changes and improvements. The good participation worker then gives them support and information so that they can be really effective - young people learn the best management techniques with enviable ease.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?
Condescension - adults not realising just how in tune and switched on young people are, the innovations and world perspectives they have. They do not need to go through a series of boring meetings, setting targets, to solve a problem such as fire setting in the park or the appropriate design for a new youth centre. Many adults simply do not recognise how quickly young people learn and how creative they are in any design process.

Inferiority - young people believing the bad press they get. There is nothing wrong with young people hanging out around the shops, the town square, and the park bench. That is where their emotional intelligence is formed. The more people there are out and about, the safer and happier our communities become.

What are the benefits?
Inclusion and love – a taboo word in public life. When people are wanted and valued, feel they belong, they perform well. It’s simple – health, wellbeing, safety and environment all improve.

For the cynics, fifteen years ago Coopers and Lybrand demonstrated that the average cost of a youth crime was £2,300 while the average cost of preventative youth provision was £1,100. Just look at ‘Perry Post 40’ for the costs and extreme benefits of getting family support right. Penalising a young woman for becoming pregnant, a young man for no MOT, or a single parent for no TV licence, wastes all our time and money. We need to ‘catch them getting it right’. Watch the difference between waving thanks and flicking a V-sign next time you are driving!

What tips do you have for effective participation?
Ask them to:

  • Map their communities and suggest solutions to problems. They know more about what needs doing to make lives better than all the public services put together.
  • Youth proof public documents, put them into language that creates understanding, involvement, commitment and ideas
  • Give them money, as Youth Bank and YOF are doing, and as the police and health services should
  • Create a respected and valued GCSE Award for citizenship, and find a better word for it using concepts such as real life, community activist, effective communities

What is effective participation?
Having Stepping Stones to empowerment:
1. Having a say in things
2. Getting honest feedback about what difference your ‘say’ made
3. Having knowledge and information – Google
4. Being given power and resources to develop ideas
5. Accepting and acknowledging the need to change (usually called ‘failure’)
6. Being left alone when you just want to chill

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