Phil Kerry, Envision

Describe your role
After a brief spell of teaching Mathematics, including 2 years working for VSO in Eritrea, I now work for Envision, a youth empowerment charity. Envision supports 100 teams of young people to set up and lead on projects tackling youth-identified social and environmental issues in their communities. As well as working directly with young people in London, I help co-ordinate our volunteers and put on small-scale events for young people and other agencies.

What makes a good participation worker?
One who can facilitate and enable a group or community to feel comfortable in contributing their views or time, in ways they see value in.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?
Young people do not want to be isolated or feel different. Making sure the young people you work with are from diverse as backgrounds as possible makes everyone feel welcome.

Not showing young people the value in the work that they are doing or treating them, as children can be very disempowering, as can activities that are not engaging and fun. At the same time it is important to know when and how to be directive, in a supportive way, so young people know it’s alright to speak out or join in.

It’s important to engage with young people on an adult level. Trying to be ‘down with da yoof’ doesn’t work. It is also important to use and adopt mediums of communication like texting, social networking sites etc so as to keep in touch with the age group.

What are the benefits?
The benefits of working with Young people are numerous. For me seeing young people develop their skills, confidence and ability to make change in their communities is extremely rewarding.  It is often simple things like breaking down barriers between young people of different backgrounds that can have the most lasting effects.

At Envision we are very lucky that the nature of our programme means that the students we work with are empowered to continue the work they have done with us either by going on to volunteer at university or for other charities. Some of the people we first worked with in 2001 have come full circle and are now working as Envision interns or volunteers, supporting other young people.

What tips do you have for effective participation of children and young people?
For young people to really engage and participate it is essential that there voices are heard and that they lead the initiatives that they are involved in. Making sure the work is youth-led is not only empowering for the young people, but it makes sure it is relevant to them and that they take ownership.

Whilst working in part of a team with new people can be a great way to learn new skills, it is also a good idea to let them get involved with their friends. Young people enjoy working in groups as it provides strength in numbers. It helps build a sense of community; it encourages them to come back and can take away the initial feeling of trepidation when starting new things.

Finally, as well as making sure activities are educational, engaging and inclusive I think ultimately they have to be fun!

What is effective participation?
Effective participation means making sure that all that wish to participate can fairly and equally. Its important people understand why they are taking part too, to make sure their input is not “tokenistic”.

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