Steve Baker, Somerset Rural Youth Project

Steve Baker

Describe your role

I work for Somerset Rural Youth Project (SRYP) as the participation project worker. The role is about enabling young people to influence the services that we offer, and can be as wide and as varied as the interests that young people have. Whilst there are particular ways in which our funders require us to involve young people – for instance in our marketing or training - there is also plenty of scope for them to participate according to the thing’s that they’re into. Over the past year we’ve involved them in delivering health and wellbeing projects, designing e-safety leaflets, running positive activities and lobbying their MPs.

What makes a good participation worker?

Participation workers need to be motivated by giving young people a voice and an influence. This sounds obvious, but participation workers need to champion young people’s participation at every opportunity, and if they don’t get genuinely excited about it then it will be difficult to inspire others.

Workers also need the ability to act as a bridge between young people and the rest of the organisation. This takes communication skills, in particular listening to young people’s ideas, and project management skills to enable these ideas to take a real meaningful form and to influence the organisation.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?

Opportunities and time. Young people need to be given the opportunities to participate, but in a busy organisation, where staff are focused on meeting their funders requirements, participation can almost slip people’s minds. As such, workers may not have the time to create meaningful and creative opportunities for young people to participate. Also for SRYP, working across rural Somerset, the sheer practicalities of bringing young people together can prove a logistical and expensive nightmare.

What are the benefits?

Effective participation benefits everyone. Children and young people benefit themselves – they grow in their own confidence and skills and make organisations and services work for them in a meaningful way. And organisations benefit from hearing their voice – by better meeting the needs of their service users, ensuring that what they provide is cost efficient and targeted.

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

Young people need to see the benefits of their participation. In the long term, they need to see that how they are contributing makes a difference. They need to know that they are growing and developing in their skills and abilities, and making a contribution to the world around them. But they also need to see short term benefits as well – and that includes having fun, making new friends and trying new activities. If young people can see how participation will benefit them, they will become excited about what they can do.

What is effective participation?

Effective participation is enabling and empowering young people to contribute to the organisations and services that they are involved with, in a real and meaningful way. It can be very short term, e.g. filling in a survey. It could be very long term – being part of a youth board of directors, or developing an organisations training strategy. Or it could be anything in between, helping with interviews or contributing to a website. The important thing, whatever the level and the depth of participation, is that it is meaningful, and that young people’s views are taken seriously.

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